CEBU, Philippines—Bureau of Immigration (BI) officers at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) rescued 17 suspected human trafficking victims who were illegally recruited to work as household service workers (HSW) in the Middle East. Bureau of Immigration Port Operations Division Chief Grifton Medina said the female passengers disguised as tourists were intercepted on Oct. 16 and 17 before they could board their flights to Hongkong and Macau en route to their final destinations in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
“It appears that these victims were recruited by a syndicate which separately booked them on several flights in order to mislead our immigration officers on the purpose of their trip. And that is to work abroad without documentation,” Medina said. He surmised that due to the Bureau of Immigration’s intensified campaign against trafficking, the syndicates are attempting to shift their operations to other exit ports. “They are, however, wrong in assuming that we are less vigilant in guarding our ports outside Manila,” Medina stressed, adding that Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente has already alerted Bureau of Immigration personnel manning the different reports to be extra vigilant following the incident at Mactan airport. Ma. Asuncion Palma-Gil, BI-MCIA’s travel control and enforcement unit (TCEU) head, disclosed that the 17 passengers were offloaded from five different flights and that 13 of them were hired to work in Dubai while the other four were bound for Qatar. “They all admitted having UAE and Qatari visas in their possession and that they were recruited by individuals they only met via Facebook or through their people they know currently working in Dubai and Doha,” Palma-Gil said. She added that the passengers were not familiar with their travel itinerary and what they would do upon arriving in Hongkong and Macau as they would only rely on instructions to be given to them by their handlers. “This is a clear case of human trafficking wherein victims who are jobless and have no visible means of support are sent abroad and put in harm’s way to satisfy the cravings for profit of unscrupulous recruiters,” Palma-Gil added. The women were later turned over to the MCIA Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) for assistance and further investigation.