Employer arrested for Filipina maid's death in Kuwait freezer


"We have just been informed by the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait that Mona Hassoun, wife of Nader Essam Assaf, who are the principal suspects in the murder of our kababayan Joanna Demafelis, is now in custody of authorities in Damascus", Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano said in a press release.

Her death has prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to order the repatriation of distressed OFWs from Kuwait.

Cayetano said he expects Kuwaiti authorities to request the extradition of Assaf so he could stand trial in Kuwait.

Eva (3rd L), the mother of Filipina worker Joanna Demafelis whose body was found inside a freezer in Kuwait, cries in front of the wooden casket containing her daughter's body shortly after its arrival from Manila at Iloilo International Airport in Iloilo province, central Philippines, on February 17, 2018.

"Assaf's arrest is a critical first step in our quest for justice for Joanna, and we are thankful to our friends in Kuwait and Lebanon for their assistance".

He said that he will not lift the ban and compel the Kuwaiti government to work on arresting her employers.

Reports said Demafelis, whose body was found on February 9 or a year after she was reported missing, sustained broken ribs and internal bleeding before she died. "No deployment of Filipinos, whatsoever, to Kuwait", he added.

The 29-year-old Filipina's body, which allegedly showed signs of torture, was found inside a freezer in the abandoned apartment unit of the arrested suspect and his Syrian wife, who remains on the run.

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Kuwait is a popular destination for workers from the Philippines. They are among over two million Philippine nationals employed in the region, whose remittances are a lifeline to the Southeast Asian nation's economy.

As many as ten million Filipinos work overseas, representing a tenth of the country's 100 million population.

From his end, Cayetano said that in response to the Demafelis murder, both the DFA and the Department of Labor and Employment would work together to carry out the President's instructions to ensure that Filipino migrant workers are adequately protected in host countries overseas.

Philippine officials are under increasing pressure to do more to monitor the safety of the country's worldwide diaspora of mostly maids, construction workers and labourers.

"Secretary [Alan Peter] Cayetano, at the same time, assured that with the two suspects now in custody, the DFA and the Department of Labor and Employment will follow President Duterte's instructions to vigorously pursue justice for Demafelis", added the DFA.

The sheer number of Filipino workers overseas makes monitoring their wellbeing an overwhelming task.

More than 2 million Filipinos are working in Kuwait and other Middle East countries, but many cases of abuse have also been reported elsewhere.