The government of the UAE has returned the remains of a Filipino domestic worker who passed away last month, and has initiated a probe into the discoveries presented in a Guardian article about the recruiters who brought her to the country.
Vergie Tamfungan, aged 39, passed away on September 25 while staying in the accommodation provided by her recruiter in the emirate of Sharjah. She had not yet been assigned to a household for work. According to her family, she had traveled to the UAE that month with the promise of a good salary and additional benefits from the agency.
The UAE government expressed their sadness upon hearing the news of Mrs Vergie Tamfungan’s passing. They extend their thoughts and condolences to her family during this challenging period, as stated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation.
The ministry has initiated a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding the illegal employment of Mrs Tamfungan during her stay in the UAE on a tourist visa. The inquiry aims to hold accountable those who have violated the law, whether they are individuals or companies. The statement also emphasized the UAE’s recognition of the important role played by its foreign workforce and its dedication to safeguarding and improving workers’ rights and well-being across all sectors.
Tamfungan, a mother of four from Lake Sebu in the Philippines, had worked legally as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia for four years. In August, she was offered work by a recruiter in the UAE, who is believed not to have a licence to operate. This is known as going “cross-country” by the Filipino overseas worker community – when you leave an employer in one country for a job in another without registering your employment with the Philippine government, effectively becoming undocumented.
The Dubai office of the Philippine government’s department for migrant workers issued a warning against engaging in cross-country employment this year, stating that it is illegal and considered a form of human trafficking.
The recruiter of Tamfungan, a female from the Philippines residing in the UAE, has declined to reveal her company’s name and other specifics to Tamfungan’s family. This lack of information has hindered their ability to seek aid from the Philippine government.
The reason for Tamfungan’s passing remains unclear. The Emirati officials have reported it as “cardiac arrest”. According to her family, Tamfungan was previously in good health and had no preexisting conditions.
Gellian, the 17-year-old daughter of Tamfungan, pondered the question, “Why did she pass away?”
The family informed the Guardian that they would like an autopsy to be performed in the Philippines, but they are unable to cover the expenses. The cost can reach up to 10,000 Philippine pesos (£145).
Each year, it is estimated that up to 10,000 migrant workers from Asia lose their lives in the Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait. Human rights organizations report that over half of these deaths are unexplained and often labeled as “natural causes” or “cardiac arrest.”