Filipino workers in Iraq deceived, abused – report

This 9 August 2007 video says about itself:

US Government, Human Trafficker!

This is a music video of OFWs picketing the US and Philippine consulates in Hong Kong to protest the trafficking and forced labor of 51 Filipinos to build the US embassy in Iraq.

Another video used to say about itself:

Are you there, Mr Bush?

I have a Present for you!

I remember you saying how the US Military had done everything you had asked them to do, and that ‘where mistakes had been made’… the ‘responsibility’ rests with you. So I thought I would put together a few pictures of the outcome of some of those ‘latest mistakes’, and perhaps you could hang them in that brand new US Embassy in Iraq.

I really hope you like the way I Framed the Pictures. I felt that Framing them was really important, and I wanted to do as good a job of ‘Framing the Pictures’ as what you had done ‘Framing the Iraqi People’!!!

‘Accidents’ Mr Bush? Or ‘Gross Neglect’???
Either way… you are right. The ‘responsibility’ rests with you!!!

Music in this Video is the Bee Gees singing… How Can You Mend A Broken Heart

From GMANews.TV in the Philippines:

Filipino workers in Iraq deceived, abused – report

07/27/2007 | 05:58 PM

Filipino workers promised jobs in Dubai hotels were deceptively recruited and trafficked to Iraq for a massive US Embassy construction project in Baghdad, two former American civilian contractors of a Kuwaiti company testified at the US Congress on Thursday.

The foreign workers, including Filipinos, experienced physical abuse and substandard working conditions, said John Owens, an American citizen who worked for First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co. as a construction foreman for six months.

The Kuwaiti firm was awarded the $592-million contract for the construction of the US Embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. This was said to be the largest US diplomatic mission in the world.

“Conditions there were deplorable, beyond what even a working man should tolerate,” Owens said in his testimony before the House committee on oversight and government reform on allegations of waste, fraud and abuse in the construction project.

“Foreign workers were packed in trailers tight. There was insufficient equipment and basic needs – stuff like shoes and gloves. If a construction worker needed a new pair of shoes, he was told, ‘No, do with what you have’ by First Kuwaiti managers,” Owens said based on a transcript of the congressional proceedings.

“The contract for these workers said they had to work 12 hours a day 7 days a week, with some time off on Friday for prayers,” he said.

Rory J. Malberry, also an American who worked as emergency medical technician at the embassy site under a subcontract, said First Kuwaiti managers asked him to escort 51 Filipinos through the Kuwait airport and onto a flight to Baghdad.

“I was given my flight information to Baghdad. At this time, First Kuwaiti managers asked me to escort 51 Filipino nationals to the Kuwaiti airport and make sure they got on the same flight that I was taking to Baghdad. Many of these Filipinos did not speak any English,” he told US congressmen.

“I wanted to help them make sure they got on their flight OK, just as my managers had asked. We were all employees of the same company after all. But when we got to the Kuwait airport, I noticed that all of our tickets said we were going to Dubai. I asked why? The Kuwaiti manager told me that because Filipino passports do not allow Filipinos to fly to Iraq, they must be marked as going to Dubai,” Malberry said.

Washington Post reported on Friday that US State Department officials disputed the testimonies of Owens and Malberry.

It quoted Howard J. Krongard, the State Department’s inspector general in charge of investigating the project, saying that he conducted a “limited review” on the conditions of foreign laborers at the construction site in Baghdad and did not find reasons to substantiate the claims.

The inspector general of the US-led military force in Iraq also conducted inquiries, he said.

“Nothing came to our attention that caused us to believe that trafficking-in-persons violations or other serious abuses occurred at the construction workers’ camp at the new embassy compound,” Krongard told the committee.

The Filipinos worked at the embassy construction site with laborers from India, Pakistan and Sierra Leone.

Malberry said he had read Krongard’s report. “It’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. This is a cover-up. I’m glad that I have this opportunity to set the record straight,” he told the committee.

Malberry said the workers were told they would be working in hotels in Dubai, not in Baghdad.

According to him, the First Kuwaiti managers even instructed him specifically not to tell the Filipinos they were being taken to Baghdad.

“As I found out later, these men thought they had signed up to work in Dubai hotels. One fellow I met told me in broken English that he was excited to start his new job as a telephone repair man. They had no idea they were being sent to do construction work on the US embassy,” Malberry said.

“Mr. Chairman, when the airplane took off and the captain announced that we were headed for Baghdad, all you-know-what broke lose on that airplane. People started shouting. It wasn’t until a security guy working for First Kuwaiti waved an MP-5 in the air that people settled down,” he said, addressing Rep. Henry A. Waxman, chairman of the oversight committee.

