The official visit of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Special Envoy to Saudi Arabia kicked off with the repatriation of 347 distressed Filipinos from the kingdom including five children affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Presidential Assistant on Foreign Affairs Robert E.A. Borje arrived in Saudi Arabia Saturday after he was sent by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to the kingdom for an official visit aimed at enhancing bilateral ties, advancing labor reform cooperation and ensuring the welfare of Filipinos in the Arab country.
“Thank you to our Embassy in Riyadh, Consulate General in Jeddah, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the government of Saudi Arabia. This repatriation required a lot of work and coordination given the pandemic situation,” Borje said. “But with the Filipino at the center of all efforts, this repatriation mission was a success. On behalf of President Duterte, Maraming Salamat (Thank you very much) at Shukran!”
The repatriates flew home via a Philippine Airlines chartered flight as a part of the Philippine government’s repatriation mission from Saudi Arabia. A second repatriation flight is expected next week.
Upon arrival in Manila, the repatriates will receive cash assistance from the Philippine government as instructed by Duterte.
”As an assistance to you, I have instructed Department of Foreign Affairs to use Bayanihan 2 funds to give all repatriated OFWs today P10,000 each as reintegration financial assistance,” Duterte said in a video message.
Borje cited Duterte’s continuing care and concern for overseas Filipinos in distress situations due to the pandemic and reiterated the Philippine government’s commitment towards OFWs.
Saturday’s repatriation mission is anchored on Duterte’s promise to care for Overseas Filipinos (OFs) around the world, particularly with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Kalinga at Malasakit for OFWs remains a key priority for the Duterte administration.
“Thank you very much to DFA, especially to Office of Migrant Workers’ Affairs, for continuous coordination with the Office of the President and for finding ways to help ease the burden of our countrymen,” Borje said in Filipino.
The Special Envoy also thanked His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud for making the repatriation possible.
Earlier this year, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud assured President Duterte during a phone conversation “that the Kingdom would continue working together” with the government of the Philippines to uphold migrant workers’ rights. This includes assisting efforts to repatriate distressed Filipinos.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola, Presidential Communications Operations Assistant Secretary for Global Media and Public Affairs JV Arcena, and Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Adnan Alonto were also present during the repatriation.
As of June 18, a total of 403,234 overseas Filipinos had been repatriated by the government since the start of pandemic in March last year. Some 105,582 are seafarers while 297,652 are land-based OFs.
Saudi Arabia hosts more than 800,000 Filipinos, the highest in any Gulf state, according to a 2020 government estimate.
About half of the total number of Filipinos work as domestic laborers, while others are employed in the kingdom’s construction, outsourcing, and healthcare sectors.