Manila (AFP) – The Philippines on Tuesday welcomed an olive branch from Kuwait in a migrant labour row, days after its President Rodrigo Duterte announced a permanent ban on workers going to the Gulf state.
The dispute, simmering for months, erupted last week when Kuwait expelled the Philippine ambassador over videos of embassy staff helping Filipino workers flee allegedly abusive bosses in Kuwait.
But the Kuwaitis sought to calm the crisis after Duterte said on Sunday that he was making permanent the departure ban in place since February, when a murdered Filipina maid was found in her bosses’ freezer.
Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Nasser al-Subaih said on Monday the row was “largely a misunderstanding” and “we do not believe in escalation”.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano welcomed that conciliatory message on Tuesday.
“This gesture on the part of Kuwait, a country with which we have a shared history and strong people-to-people ties, will allow us to move forward,” Cayetano said in a statement.
“We affirm our friendship with the government of Kuwait and its people. The strength of that friendship will withstand this misunderstanding,” he added.
Cayetano apologised last week for the rescues, but Kuwait called them violations of sovereignty before expelling the Philippine envoy and recalling its own ambassador from Manila.
Before relations plunged, Kuwait and the Philippines had been negotiating a labour deal that could have resulted in the lifting of the ban on Filipinos leaving to work in the Gulf state.
Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers, according to the Philippine foreign ministry.
Duterte said workers returning from Kuwait could find employment as English teachers in China, citing improved ties with Beijing.
The Philippines has sent millions of its people to work abroad, seeking salaries they cannot get in their relatively impoverished nation.
The money they send back home accounts for about 10 percent of the Philippine economy.