Overseas employment as an escape hatch?
This morning I met two victims of illegal recruitment who ended up in jail in Damman, Saudi Arabia. “Cecil”, not her real name, has five children. Her husband works in Saudi Arabia.
According to Cecil, she applied for a job opening offered by a licensed recruitment agency based in Manila for a beautician. She has had previous work experience as a hair-cutter. Cecil and other recruits bound for the same salon in Saudi Arabia were given their job contracts on the day of departure at the international airport. To her consternation, she found that her contract indicated her job as “helper shop”.
After three months of work, the salon was raided by the Saudi police because its owners were not allowed to have many foreign workers. It did not help that Cecil’s contract did not match her actual job. The salon was closed down and its employees brought to jail. Soon enough, Cecil found herself homeward-bound, penniless and traumatized by her stay in the Saudi jail.
I asked her what her plans were. The Ople Center assists victims of illegal recruitment and human trafficking in filing charges against their recruiters. I told her, however, that we must obtain a firm commitment from the victims that they will really pursue their case. She said that her recruiter is now offering her a job contract to work in Abu Dhabi and that she is considering leaving. But didn’t that same recruiter faked your papers to Saudi, I asked her. She said yes and then slowly, her tears started to fall. She didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t bear to see her kids not being able to go to school. I asked her about the income of the father ,who is a gainfully employed OFW. She said that his remittance is not enough.
My advice was for her to stay with the children and give herself a chance to heal from the trauma of spending time in jail. You cannot correct a mistake by leaving, I told her. Your kids need you. She wept and admitted feeling the pressures of having to provide for her children. I reminded her that the reason she ended up in jail was because of the failure of her agency and employer to follow the rules.
This was not the first time that I had to convince a victim of illegal recruitment to avoid the temptation to leave again, when their bags have yet to be unpacked; when their cases have yet to prosper; when their invisible emotional scars have yet to heal; and at a time when their children need them most.
I’ve always wondered after such conversations — how many Filipinos look at migration as an escape hatch not for long-term economic growth but for quick avoidance of fast-gaining emotional and psychological stress and realities? For some people that I have met, it seems that the intent to leave is predicated on the desire to escape rather than fight back and rise above the bitterness of life. Hence, the haste and the waste attached to faulty overseas placement schemes.
What is the antidote to such hasty and less thoughtful departures? No one can legislate self-belief. There is not one program meant to instill overwhelming hope. Yet as life gets tougher for the bottom-dwellers, more and more of our citizens daydream through hunger with passports in mind. Who are we to say, don’t dream? We can only say, be careful. Not all dreams come true.