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Kuwait expels Philippine envoy amid tensions over domestic workers

Kuwait expels Philippine envoy amid tensions over domestic workers

WEDNESDAY, April 25, 2018

Kuwait said Wednesday it is expelling the Philippine ambassador and recalling its own envoy from Manila as tensions rise over the treatment of domestic workers.

Official news agency KUNA said the Philippine ambassador had been given a week to leave, amid a diplomatic row between the two nations sparked by the murder of a Filipina maid in the oil-rich state.

An official at Kuwait's foreign ministry told AFP that Philippine ambassador Renato Pedro Ovila had been summoned to be informed of his expulsion.

On April 1, a Kuwaiti court sentenced to death in absentia a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife for the murder of maid Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer in February.

Announcement of the diplomatic expulsion comes despite an apology to Kuwait on Tuesday by Philippine foreign secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, after videos emerged of embassy staff helping Filipinos flee from allegedly abusive employers.

"I apologise to my counterpart and we apologise to the Kuwaiti government, the Kuwaiti people and the leaders of Kuwait if they were offended by some actions taken by the Philippine embassy in Kuwait," Cayetano told reporters in Manila.

One of the clips, released by the Philippine foreign ministry last week, shows a woman running from a home and jumping into a waiting vehicle, while another depicts a person sprinting from what appears to be a construction site to a black sport utility vehicle.

Cayetano said the Philippine embassy staff were responding to complaints of abuse from some of the 260,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait.

Three Filipinos who drove vans for the embassy in the operations were believed to be held by Kuwaiti authorities.

Kuwait was furious about the videos, saying the rescues amount to a violation of its sovereignty, further straining ties already hit by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte imposing a ban on Filipino workers moving to the Arab Gulf state. Duterte alleged that Arab employers routinely rape their Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps.

The two countries had since been trying to work out an agreement to protect the rights of Filipino workers in Kuwait, particularly some 170,000 maids.

Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented extensive mistreatment of expatriate maids and other foreign workers from the developing world in several Middle East states, drawing attention to abuses including sexual assault and confiscation of passports.

Some 10 million Filipinos work abroad and the money they remit back is a lifeline for the Philippine economy.