By Cynthia BalanaPhilippine Daily InquirerFirst Posted 02:15:00 09/28/2008
THE DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN Affairs Saturday ordered its embassies in the Middle East to extend assistance to some 6,000 overseas Filipino workers stranded on the border of Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
Acting Foreign Secretary Esteban Conejos Jr. said the OFWs were stranded on the border because of recent changes in the UAE’s visa rules which took effect on July 29.
The new policy directs previous holders of visas to the UAE to reapply as tourists, resulting in the rejection of thousands of visa applications from Filipinos.
“The Filipinos had been warned since March (about the new rule),” said Conejos.
Nevetheless, he said, the DFA would appeal to the UAE government not to drive them away.
At any rate, the DFA would first coordinate with UAE officials before deciding whether or not to repatriate the Filipinos, Conejos said.
He stressed repatriation would be a last resort considering the big number of OFWs involved.
Embassy officials in Muscat, Tehran and Abu Dhabi, as well as the Philippine consulate in Dubai, have been mobilized to deal with the problem.
“(The decision to repatriate the OFWs) will depend on how the UAE government responds to our request for leniency,” Conejos said.
Conejos said that since Sept. 23, a four-man consular team from the embassy in Muscat has been going to various hotels in Al Buraimi, along the border with Oman.
Nearly 1,000 OFWs were reportedly holed up at the Al Buraimi Hotel alone.
The stranded OFWs said they were being asked by the hotels to deposit their passports upon checking in.
The OFWs who exited from Al Ain in the UAE as a result of the change in visa policy entered Oman using three-day tourist visas issued by Omani authorities. However, their visas expired before they could get fresh UAE visit visas to enter UAE.
Starting Aug. 1 this year, Oman also stopped the practice of issuing visas to regular exit visitors.
Aminah Marduen, the coordinator at the embassy in Oman, said that Filipinos and many other foreign nationals entered Oman without being aware of the new Omani immigration law.