The UAE government has repatriated the body of a Filipina domestic worker who died last month, and launched an investigation into the findings of a Guardian report on the recruiters that brought her into the country.
When Vergie Tamfungan, 39, died on 25 September, she was being held in her recruiter’s accommodation in the emirate of Sharjah and had not yet been placed in a household to work. Her family said she had gone to the UAE that month after being promised a good salary and bonuses by the agency.
“The UAE ministry of human resources and emiratisation is deeply saddened to learn of the unfortunate passing of Mrs Vergie Tamfungan. Our thoughts and condolences go to her family at this incredibly difficult time,” the UAE government said in a statement.
“The ministry has launched a thorough inquiry to investigate matters surrounding the unlawful employment of Mrs Tamfungan while in the UAE on a tourist visa. The investigation will ensure that those responsible for breaking the law, whether individuals or companies, will be held to account,” the statement added. “The UAE places enormous value on the contribution made by its overseas workforce, and is committed to protecting and enhancing workers rights’ and welfare across the board.”
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 Philippine government’s department of migrant workers’ Dubai office warned against cross-country employment this year, and said it was unlawful and amounted to “human trafficking”.
Tamfungan’s recruiter, a woman from the Philippines who lives in the UAE, has refused to disclose the name of her company and other details to Tamfungan’s family. This lack of information made it difficult for them to access assistance from the Philippine authorities.
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The cause of Tamfungan’s death is unknown. The Emirati authorities have cited “cardiac arrest”. Tamfungan was previously healthy and had no underlying conditions, her family said.
“Why did she die? That’s the big question,” said Gellian, Tamfungan’s 17-year-old daughter.
The family would like an autopsy conducted in the Philippines but cannot afford to pay for one, they told the Guardian. They can cost up to 10,000 Philippine pesos (£145).
Up to 10,000 migrant workers from Asia are estimated to die each year in the Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait. More than half of the deaths are unexplained, with terms such as “natural causes” and “cardiac arrest” often used, according to human rights groups.