Ramadan rise in runaway maids in Dubai

Dubai's new Filipino labour attaché has promised to do what he can to get runaway maids home. He cited the extra workload during Ramadan as a contributory factor to a surge in runaways.

Delmer Cruz, the new labour attache at the Philippine overseas labour office, hopes to cut the number of runaway maids. Satish Kumar / The National
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DUBAI // As Dubai’s shelter for runaway maids bursts at the seams, the new Filipino labour attaché has promised to do what he can to get them home as soon as possible.

Normally the shelter is a temporary home to fewer than 50 Filipinas, who have fled their employers’ homes over mistreatment ranging from unpaid salaries to overwork or lack of food.

But with a recent surge, there are now more than 100.

Delmer Cruz, who took over the post in July, said action was needed.

“The problem is immediate and tangible,” said Mr Cruz, 47, who held the same post in Al Khobar and Seoul between 2004 and 2010.

While he declined to give a figure, he said the surge could be attributed to Ramadan, when many are unable to cope with the extra workload.

“It’s normal and happens anywhere in the Middle East,” he said. “They work extended hours and stay up late due to frequent visitors in their employer’s homes.”

One community leader, who regularly visits the shelter, said it is overwhelmed with more than a hundred women.

Mr Cruz is reviewing the system for dealing with runaway maids, and hopes to cut their numbers by the end of this month.

He will also consider the case of each woman at the shelter, holding a case conference with the assistant labour attaché and two welfare officers.

“We will be prioritising those who are ready for repatriation and those who need plane tickets to return home,” Mr Cruz said. “The rest are still in the negotiation stage and this can be so arduous.”

A significant problem is that employers are often aggrieved that their housemaids have left, leading them to be unwilling to help enable their return to the Philippines. Some demand that the worker should pay back the cost of their recruitment before they will sign release documents.

“It is the responsibility of the employer to repatriate a worker,” Mr Cruz said. “Other options include the recruitment agency in the UAE, its counterpart agency in the Philippines, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration [Owwa] and the Department of Foreign Affairs [DFA] in Manila.”

If a recruitment agency in Manila fails to provide air tickets within 48 hours, the Owwa steps in and advances the money, later claiming it back from the agency.

If a maid was not recruited legally, the DFA may help with repatriation.

Mr Cruz is hoping to be able to multi-track the various bits of bureaucracy – so where previously the labour office would wait for a response from the employer and the agency in the UAE before contacting the agency in Manila, now all three requests will be put in simultaneously.

He is also trying to stop the backlog building up by refusing to process further applications from recruitment agencies whose maids are already at the shelter until their cases are resolved.

“We are intensifying pressure with the agencies so they would co-operate,” he said.