05/28/2021, 15.25
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Manila stops its migrants going to S Arabia over COVID-19 costs imposed on Philippine workers

Saudi and Philippine authorities disagree over who pays for testing and quarantine, including for Filipinos who received a Chinese vaccine. This “hidden” tax affects thousands of Philippine workers in Saudi Arabia.

Manila (AsiaNews) – The Philippines today suspended travel by its workers to Saudi Arabia because of a disagreement over COVID-19 protocols.

Reports indicate that Philippine workers arriving in Saudi Arabia are required to be tested and submit to a mandatory seven-day quarantine upon arrival at their own expense if they did not receive Saudi-approved vaccines.

China’s Sinovac, the vaccine most widely used in the Philippines, has not been approved by Saudi authorities.

The Philippines reached out to Saudi authorities to find a solution. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) issued a memorandum ordering recruitment agencies to cover the cost of Saudi Arabia’s requirements.

However, since no solution was forthcoming, Philippine authorities suspended all travel by Philippine workers to Saudi Arabia to put pressure on the latter.

For the South-East Asian country, Saudi Arabia is a major destination for its overseas workers. According to the latest figures, about 500,000 Filipinos work in that country, primarily as domestic workers, cooks and labourers.

For Philippine workers in the Saudi kingdom, COVID-19 costs come on top of very harsh working conditions, which can resemble slavery in some cases.

However, the fact that the government's measure came suddenly, without prior warning to the airlines, has generated some ill feelings back in the Philippines.

At Aquino International Airport, the Bureau of Immigration stopped 403 Philippines set to fly out on two Philippine Airlines (PAL) flights bound for Riyadh and Dammam. The planes eventually left practically empty and are scheduled to bring home Filipinos currently in  Saudi Arabia.

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