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Labatt, OFWs halt latest illegal recruitment to Russia

23 October 2017

By Vir B. Lumicao

Alleged illegal recruiters Meer and Pimentel
A fresh attempt by a Pakistani-Filipina couple to recruit more OFWs from Hong Kong for illegal work in Russia was foiled at the weekend by Labor Attaché Jalilo Dela Torre, who acted on a tip-off from some of their alleged victims.

The labor official went online and warned prospective applicants about the arrival in Hong Kong of Kathleen Floresca Pimentel alias Samantha Kaythe, the Filipino partner of Moscow-based recruiter Jon Meer Ahmed Sameer who also goes by the name Amir Ahmed Waseem.

“Forced labour and human trafficking. This is the business model of Jon Meer Ahmed Sameer, married to Kathleen Floresca Pimentel, who have together recruited hundreds of Filipinas from HK, Singapore, Dubai and Taiwan, and just practically left them on their own to look for a job and survive by their own wits,” Dela Torre said in an online post.

He said he hoped OFWs not just in Hong Kong but also in other places where the couple is known to recruit workers for Russia would be wise enough to avoid them.

“Let us use our common sense. Avoid illegal recruitment, human trafficking, forced labor and modern-day slavery,” the obviously irate labor official said.

Dela Torre’s action torpedoed the scheduled interview of applicants by Pimentel on Oct 20-23 in an undisclosed location in Hong Kong.
Meer sends off Pimentel at Moscow airport

The victims in Russia reported that the woman called off the interviews and flew back hastily to Moscow on Sunday. The couple is now said to be planning to move to another flat to avoid arrest.

The victims contacted the labor attaché as Pimentel was flying to Hong Kong on Wednesday. When she started meeting applicants, Dela Torre posted the warning.

As a result, Meer reportedly started sending rude and vicious messages to Dela Torre’s private number. Someone also managed to hack into Dela Torre’s viber account and replaced his name with “Scammer”.

But Dela Torre refused to be intimidated. He kept posting warnings against Meer and Pimentel on his wall, then formed a chat group that eventually agreed on launching a multi-territorial effort to flush out Meer and other traffickers of Filipino workers.

The group took on board diplomats from several posts abroad, NGO leaders and the Russian-based victims, who wrote about the abuses they suffered at the hands of Meer and his cohorts.

Among those in the group is former labor undersecretary and now anti human trafficking advocate Susan Ople, who disseminated her own hard-hitting warning against Meer in an article she wrote for a Manila daily.

Pimentel celebrates end of Ramadan at Meer's
tiny Moscow flat with some HK recruits
The OFW victims complained about being overcharged, maltreated, sexually harassed and intimidated by Sameer, and verbally abused by Pimentel.

They said Sameer recruited them in Hong Kong, charging US$3,500 (HK$27,230) for an invitation alone, the document that the Russian consulate requires of visa applicants. Those who could not pay in full advanced US$2,000 to $2,500, and paid the balance in three months. Some arrived in Russia five years ago and others just a few months ago.

Meer, in his own Facebook account, boasted about recruiting Hong Kong-based Filipinas for purported jobs in Turkey, Canada and the United States.

In posts after posts, Labatt Dela Torre reiterated there is no legal work for domestic helpers in Russia even if they hold a work visa, because the visa that agencies provide is not for domestic work. Those who hold commercial or business visas are in a more difficult position because they have to renew them every three months, at great cost.

“Per our Embassy officials in Moscow, there is no way a Household Service Worker could ever be granted a work visa, under current Russian immigration rules. So, essentially, you will be working in Russia under the shadow of illegal and vulnerable work. Why risk your safety and your future?” he said in another post.

Even as the illegal recruitment controversy brewed, more Filipinas from Hong Kong arrived in Moscow, with one flying into the Russian capital on Oct 20 and two others on Friday. Some chat participants said another batch of 28 OFWs is arriving in Moscow on Nov 3.

All were reportedly issued commercial visas and stayed in Meer’s flat while waiting for employers to pick them up. But Meer never got them the promised jobs and all had to go out on their own to find employers. Despite this, Meer insisted on being paid their “balance.”

In one instance, Meer allegedly shredded the passports of three victims who could not pay the balance of his required fee. The three were enraged further when they allegedly saw Pimentel laughing at their misfortune.

At times, police would raid Meer’s flat while the recruiter and his partner would suspiciously be dining out. The OFWs said they were asked to pay 500 roubles to the raiding team so they wouldn’t be arrested.

One said she felt so desperate that at one time she contemplated suicide because she was hopelessly trapped in that country without a job while her debt accumulated.

Early this year, at the instigation of the Philippine Embassy in Moscow, several Philippine posts abroad issued a warning to Filipinos not to be tricked into going to Russia for domestic work. The warning was clear: there is no visa for domestic workers in Russia, so everyone who goes there to do such work will be working illegally.

The warning obviously fell on deaf ears.

But this time around, Dela Torre, with help from various Philippine posts abroad, is adamant the illegal recruitment and human trafficking of OFWs from Hong Kong must stop.
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