Philippines: Aid for returning women OFWs can be made more efficient, NGO says


A new research by a migrant NGO shows that Covid-19 pandemic-hit women overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), either do not know where to seek assistance or have sought assistance but received either slow or no response upon their return to the Philippines.

The research titled, The Paths that Pandemic-Hit Women Migrant Workers Take for Their Reintegration, released by Manila-based non-profit organisation Development Action for Women Network (DAWN) found that seeking assistance from government agencies and financial institutions in the Philippines is not automatic for repatriated women OFW.

The situation may impact on the women OFWs’ efforts to regain their economic activity once they are back in the Philippines, says DAWN in the study.

Interview findings showed that repatriated women OFWs had access to government services during their repatriation. But while they were eligible for the PHP10,000 cash aid from the Philippine Labour Department’s Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) program, the funds were not given to them immediately.

Domestic workers interviewed, especially those who went home from vulnerable situations abroad, also received government support —PHP20,000, in livelihood assistance— from the Balik ‘Pinas, Balik Hanapbuhay (BPBH) program of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

But just like those who received assistance from AKAP, BPBH it also took time to give them the much needed support, said some of the interviewees.

Such financial aid could be used as entrepreneurial credit should returnees want to start up business ventures and help augment their economic situation after their overseas migration, otherwise known as reintegration.

The study also found that even if OWWA and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) directly bankrolled their repatriation and quarantine, returnee women lacked the awareness that they could seek help surrounding their reintegration.

Some of the returnees who experienced accessing AKAP support have even lost hope in availing the actual funds that took a long time to be released.

Some returnee OFWs also admitted they were not aware of government and NGOs’ assistance programs, as well as the financial services of banks, cooperatives and microfinance institutions, which may have helped in their reintegration.

Majority of interviewees were domestic workers, who showed some risk aversion in simply approaching financial institutions for loans.

The returnees interviewed by DAWN also admitted they were unaware of financial institutions’ requirements. They also said they did not have enough savings upon their return that would give them confidence to approach these financial institutions.

Returnees usually arrive in the Philippines with savings coming from their earnings abroad, from some pocket allowances given by employers prior to their repatriation flight, or from the last salaries they received.

The study also showed that just like the local workers affected by the pandemic, many returnee OFWs found that job hunting is never easy. Some of the interviewees have resorted to setting up some face-to-face or online business ventures, while others relied on income-earning family members who have not been affected by the pandemic.

DAWN’s study also recognised the logistical challenges in helping droves of returnees and repatriated OFWs. Over 600,000 have been assisted through return flights, quarantine accommodations and transportation to their home provinces.

Even as repatriations and return migrations continue, DAWN called for a better, more responsive system for migration-related government agencies to help returnees.

“The disbursement of AKAP cash aid and of OWWA-run assistance programs has to be quicker and more responsive. Mental health and psychosocial services also have to be in-place at international airports (as the first point of contact by returnees), and in various regions of origin by OFWs,” said DAWN.

“Legal assistance services for returnees who endured work-related issues (and disregarded possible legal recourses of action, such as filing cases at Philippine recruitment agencies) have to be on standby to assist future returnees.”

DAWN also called for the expansion of stakeholders which can help returnees in their reintegration, complementing the Philippine government’s “whole-of-government” approach to help returnee OFWs.

“Inter-agency coordination is more necessary than ever to fulfil government’s mandate of facilitating smooth, gainful economic and social reintegration by returnee overseas workers,” the NGO said.

Job retrenchments and fear for contracting Covid-19 provided major reasons that pushed the interviewed women returnees of DAWN to be repatriated.

OWWA has its array of economic and psychosocial programs for returnees. Agencies such as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) have all rolled economic reintegration programs for both documented and undocumented or irregular OFWs who were repatriated.

Government-run financial institutions such as Landbank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines and the Small Business Corp. have also been retailing loan facilities for repatriated OFWs wishing to finance existing businesses, or to those jumpstarting new ones.

Migrant civil society groups, for their part, have continued providing economic reintegration interventions such as business advisory services and financial education and coaching.

DAWN’s qualitative study interviewed 11 repatriated women OFWs, 10 of them are domestic workers.