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HK Polo helps rescue distressed OFW in Saudi Arabia

20 May 2017

Irene L. Martinez
By Vir B. Lumicao

An OFW who was stranded in Saudi Arabia after escaping from her abusive employer more than a year ago is finally in the relative safety of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Riyadh with help from labor officials in Hong Kong.

And, having been granted amnesty and an exit visa by the Saudi government, Wilma L. Bartolome, a 37-year-old single mother, may be on a flight home soon to reunite with her five children and other relatives in Cagayan province.

Bartolome was rescued on Apr 25 from her “hideout” for over a year – the home of a Saudi police officer in Afif, a city some 480 kilometers west of Riyadh – thanks to information her niece, a domestic worker in Hong Kong, had provided Labor Attache Jalilo de la Torre.

Response was quick. Labatt De la Torre, acting on a request for help by Irene L. Martinez on Apr 17, contacted his counterpart in Riyadh on Facebook and soon the plan for Bartolome’s rescue was set in motion.

“It’s really the power of social media. Labatts have a Facebook messenger chatroom where cases like this are endorsed to the labatt who has jurisdiction. It’s administered by our mother unit, the International Labor Affairs Bureau,” Labatt De la Torre said.

“I have endorsed quite a few already but the Martinez case was the one which had quick results.”  
Private messages to Martinez which the latter showed The SUN said Bartolome had wanted to surrender to Saudi authorities so she could fly home soon to attend to her sick daughter, but the policeman who harbored her refused to let her go.

The niece said Bartolome went to work in Riyadh on March 20, 2016 but things went bad when her employer’s wife allegedly maltreated and physically abused her.

Bartolome said she was accused by the woman of stealing various items from the house.
“Kasi noong nandoon ako sa amo kong una, pinagbibintangan niya akong nagnakaw ng pera, cellphone, alahas, damit, abaya,” and gadgets in the kitchen, Bartolome wrote.

The helper said she endured the long working hours, insults and false accusations, but she decided to leave when the employer’s wife said she would not pay her any cent.

Then on Apr 20, 2016, after her hand was burned by the Saudi woman with a flatiron, she fled.

Fleeing her employer was very risky in Saudi Arabia, as her boss had kept her passport in a safe and she was not allowed to leave the house alone.

But Bartolome was so desperate to escape that with just a copy of her passport and her iqama, a local ID that limited her movement to the province where she worked, she bolted.

She met the policeman, Mahed Naif Al-Atawi, who allegedly took her to his home because his family needed a helper.

The officer promised her a work contract, but a year later, Bartolome remained an illegal worker.

Through friends, she managed to inform the Philippine embassy about her situation, but when embassy staff called up the policeman’s house about Bartolome, his wife allegedly refused to turn her in.

So, she sought help from her niece in Hong Kong.

Martinez approached Labatt De la Torre for help to contact the embassy in Riyadh, and after two days the labor attaché sent a text message to the helper that POLO staff were already contacting the distressed OFW in Afif.

On May 2, in a video call by Martinez to her quarters at Bahay Kalinga, Bartolome said that she was just working on some clearances and waiting for her plane ticket.

She said the police officer and his family had visited her at the POLO shelter in Riyadh imploring her not to go home, but she told him she would return to his household if he got her a work contract and a work visa.

In the meantime, Bartolome is too eager to fly home and be reunited with her children and parents.              

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