Lawyers decry alleged trafficking of 2 Filipinas by Saudi diplomat

The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington D.C.  The Filipina domestic helpers were rescued from the diplomatic compound in McLean, Virginia

The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington D.C. The Filipina domestic helpers were rescued from the diplomatic compound in McLean, Virginia

By Maricar CP Hampton

A lawyer has called on the State Department to declare a Saudi Arabian diplomat ‘persona non grata’ in connection with the alleged trafficking of two Filipina domestic workers. Another called for “more effective” policies that would prevent this type of exploitation from recurring.

“There should be a declaration of a persona non grata on that military attaché and prosecute him without diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention,” said Arnedo Valera, an immigration lawyer and advocate.

Lawyer Ivy Suriyopas said domestic workers are a “vulnerable segment of the working population because of their isolation in private homes.” Such employees in diplomat households are often even more vulnerable because of their immigration status.

“Unfortunately reports of trafficking of domestic workers in diplomatic households have been well-documented,” said Suriyopas, director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative of the Asian American Legal Education and Defense Fund. She cited the celebrated cases of Baoanan v. Baja and Swarna v. Al-Awadi in New York to Sabbithi v. Al Saleh in the D.C. metropolitan area.

D.C.’s Filipino community was rocked by reports that two Filipinas have been rescued from the McLean, Virginia home of a Saudi military attaché following a raid by local police and federal agents. The case is being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The home is said to be part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic compound and located at an upscale neighborhood in McLean. Reports said the property is owned by the Saudi Arabian Armed Forces Office and located less than two miles from the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters.

Officials received a tip that the two helpers were being held in conditions that “amounted to human trafficking,” said John Torres, ICE’s special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in the Washington D.C. field office.

The pair who worked at the Saudi Embassy claim to have been mistreated, an official from the State Department told CNN.

One of the women reportedly tried to flee by squeezing through the front gate as it was closing. It was not clear in the reports if the woman called investigators to the home before returning, or if someone else did.

ICE spokesman Brandon Montgomery verified the women are from the Philippines. He said agents went to the attaché’s home in McLean on April 30 and removed the women. Fairfax County police were called in to assist with the rescue operation.

Montgomery also said that if investigators get reasonable information or confirmation, they would “begin a full investigation, not let them linger in potential abuse.”

ICE is also investigating whether there may be other potential victims connected to the home, Torres said.

“I call on our Embassy to extend all forms of assistance to our two ‘kababayan’ who definitely are now in distress and need our support,” said Valera to The FilAm when sought for comment.

The Philippine Embassy has not issued any statement yet.

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