TACLOBAN CITY- Filipino migrant rights group Migrante has said at least 30 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were rounded up by Saudi police as the oil-rich kingdom intensified its crackdown on illegal migrants. “Saudi authorities heightened crackdown on undocumented migrants that started last week nabbed at least 30 OFWs as per the initial combined reports we have received so far from our affiliates in the kingdom,” said John Leonard Monterona, Migrante regional coordinator in Middle East. “The common notion that illegal migrants were the very reason why crime rate escalates in the kingdom is fairly objectionable. Most of the so called illegal migrants were actually victim of abuses, maltreatment and labor rights violations who were forced to abscond,” added Monterona in a statement.

According to Monterona, the Saudi’s Ministry of Interior issued a stern warning last month saying that it will intensify the crackdown on illegal expatriates as they have been tagged as main reason why crime rates escalated in the Saudi Arabia. “Those who were nabbed included mostly Asian migrant workers without resident permits, those working in jobs not matching with their work permit, and others working with another employer who were not their sponsors,” Monterona said. Monterona reported that in most areas in Saudi capital, the police conducted check points and at times searching houses where there are suspected illegal migrants.

Monterona, however, appealed to the Saudi government “not to treat the undocumented migrants as mere criminals.” Migrante has urged the Philippine government to provide assistance and follow up the immediate deportation of undocumented OFWs who are now languishing in Saudi jails. “We would like to remind the Aquino government that there are 200 plus distressed women OFWs in Bahay Kalinga in Riyadh, while about 80 male OFWs in a shelter rented by the Philippine embassy most of them have been there for at least 3 months to 1 year,” Monterona said.(RONALD O.REYES)