Why they can't come home

Zapanta said altering contracts without the knowledge of workers is common in this kind of trade. Dubai has no laws protecting domestic helpers, automatically rendering these Filipinos vulnerable to maltreatment, she said.

Since there are no existing laws that can favour the many ill-treated Filipino women in Dubai, it is hard to press charges against their employers. Even telling the authorities their stories after they successfully break free from abusive hands is difficult since the effort can work against them.

Usually, employers would counter the victim's account of molestation by saying that she had engaged in a relationship with him, which is prohibited under the laws of Dubai. The Filipino faces the risk of arrest and detention.

Even personal pride gets in the way in running after the attackers. Who would want to wash her dirty linen in public? Zapanta said some of the victims do not want to file cases since they do not want to be the subject of ridicule or be considered a "failure". Some of them conceal the hardships they experience abroad from their families back home. They refuse to speak so as not to aggravate the misery of their families back home.

"Others don't want to come home even if they have continually been bruised and battered since they find no other options in the Philippines," Zapanta said.

Another obstacle in filing a case, Zapanta pointed out, is the insufficiency of evidence. Or, some victims file cases for the wrong reason or wrong crime for lack of knowledge.

Our government addresses these issues through Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers Act of 1995 and RA 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.

Various government agencies have also introduced programs and projects in response to these laws.

However, the need for these legislations to be fully understood by all parties involved, especially the victims, remains a challenge. Some portions in implementing the laws remain unclear even to the prosecutors.

"In RA 8042, there was a mention of this repatriation fund which entitles distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to (financial assistance) for their fare back home," Zapanta said. "One of the most common reasons why Pinays, after being cleared abroad, can't still come home is that they don't have money for their fare. Now why hasn't this fund reached those who need it? And how can OFWs avail of it?"

Ideally, according to the law, it is the agency which recruited and deployed the OFWs that should shoulder the repatriation costs of these workers-their belongings included-given that they are not terminated by their employers due to their own wrongdoing.

However, if the agency cannot be identified, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration immediately becomes responsible for subsidising their repatriation expense through the repatriation fund, which initially should "consist of 100 million pesos (US$2.16 million), inclusive of outstanding balances."

Of the 140 distressed Filipino workers in the center, only 10 have come home, thanks to the generosity of some Filipino artists. There are still 35 Filipino women ready to go but cannot due to lack of funds.

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