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18 September 2010 - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said today that it has  directed the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah to make renewed representations and work closer with Saudi Arabian authorities towards improving the conditions at Saudi Deportation Centers where Filipinos who over-stayed or out of status are awaiting exit clearances.

The DFA also directed the Embassy and the Consulate General to continuously work for the early repatriation of the Filipinos in the Deportation Centers in order to avoid the overcrowding in the Saudi-operated facilities, which have been made the subject of recent news reports in Manila.

Under local immigration regulations, which are based on employer sponsorship, a foreign employee who leaves the employer before the contract expiration, or stays beyond the duration of the work permit, or for other similar causes, becomes out of status and therefore is in violation of local laws regulations.

Should they wish to depart Saudi Arabia, they will have to surrender themselves to Saudi immigration authorities and be confined at the Deportation Centers for processing and clearance prior to repatriation.

In a report to the DFA, Philippine Consul General in Jeddah Ezzedin Tago clarified that,  "The length of stay at the deportation center is often short. Under Saudi laws, any overstayer or worker who absconded from his/her employer is subject to penalties and detention.  However, these penalties are waived for those who undergo deportation procedures."

Filipinos usually stay at the deportation center from one to 10 days.

Nonetheless, the Embassy and the Consulate General have been pro-active in working for faster processing and clearance of Filipinos at the Deportation Center, bringing them additional food and medicine, and working for their repatriating at the earliest time possible.

Consul General Tago will also meet with the Head of the Deportation in Jeddah, now that the Eid'l Fitr holidays are about to conclude, to discuss improving the conditions of the Filipinos inside the deportation center. Saudi Arabia celebrated a holiday from September 1 to 18 in observance of Ramadan and Eid'l Fitr.

A team from the Consulate General will again be visiting the deportation center today to check on the conditions of the Filipinos in the deportation center, and provide assistance to those who are in need.

The Consulate also has an arrangement with Saudi authorities for the use of a special facility, the so-called Seaport Hajj Terminal, as a half-way shelter for those awaiting surrender to the Deportation Centers and to avoid the prospect of overstaying foreigners loitering at public places to seek deportation, such as at the Kandara Bridge. The Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) pays for their accommodations and provides two meals a day for them.

The Philippines is one of a few countries who have arrangements to use the Hajj terminal and one of only two countries that shoulders their nationals' plane tickets and assists them for their eventual repatriation.

In the last three months, from July 10 to September 6, the Consulate repatriated 1,473 Filipinos (588 males, 679 females and 209 children).

Kandara Bridge is the place where Filipinos at times stay while they wait their surrender and admission into the Jeddah Deportation Center.

As a matter of policy, the Deportation Center authorities do not allow food or medicines to be brought inside their premises.

Through patient and continuous efforts, initiatives by the embassy and consulate general to bring in food and medicine are at times successful.

"The Consulate General and POLO Jeddah continue to monitor the status of Filipinos at the deportation center on almost a daily basis, to ensure their timely departure upon completion of the investigations by the Saudi authorities," Consul General Tago stated.

A person may stay longer in the deportation center if the Saudi General Directorate for Passports (Jawazat) does not clear him or her for departure during the investigation stage, such as when the person has outstanding money claims against him.

"It is the Saudi authorities that determine who is cleared or not. In these cases, the Consulate-General and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office follows up on a daily basis with the Deportation Center. If the information/contact of the employer is provided by the worker, the POLO contacts the employer to help facilitate the clearance," the Consul General said.

"Saudi authorities often require that the Saudi work sponsor appear in person and sign waiver for the departure of the worker. This could take some time, especially if the worker and the sponsor are from outside of Jeddah." Consul General Tago explained.

There are also instances wherein those who already cleared are not able to take their flights, such as breakdown of the fingerprinting and biometric machines or other logistics issues faced by local authorities.

Admission in the Jeddah Deportation Center has several requirements.

Before a Filipino is admitted to the Deportation Center, they fill an application form for their travel documents, which is then endorsed to the Philippine consulate and the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Jawazat authorities require that the overstaying national must have a travel document in his real name and a one-way ticket with confirmed booking. The deportees must have a confirmed flight one or two days after their admission into the Deportation Center.

As a service to Filipinos, the Consulate issues travel document to Filipinos free of charge, waiving any of the usual requirements for its issuance.

Admission into the Jeddah Deportation Center is determined by the Saudi government and only after the names are given to them with complete travel documents and tickets.  It is also dependent on the available space at the deportation center. Inside the deportation center, Saudi authorities conduct an investigation including taking fingerprints and other biometric data.

The Consul General appealed to the Filipino community in Saudi Arabia to report to them anyone who says that they know someone from the Consulate and can facilitate their repatriation to the Philippines.

"We received reports on Filipinos who are allegedly telling deportees that they can fast-track their repatriation because of 'connections' with the Consulate. We have released an advisory warning the public against these people, and will deal with them resolutely." the Consul General said.

The DFA affirmed that any staff member who is found to be fixing or conniving with fixers will be administratively charged. END

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