Duterte to Permanently Ban Sending Workers to Kuwait Amid Row

(Bloomberg) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he will permanently stop deploying workers to Kuwait amid rocky diplomatic relations between the two nations.

The firebrand leader also asked Filipinos working as household helpers in the Middle East state to come home, and appealed to professional workers to do the same.

Duterte to Permanently Ban Sending Workers to Kuwait Amid Row

“Your government will do its best to help you return and resettle,” Duterte said in a speech after arriving home Sunday from a meeting of southeast Asian leaders in Singapore. “I appeal to your sense of patriotism and to your love of country and family.” More than 250,000 Philippine citizens work in Kuwait.

Relations between the Philippines and Kuwait have been rocky since the body of Filipina domestic worker Joanna Demafelis was found stuffed in a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait in February.

Last week, Kuwait ordered Manila’s envoy to leave and recalled its own, while detaining several people after an online video of Philippine diplomatic staff helping a Filipino worker flee an employer surfaced on social media and reignited tension between two nations, prompting an apology from Duterte’s government. The Philippines violated diplomatic rules by smuggling domestic workers, state-run Kuwait News Agency reported, citing its foreign ministry.

Patriotic Appeal

Filipino household service workers should come home, and the government plans to immediately bring back about 700 people who are now in temporary shelters, Duterte said. While professionals are free to stay, Duterte appealed on their “patriotism” to return to the Philippines where he said many jobs have become available as the economy expands. China and Japan are willing to take in Philippines workers, he said.

“The Philippines and Kuwait have a shared history that both sides must learn to value,” Duterte said. “Current developments, however, test our commitment to work together. We must be undeterred in the work of helping our fellow human beings as we pursue our shared interests with due respect for each other’s sovereignty.”

The Middle East remains the Philippines’ largest destination for land-based workers with more than 1 million deployed in 2016.

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