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More countries willing to discuss reform on 'kafala' system, DFA exec says

More countries in the Middle East are willing to discuss adjustments on their “kafala” or sponsorship system for foreign workers, an official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Friday.

“There is already the willingness on the part of these countries to reform. They are not totally there yet but they need the support of country of origin,” DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers' Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola said at a press conference.

“Never before have we ever seen the openness of these countries to listen to us, to open their doors, to build a bridge because they want to do better,” she added.

She said that in 2016, reforms on kafala had not been mentioned in United Nations activities because the term became like a taboo word for diplomats and countries who were worried of offending the Arabs.

According to Arriola, the Philippines, led by President Rodrigo Duterte, started the “biggest” campaign on kafala reform after the death of overseas Filipino worker Joana Demafelis.

“From 2018 to 2022, ang layo na ng narating natin. Noong 2018, ang nakasama lang natin Bahrain (From 2018 to 2022, we have come a long way. In 2018, we only have Bahrain with us),” she said.

“But now we already have Saudi Arabia, I mean Saudi Arabia is the biggest country in the [Gulf Cooperation Council],” she said.

On Thursday, May 19 (New York time), Philippines representatives attended the International Migration Review Forum 2022, which is done every four years, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Arriola said they had discussions with the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain on migrant workers’ matters.

According to her, these countries are already making labor reforms.

Under "kafala," all foreign workers require a local sponsor—an individual or company—and need the permission of this employer to switch jobs or leave the country.

Critics compared he system to modern-day slavery, and left vulnerable workers with little protection and prone to abuse.—AOL, GMA News