UAE rights group seeks resolution for Filipinos stranded on Kish

The migrant-rights group would like authorities to look into the 'dire situation' of Filipinos on the Iranian island.

ABU DHABI // A migrant-rights group has asked Filipino diplomats in the UAE to help clear the backlog of people who have been stranded on Kish Island for months.

Ryan Kim Pescadera, secretary general of Migrante UAE, said that although welfare assistance in the country had improved last year, the authorities should look into the "dire situation" of Filipinos on the Iranian island.

"Thousands are stuck on Kish Island," he said. "Many are engaged in antisocial behaviour such as drugs and prostitution."

Kish Island has for years been a popular destination for those on so-called visa runs to extend their UAE tourist visas or wait for employment visas so they can re-enter the country. The island is about 240 kilometres from Dubai and about 17km from the southern shore of Iran.

There is also the option to return to the Philippines to wait for a visa.

"But they would rather fly to Kish and wait it out inside their hotel," Mr Pescadera said.

The UAE country co-ordinator for Migrante Middle East, Nhel Morona, who has lived in the UAE for 16 years, agreed. He said Filipinos would rather go to Kish than return to the Philippines, where high-paying jobs were hard to come by.

"If they do get a job in the UAE, they'll have to go through all the government bureaucracy and spend more money to get back here," he said.

Isabel Maningas, a sales worker in Abu Dhabi, took the short flight to Kish for Dh690, and spent Dh40 a day for hotel accommodation.

She spent 61 days there while she waited for her employer to process and send her visa.

"Many of my compatriots cleaned hotel rooms in exchange for free food and lodging," said Ms Maningas, who arrived in Abu Dhabi on December 27. "Others sold food in various hotels, which isn't permitted, while women were into prostitution."

The Philippine Embassy and consulate should coordinate with the embassy in Tehran and check on the living conditions of stranded Filipinos forced to stay in overcrowded hotel rooms on the island and work illegally to survive, Migrante said.

Mr Morona, who visited the island in 2008 on a fact-finding mission, said embassy and consulate officials, non-government officials, and travel and recruitment agencies could form a committee to help the stranded Filipinos.

"They can conduct their own fact-finding mission to better assess the problem and provide solutions," he said.

Jose Jacob, the consul-general at the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi, said there were some issues over going to the island.

"We'd like to know what's happening there but we can't take the initiative," he said.

The embassy in Tehran has consular jurisdiction over Kish Island, he said.

"Migrante or other NGOs [non-government organisations] may send a petition letter to the foreign affairs department in Manila for it to be assigned to Dubai or the UAE because of its proximity to Kish Island," he said. "The stranded Filipinos should not rely on offers of an employment visa. Even if we provide consular assistance, the problem won't disappear."