“They realized they had no other choice but to go to Baghdad,” he said. “Let me spell it out clearly. I believe these men were kidnapped by First Kuwaiti to work on the US Embassy,” Malberry said.

According to the Washington Post report, the US Department of Justice is also investigating First Kuwaiti’s labor practices, particularly the allegations that foreign workers were brought into Iraq under false pretenses and were unable to leave because the company had confiscated their passports.

The Kuwaiti firm was awarded the contract because no US company met the terms for the construction project, the committee was told. Company officials declined the congressional panel’s invitation to testify.

The report also said foreign workers came from countries in South Asia and the Philippines because of the difficulty of hiring Iraqis to work inside the heavily fortified Green Zone.

In the transcript of Thursday’s proceedings, Malberry testified that he “witnessed” the trafficking of the Filipinos.

“When flying from Kuwait to Baghdad, I saw a bunch of workers with tickets to Dubai. Mine was the only one that’s for Baghdad. When I asked the First Kuwaiti manager, he said, ‘Shhh, don’t say anything. If the Kuwaiti customs knows they’re going to Iraq, they won’t let them on the plane’,” Malberry said.

When the plane landed on Baghdad, the workers were then taken away in buses to the construction site.

Malberry said First Kuwaiti assigned him as “security liaison, among other tasks” at the construction site although he claimed to have “more experience with building embassies than anybody else on that site.”

“I think the American people might understand what was going through my head over there as I watched this abusive and unprofessional practice taking place. I kept thinking it would get better. I kept telling myself that it would get better, and after more time had passed and things didn’t get any better, I felt so bad all the time and I realized it was time to resign and speak up for those who do not have a voice,” he said.

Waxman, a Democrat congressman from California, remarked: “It does not help matters that there are only three career State Department officials on site to oversee this massive project. Everyone else is a private contractor.”

See also this video:

12 thoughts on “Filipino workers in Iraq deceived, abused – report

  1. Slave labor said used in building of US embassy in Iraq
    Posted by: “bigraccoon” redwoodsaurus
    Fri Jul 27, 2007 7:07 am (PST)
    Slave labor said used in building of US embassy in Iraq

    Jul. 26, 2007
    Abuse of workers building U.S. embassy in Iraq is alleged
    Renee Schoof | McClatchy Newspapers

    WASHINGTON – Two former employees of First Kuwaiti
    Trading and Contracting, the company that’s building the
    new $592 million U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, testified to a
    House of Representatives panel Thursday that they’d
    observed abuses of construction workers.

    John Owens, who worked on the site as a security liaison
    from November 2005 to June 2006, said he’d seen foreign
    workers packed in trailers and working 12 hours a day,
    seven days a week, with time off Fridays for Muslim prayers.
    Several told him they earned about $300 a month, after fees
    were taken out, and that they were docked three days’ pay
    for such offenses as clocking in five minutes late.

    Rory Mayberry, who said he’d been a medic on the site for
    five days, said First Kuwaiti had asked him to escort 51
    Filipino men from Kuwait to Baghdad but not to tell them
    where they were going. Their tickets showed that they were
    flying to Dubai, Mayberry said. They screamed protests
    when they discovered on the flight that they were headed
    to Baghdad, he said.

    Mayberry also said he’d seen workers high on scaffolding
    without safety harnesses.

    In a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and
    Government Reform, Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., said
    Americans were responsible because U.S. taxpayers’ money
    paid the workers.

    Republican Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut agreed.

    “We have to make sure in the process of trying to find people
    who can work on the embassy, if Iraqis can’t, that we are in
    essence not becoming part of the problem of human
    trafficking,” Shays said.

    First Kuwaiti said in a statement that Owens’ and Mayberry’s
    claims were unsubstantiated. It said it had fired Mayberry
    when he couldn’t prove he was a medic, and that Owens
    had filed a lawsuit against the company that was pending.

    “The implication that First Kuwaiti laborers are brought into
    Iraq against their will and are kept there to work against
    their will is absolutely ludicrous,” it said.

    The committee’s examination of alleged abuses at the new
    Baghdad Embassy came as workers are finishing the 21
    buildings that will make up the huge office and residential
    compound for American diplomats in the fortified Green Zone.
    America’s largest embassy is on schedule for completion in
    September. High walls topped with razor wire obscure all but
    the tops of the tallest buildings.

    The State Department’s inspector general, Howard Krongard,
    said he’d received allegations that workers had signed
    contracts at home to work in Dubai and hadn’t learned that
    they were going to Baghdad until they were in the air and
    almost there. He said he’d also heard other complaints,
    including some about squalid living conditions.

