Government officers intercepted 110 Filipino women who were to have been trafficked to the Middle East as workers via the southern Philippines and Malaysia, the Philippine immigration bureau said Wednesday.
The women, who presented fake documents, were stopped at the southern Zamboanga International Seaport (ZIS) in three groups this month, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said in a statement.
More than half of the women (56) were stopped on Monday before they could cross to Sandakan, a port in Sabah state in Malaysian Borneo, where the recruiters were to meet them and arrange for their onward travel to the Middle East, the bureau said.
They were recruited in different parts of the Philippines and hired by agencies that some contacted through Facebook, it said.
“These illegal syndicates are seemingly attempting to look for other exit points to be able to evade strict immigration inspection,” Morente said in a statement.
“What they have not realized is that we have spread out our personnel and are maintaining the same level of screening in all ports in the country to ensure that our compatriots will not be victimized by these unscrupulous individuals,” he said.
On Feb. 10, immigration agents intercepted 37 victims who attempted to board the MV Antonia 1 ferry bound for Sandakan. A week later, 17 were stopped attempting to board the same ferry and were found to be mostly traveling to Dubai to work as maids or caregivers, officials said.
Morente said that the workers were trying to use Malaysia as a jump-off point to Middle Eastern countries.
All the women had been turned over to representatives of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking.
“We are pushing that cases be filed against their illegal recruiters. This is clearly a case of human trafficking,” Morente said, adding some “from the north travel all the way to Zamboanga in an attempt to depart illegally to work abroad.”
Zamboanga is a regional hub in the southern Philippines and has been used by human traffickers to transport people to Malaysia and Indonesia, officials said. Muslim separatist rebels and militants also use the region to cross borders.