Saudi immigration crackdown: 'Our feet were chained'

Saudi immigration crackdown: 'Our feet were chained'
Filipina domestic helper Amor Roxas (C), 46, weeps upon arriving at the Philippines’ main international airport.

SAUDI ARABIA - Thirty Filipino workers deported from Saudi Arabia arrived home on Monday and alleged they were abused amid a crackdown on illegal migrants in the Middle Eastern kingdom.

The deportees were among an estimated 6,700 Filipino workers stranded in parts of Saudi Arabia where an amnesty for undocumented foreigners ended on Sunday.

"They treated us like animals," said domestic helper Amor Roxas, 46, who burst into tears while narrating her ordeal.

She claimed Saudi police rounded them up and placed them in a crowded cell for four days before they were paraded from the immigration centre to the airport.

"Our feet were chained," added Yvonne Montefeo, 32, in between sobs.

Saudi Arabian Embassy officials in Manila did not want to comment on the allegation of abuse.

The Philippines had asked Saudi Arabia for an extension of an amnesty for illegal migrants, but Vice President Jejomar Binay said Monday that King Abdullah did not respond to the Philippine request.

With the deadline lapsing on Sunday, Binay said the Philippine request for an extension was considered moot.

And that means undocumented Filipino workers will be arrested in the crackdown on illegal migrants in the oil-rich kingdom.

But Binay, also the presidential adviser for migrant workers' affairs, said Filipino workers in the kingdom had nothing to worry about, as those who were already being processed for repatriation would not be arrested.

"Those who will be arrested are [the illegal migrants], those still working and have not yet applied [for repatriation]," Binay said in an interview on Radyo Inquirer 990AM.

Stranded in Jeddah

But Migrante International, a support group for overseas Filipino workers, said 1,700 other workers remained stranded in Jeddah waiting for their documents to be processed so they can return home while about 5,000 more were scattered in Riyadh, Al Khobar and Dammam and also needing consular assistance.

Migrante warned that the Filipinos "are in danger of being violently dispersed, arrested and detained by Saudi authorities" as the kingdom cracks down on illegal migrants.

The Filipinos are among tens of thousands of mostly Asian unskilled workers likely to be expelled, the group said.

The crackdown started early this year, but the Saudi government offered an amnesty to allow the workers to legalize their stay.

Binay said more than 4,000 Filipinos had been repatriated since the crackdown was announced, while 1,716 are waiting for their exit documents to be processed even as the deadline expired on Sunday.

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