Philippines' Duterte calls Kuwait work ban 'permanent'

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Manila — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said the temporary ban on Filipinos going to work in Kuwait is now permanent, intensifying a diplomatic standoff.

Duterte in February imposed a prohibition on workers heading to Kuwait following the murder of a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in the Gulf state.

The crisis deepened after Kuwaiti authorities last week ordered Manila's envoy to leave the country over videos of Philippine embassy staff helping workers in Kuwait flee allegedly abusive employers.

The two nations had been negotiating a labor deal that Philippine officials said could result in the lifting of the ban but the recent escalation in tensions has put an agreement in doubt.

"The ban stays permanently. There will be no more recruitment for especially domestic helpers. No more," Duterte told reporters in his hometown in the southern city of Davao.

There was no immediate response from Kuwait, where around 262,000 Filipinos are employed -- nearly 60 percent of them as domestic workers, according to the Philippines' foreign department.

Last week the Philippines apologized over the rescue videos but Kuwaiti officials announced they were expelling Manila's ambassador and recalling their own envoy from the Southeast Asian nation.

Duterte said he would bring home Filipina maids.

"I would like to address to their patriotism: come home. No matter how poor we are, we will survive. The economy is doing good and we are short of our workers," he said.

About 10 million Filipinos work abroad, seeking high-paying jobs they are unable to find at home, and their remittances are a major pillar of the Philippine economy.

The Philippine government has for decades hailed overseas workers as modern heroes but advocacy groups have highlighted the social cost of migration, tearing families apart and making Filipinos vulnerable to abuse.

"Apparently it seems as if they have anger against Filipinos ... I do not want to send (workers) because apparently you do not like Filipinos," Duterte said in a speech before Filipinos in Singapore.

Duterte said workers returning from Kuwait could find employment as English teachers in China, citing improved ties with Beijing.

Describing China as a "true friend", he said he would use Chinese aid to fund the workers' repatriation.

Duterte added he was not after "vengeance".

"I'd address myself to the Kuwait government and the people: Thank you for helping my countrymen all these years. It is a debt of gratitude that after all you were able to help. So I have no anger, no hatred," he said. — AFP


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