More than 2,200 Filipinos are ready to accept an offer from Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to leave Kuwait amid allegations of abuse, the Philippine labour minister said on Sunday,
Silvestre Bello III told Reuters the number was as of Friday after Duterte broadcast graphic photos of the body of a Filipino maid found in a freezer in an abandoned Kuwait apartment.
He said some had overstayed their visas and applied for an amnesty for illegal residents, which is in effect from January 29 until February 22.
Duterte on Friday said he would ask Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific to repatriate workers “with or without money” that want to leave the country.
Bello said free charter flights had been arranged and about 500 workers would arrive back home soon.
The country stopped sending workers to Kuwait in January in reaction to the deaths of four women who had been abused and committed suicide. Duterte said on Friday that the suspension would be indefinite.
More than 250,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, the Philippine foreign ministry estimates.
Kuwait’s ministries of interior and foreign affairs sought to assure the Philippine embassy in the country on Sunday that a manhunt was underway to arrest the killers of the 29-year-old Filipina domestic worker found in an apartment in Maidan Hawally last week, according to local reports.
The body of Joanna Daniela Demaflis was said to have been kept in the freezer for more than a year and was only discovered when police entered the apartment after a court order, Kuwait Times said.
A Lebanese man, reported to be Nader Essam Assaf, and his Syrian wife rented the unit. Both are said to have left Kuwait in November 2016.
Philippine ambassador to Kuwait Rene Villa told the publication that the ministries had assured him if the suspects were in Lebanon they could be extradited within “probably two weeks” but it would be “very hard” for police to make arrests if they had fled to Syria.
The body showed signs of torture and broken bones meaning she was killed before being placed in the freezer, he confirmed. The embassy has requested the return of body home to her family.
Demafelis came to Kuwait in 2014 to work as a domestic helper but her family received no contact from her after the first year.
Sources at the Civil Aviation Directorate told Kuwait Times that 410 Filipinos left Kuwait on Sunday. Of these 350 were illegal residents and 60 left for annual holiday.
They said Philippine Airlines flights are still scheduled for every three days.
Separately, the interior ministry denied social media rumours that police were arresting Filipino domestic workers and sending them to the embassy to be deported.
Bello told ANC news that the government would introduce a re-integration programme to help returning workers find jobs.
He said the country was also looking at alternative markets like Russia and China.