Duterte backs complete abolition of kafala system in Middle East

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 20) – President Rodrigo Duterte appealed for the complete abolition of the kafala system in the Middle East, calling it "unjust and exploitative."

"It places thousands of migrant workers, particularly household workers, in the most vulnerable situation – unseen, unheard, and unable to defend their dignity as a human being," Duterte said.

The President made the call on Tuesday during a virtual forum organized by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, and the International Organization for Migration.

The kafala system requires migrant workers to have a sponsor in the host country before a visa and worker's permit can be issued.

Duterte said the system has led to inhumane working conditions, non-payment of wages, movement restrictions, healthcare denial, and sexual abuse of overseas Filipino workers.

The COVID-19 pandemic also pushed migrant workers, especially those under the kafala system, to an "even more precarious position." he added.

"As the world went into lockdowns, many were driven into destitution with no job, no social safety nets, and no money to send back home. This cannot go on," the President said.

Middle Eastern countries like Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain have introduced reforms in the kafala system. Last March 14, Saudi Arabia abolished its kafala system.

RELATED: Saudi Arabia abolishes ‘kafala' system effective 2021— DFA

"As I have said before, the Filipino is not a slave to anyone, anywhere. I dream of the day when working abroad becomes a choice and not a need for my countrymen," the President said.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Monday said there are around 8,874,472 Filipinos living and working overseas as of June 2020. Over 1.7 million of them are documented workers in the Middle East. Some 647,827 OFWs were displaced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 500,000 have already been repatriated.