A diplomatic scandal has erupted in Kuwait after the Philippine Embassy in the country was accused of operating a team to help maids escape from their employers without the Interior Ministry’s permission.
On Saturday, the Gulf country summoned Philippine ambassador Renato Villa for the second time in two days over his inflammatory comments to a local newspaper and the inappropriate behaviour of diplomatic staff.
This followed the posting of a videos on social media showing Philippines embassy staff helping Filipino domestic workers to flee their sponsors by picking them up in embassy vehicles outside employers’ homes.
Villa told newspaper Al-Jarida that the videos were genuine and the embassy team had been conducting operations for more than a month to rescue domestic workers who said they were being abused by their sponsors.
MPs reacted angrily to the news on Sunday and called on the Foreign Ministry to expel the ambassador and other diplomats involved in the rescue operations.
Deputy foreign minister Khalid Al-Jarallah told state news agency KUNA that Kuwait was dealing with “acts contrary to diplomatic rules and international norms by the Philippine Embassy”.
He said the foreign ministry had instructed Villa to hand over those accused of smuggling workers or risk his expulsion and that the incident could prevent the countries from signing a new deal to protect worker rights.
Kuwait and the Philippines had been working on the deal in recent weeks following the Philippine government’s decision to ban its workers from being deployed to Kuwait in February over abuse concerns.
“We have reached a consensus and signed a preliminary agreement in the hope that it will be signed in Kuwait later but it seems to me that recent developments have not enabled the signing of this agreement,” Al-Jarallah told KUNA.
The Interior Ministry said on Sunday that the General Department of Criminal Investigation had arrested two Philippine nationals allegedly involved in rescuing a group of domestic workers.
The ministry indicated the two had admitted to these and “several similar crimes” in different parts of the country.
In the Al-Jarida report, Villa indicated the seven-member team would act on abuse reports by domestic staff if no action was taken within 24 hours of informing the Interior Ministry or in urgent cases without informing the ministry altogether.
After the workers had been rescued the team would take them to the embassy or a hospital and contact the sponsor for payment of overdue salaries, the release of passports and funds for a flight ticket home for the worker, Al-Jarida quoted Villa as saying.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs reportedly indicated last Wednesday that teams from the Kuwait embassy and home office had been working overtime to take custody 200 distraught workers over the last two weeks.
Villa denied the embassy had been operating without the interior ministry’s permission in a press conference on Saturday, according to Kuwait Times.
On the same day, the foreign ministry said it had informed the ambassador that the “State of Kuwait, which condemns and deplores these statements, reserves the right to take all legal measures that would limit the encroachment on the sovereignty and laws of the State and have been informed of the nature of such procedures”.
The incident has drawn the ire of MPs, some of which previously urged the government to take tougher action against the Philippines following the February labour ban.
The National Assembly’s only female member, Safa Al Hashem, tweeted on Sunday that the country should “stand up to [the] bullying of the Philippine embassy”.
Hashem had previously argued that expats were to blame for the Philippine labour ban after it emerged the employers of a 29-year-old Filipino domestic worker, whose murder was widely reported before the ban, were a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife.
The two were sentenced to death in absentia by a Kuwait court earlier this month, according to AFP, having fled to Syria following the crime more than a year before the body was found.