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NGO seeks tougher penalties for illegal recruiters, human traffickers deploying OFWs to war-torn countries

January 7, 2020

The Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-profit organization that helps distressed overseas Filipino workers, called for tougher penalties against illegal recruiters that deploy victims to countries or territories deemed unsafe by the Philippine government.

“Illegal recruiters and human traffickers that recruit and deploy Filipino workers to war-torn countries such as Libya, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria deserve to rot in jail because they are intentionally putting our citizens in harm’s way,” the Ople Center said.

The NGO lamented that as tensions escalate in the Middle East particularly in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, the trafficking of OFWs in these countries remains a major concern.

Unfortunately, the current law imposes life imprisonment only for syndicated illegal recruitment with three or more perpetrators and/or when the crime involves three or more victims.

“The chosen destination of these illegal recruiters and human traffickers should also be considered, especially when they are recruiting for countries that fall under Alert Levels 3 & 4 of the Department of Foreign Affairs and covered by a deployment ban imposed by the labor department thru the POEA,” Susan Ople, head of the policy center, said.

Alert Level 3 is imposed by the DFA when violent disturbances or external aggression occur in a limited area warranting voluntary repatriation. Alert Level 4 refers to an order from the Philippine government to its citizens to avail of mandatory repatriation or evacuation. This is issued when there is large-scale internal conflict or full-blown external attack.

The Center also urged legislators to amend the Anti-Trafficking Act to include a provision on extra-territoriality to cover third country recruitment of victims by Filipinos. “Most foreign agencies employ Filipinos as agents based in a third country to recruit from among jobless OFWs including those who entered the country illegally through tourist visas. Because of their irregular status, these OFWs become victims of human trafficking including sex slavery and forced labor trafficking.”

The current Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act cannot be applied if the recruitment commenced outside of the Philippines. 

Job applicants who are being offered jobs in any country with high military threats or an ongoing civil unrest must immediately notify the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) through its Actionline: 1343.

Representing the OFW Sector in the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, the Ople Center is currently handling several human trafficking cases that involve OFWs in Iraq.

“In two of these cases, the victims were promised jobs as caregivers in Turkey but they ended up as abused domestic workers in Iraq. Another worker thought she would be working in Europe but was brought to Kurdistan, Iraq as a domestic worker. Most of the offers and transactions were done online, with the Filipino recruiter waiting for the victims in a third country or city such as Dubai,” the Ople Center said.

The Ople Center said IACAT has formed a Task Force Against the Trafficking of OFWs to investigate, prosecute, and provide support to trafficked OFWs. Members of the IACAT OFW Task Force include representatives from the DOJ, DFA, DOLE, POEA, OWWA, DSWD, NBI, PNP and the Ople Center.

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