OWWA’s FAST Assistance mobilized for 248 repatriated OFWs via Kuwait-sponsored flight

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration mobilized its FAST (Food, Airport, Shelter, and Transportation) Assistance to the 248 OFWs that arrived from Kuwait 4:00AM of March 26, 2020 at the NAIA Terminal 1 via Kuwait Airways 417 chartered by the Kuwaiti government.

FAST Assistance is OWWA’s holistic approach in providing assistance to repatriated and stranded OFWs due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 or COVID-19. It includes provision of food, airport assistance, temporary shelter, and transportation assistance.

With the destinations of the 248 OFWs pre-determined prior to their arrival, the FAST Assistance team led by Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac, Deputy Administrator Margaux Uson and OWWA Repatriation Assistance Division already sorted the type and quantity of transport service that would bring the OFWs to their respective drop-off points in Metro Manila and Luzon. It should be noted that the OFWs had already notified their families of their arrival, hence the OFWs expected their loved ones to wait for them at the drop-off/pick-up points, namely Dau, Pampanga for the 40 OFWs headed North, and Calamba, Laguna for 29 South-bound OFWs. Another bus was dispatched for those living within Metro Manila and for seven (7) going to Rizal, also with systematized routes of the drop-off/pick-up points.

Of late however, complaints reached OWWA that unscrupulous persons posing as OWWA transport service operate in the NAIA terminals to charge OFWs with exorbitant transport fees. To avoid this from happening, OWWA advises the OFWs to transact only at the OWWA counter for this and other queries.

As of March 25, 2020, a total of 1,447 repatriated OFWs have benefited from the free transport service.

Provision for temporary shelter, either at OWWA Halfway House or in any of OWWA’s partner hotels, has also been arranged for over a hundred OFWs returnees from Kuwait who have no place to stay in Manila. They will be accommodated while waiting for their recruitment agency representatives summoned by OWWA to attend to their obligations to the OFW. In particular, they are required to provide for the OFWs’ transport fare back to their home destinations in Visayas and Mindanao. OFWs who cannot be accommodated in the OWWA Halfway House are given referrals to stay in nearby partner hotels.

As of March 26, 2020, 498 OFWs have been given temporary shelter; 105 inside OWWA Halfway House and 393 in partner hotels

The repatriation of the 248 OFWs, majority of them women domestic workers who were distressed and who absconded their employers due to employment issues, was made possible by the Kuwait government. They expedited the processing of the exit visa and release documents of the OFWs and paid for their airfare on what is dubbed the humanitarian flight. In a different perspective, the hasty facilitation of the Kuwait government to release the OFWs is among its massive preparation plan for the ultimate lockdown of Kuwait to contain the coronavirus.

The 248 OFW repatriates were released from the Public Authority for Manpower Expatriate Shelter, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office-POLO-OWWA, and several detention facilities in Kuwait such as Talha Deportation Center and Sulaibilya Central Jail.

Citing OWWA’s share of difficulty in serving the OFWs during the lockdown, Administrator Cacdac called on the local government units to allow the OFWs to return smoothly to their home provinces. He invoked Resolution 15 of the Inter-Agency Task Force to concerned agencies, that “Repatriated OFWs be granted free and unimpeded access to airports and bus terminals”.