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DOJ says strict departure formalities to protect Filipinos vs. human trafficking

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday insisted that the strict implementation of the departure formalities by the Bureau of Immigration (BI) would help protect Filipinos going abroad against human trafficking and other dangers.

While acknowledging the plight of travelers inconvenienced by the immigration process, particularly those who were forced to miss or rebook their flights, DOJ explained that BI, as a member of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), has responsibility to administer and enforce anti-trafficking, immigration, and related laws to better protect Filipinos.

The DOJ said it has become hard now to determine regular passengers from potential human trafficking victims, citing a recent recruitment scheme involving educated, well-traveled, and professional Filipinos to work in regional call centers linked in online scamming and other fraudulent activities.

“The profile of these victims pose a challenge to our implementation of the Departure Formalities as many of them do not share the vulnerabilities of traditional victims of labor trafficking, such as those Filipinos exploited as domestic workers in the Middle East or fishers in the Asia-Pacific region,” the agency said in a statement.

“The underlying problem here lies in the fact that for these new schemes, it is extremely difficult to distinguish regular passengers from potential victims of human trafficking,” it added.

From January to February 2023 alone, the DOJ said the BI deferred the departure of 6,788 out of 1,056,247 Filipinos who exited the international airports. Of this number, 57 were referred to IACAT as likely victims of human trafficking.

The rest were deferred for other reasons such as incomplete, improper, or misrepresented documents. Many of them would have also been vulnerable to human trafficking had they been allowed to depart, according to the agency.

DOJ said that IACAT is currently processing the revision of the departure formalities to “better reflect current trends and plug the gaps that arose along the way.”

It is also coordinating with the BI and other stakeholders to minimize the inconvenience caused by the departure formalities to Filipino travelers.

“[W]e sincerely request for the public’s continued patience, understanding, cooperation and support. As we empathize with the disruptive effect these may have caused to the public, let us not overlook the fact that there is a bigger problem we need to address as a country: human trafficking,” DOJ said.

A freelance writer earlier went viral on social media after revealing that she failed to catch her flight to Israel in December 2022 due to a lengthy interview at the immigration counter.

The immigration officer involved, who apparently also asked the passenger to show her yearbook, was relieved from post and was reassigned to a back-end office, according to BI.

The BI had repeatedly reminded travelers that presentation of yearbooks, graduation photos, and diplomas are not required before they proceed with their overseas flight.—Giselle Ombay/AOL, GMA Integrated News