    Krongard said a brief review that he’d conducted in Baghdad
    last September had found no evidence of trafficking in
    persons or of human-rights abuses against the mostly South
    and East Asian workers. Follow-up inspections by American
    officials found no problems except recruitment fees that
    were illegal in some of the workers’ home countries, he

    “At this time our reach does not extend to third-country
    hiring practices,” said William Moser, the deputy assistant
    secretary for acquisitions.

    “I don’t believe I have the authority to enforce the laws of
    Sri Lanka, I really don’t,” Krongard added.

    Charles E. Williams, the director of the State Department’s
    Office of Overseas Building Operations, said he’d look into
    the concerns.

    Patrick Kennedy, the director of the State Department’s Office
    of Management Policy, said it wasn’t possible to hire many
    Iraqis to build the embassy. Iraqis who work for Americans
    fear for their lives at the hands of insurgents and militiamen.
    Kennedy said they feared being seen entering and leaving
    the Green Zone, and that it was difficult for American officials
    to run security checks on them.


  2. (US State Department accused of human trafficking)
    Roxas seeks probe of smuggling of OFWs to Iraq
    07/31/2007 | 04:23 PM

    Alarmed over reports that 51 Filipino laborers had been “smuggled” into Iraq from Kuwait to work at the construction of the United States Embassy in Baghdad, Senator Manuel Roxas II sought an investigation Tuesday of the reported abuse.

    Roxas called on the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment to seek all proper diplomatic channels to verify such information, which was presented in a testimony before a US House committee on oversight committee and government reform.

    “I call on the DFA and DOLE to urgently look into this report, and if verified, to ensure the safe return of the said Filipinos being forced to work in Iraq ,” he said.

    “These 51 Filipinos, and many others who may have a similar plight, were supposedly duped about working in Dubai , but they only learned that they were being brought to Baghdad when they were on the plane. If true, this is forced labor at its worst,” he added.

    Roxas noted the testimonies of two American private contractors on July 26 before the US oversight committee that was looking into alleged abuses in the construction of the US Embassy in central Baghdad, Iraq.

    Rory Mayberry, an American citizen who worked as emergency medical technician under a subcontractor of First Kuwaiti — the construction company building the US Embassy in Iraq– testified that he was tasked to shepherd 51 Filipinos to Iraq .

    He told the committee that these Filipinos thought they were bound for Dubai to work in hotels there, and had no idea that they were being brought to Baghdad.

    “It is distressing to hear that our fellow Filipinos are being deceived into working in Iraq by unscrupulous contracting firms. I call on DFA and DOLE officials to verify these reports, and if verified, to ensure the safe return of our people,” Roxas said.

    Mayberry also told the US congressional panel that when the Filipinos raised an uproar on the plane when they learned they were being brought to Baghdad, a security officer supposedly working for the construction company threatened them by waving an MP-5 machine gun. Eventually, he said that the Filipinos were “smuggled into the Green Zone” of Iraq, past US Security Forces.

    Mayberry also testified that these Filipinos, among other foreign laborers forced to work on the US Embassy in Iraq, were working without the proper safety equipment, and many were injured in the process.

    “As far as I remember correctly, the ban on travel to Iraq had not yet been lifted. Why do we then hear reports of Filipinos ending up there?” Roxas asked.

    “If these testimonies are true, then the stamps on our passports saying ‘not valid for travel to Iraq ’ means nothing. Such stamp is not enough,” he added.

    “This is not just a violation of our travel ban, this is forced labor. And unless we have officially accepted that the days of slavery are back, the government must act,” he stressed.

    In 2004, the government banned Filipinos from traveling to and working in Iraq after Angelo dela Cruz, a truck driver working for a Saudi trucking company, was abducted by Iraqi militants.

    Dela Cruz was released only after the Philippine government pulled-out its peacekeeping troops from Iraq.

    Roxas said the Philippine Embassy in Iraq must conduct an inspection of the US Embassy construction site, to get in touch with US officials there, and to indeed see for themselves if there are indeed Filipinos in the vicinity.

    “Another testimony like that on the forced labor of Filipinos there might not be forthcoming, so Philippine diplomatic officials better get moving in looking for those Filipino workers in Iraq,” he said.

    In Manila, Roxas said, foreign affairs and labor officials must immediately check all recruitment and deployment agencies here to see who among these have sent Filipino workers to the said Kuwaiti company.

    The senator stressed that the situation highlights the need to address the welfare of OFWs, as they suffer abuses abroad, at the same time as their families are suffering from a missing family member. – GMANews.TV


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