Middle East

Philippines protests as Kuwait expels envoy over maid 'rescues'

Philippine Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa speaks to reporters in Kuwait City (21 April 2018) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Philippine Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa was declared persona non grata by Kuwait

The Philippines has demanded an explanation for Kuwait's decision to expel its ambassador amid a dispute over the treatment of domestic workers.

The two nations have been attempting to resolve the dispute since February, when the body of a murdered Filipina maid was discovered in Kuwait.

But last week videos emerged showing embassy staff "rescuing" Filipinos allegedly abused by their employers.

Kuwait condemned the "violation of its laws" and told the ambassador to leave.

Four Filipinos hired by the embassy were also arrested by Kuwaiti police and arrest warrants issued against three diplomatic personnel, according to the Philippines.

Some 260,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, two-thirds of them as domestic helpers.

Last Saturday, the Philippine foreign ministry published two video clips said to show teams from the embassy in Kuwait carrying out "rescues" of Filipino domestic workers. In one, a woman is seen running from a block of flats and being helped into a waiting car by a man.

On Wednesday, the Kuwaiti foreign ministry announced it had declared Philippine ambassador Renato Pedro Villa persona non grata and asked him to leave the country within a week.

A statement accused Philippine "embassy staff and others" of "smuggling Filipino maids in flagrant violation of Kuwait's laws and international diplomatic rules". It also vowed to "chase down" those responsible and put them on trial.

The Philippines apologised but stressed that the embassy had been "responding to the calls for assistance by Filipino nationals in distress".

On Thursday, the Philippine foreign ministry said it had served a diplomatic note to the Kuwaiti embassy in Manila "conveying its strong surprise and great displeasure" at the expulsion of Mr Villa and the detention of the four Filipinos hired by the embassy.

The ministry summoned Kuwaiti Ambassador Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh to protest but was informed by the embassy that he had been recalled for consultations.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The body of Joanna Demafelis was discovered more than a year after she was reported missing

The ministry said Mr Althwaikh had assured Foreign Minister Alan Peter Cayetano on Tuesday that Mr Villa was welcome to stay in Kuwait until the end of his tour of duty and that the arrested embassy employees would be released from custody.

According to the ministry, the ambassador had also promised to:

  • Facilitate the repatriation of more than 800 Filipinos staying in shelters in Kuwait run by the Philippine embassy
  • Treat humanely any Filipinos detained after the expiry on Sunday of an amnesty for overstaying visas
  • Ensure justice for pending and future cases filed by Filipinos who were victims of serious abuse

In February, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered Filipinos working in Kuwait to return home after the body of Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis was found inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment, more than a year after she was reported missing.

Her employers, Lebanese national Nader Essam Assaf and his Syrian wife Mona, have been sentenced to death in absentia for killing her. Mr Assaf is being detained in Lebanon while Ms Assaf is in custody in Syria, where the couple were arrested.

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