Lebanese man arrested in connection with dead Filipina maid found in freezer in Kuwait | News | DW | 24.02.2018
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Lebanese man arrested in connection with dead Filipina maid found in freezer in Kuwait

A man has been arrested for the death of Joanna Demafelis, a Filipina maid found dead in a freezer in Kuwait City. The incident led Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to ban workers from traveling to Kuwait to work.

Lebanese police on Friday detained Nader Essam Assaf, the main suspect in the death of Joanna Demafelis, a Philippine national whose body was found stuffed into a freezer in Kuwait earlier this month, after she went missing more than a year ago.

Assaf, a Lebanese national, was arrested in his home country. However, his Syrian wife, who is also a suspect in Demafelis' death, remains at large and is presumed to have returned to Syria.

Read more: Philippines' ban on sending workers to Kuwait creates tension, confusion

The death of Demafelis, who worked as a maid for Assaf and his wife, has sparked outrage in the Philippines and raised awareness of the plight that millions of Filipinos face abroad while toiling mostly as maids and laborers.

"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," Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a statement. He added that he expected Kuwait to seek Assaf's extradition.

Ban on workers to Kuwait

Demafelis' shocking death prompted Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to impose a ban on Philippine nationals going to Kuwait to work there.

After attending Demafelis' wake on Thursday in the town of Sara in central Iloilo province, Duterte said the ban would remain place and warned it could even be extended to other countries.

Duterte also said Demafelis' body bore signs of torture and strangulation. The government, the president continued, would conduct an assessment to "find out the places where we deploy Filipinos and our countrymen suffer brutal treatment and human degradation."

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (Getty Images/AFP/M. Dejeto)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shows beatings and strangle marks on Demafelis' body

Filipinos suffering abroad

The Philippines is one of the world's largest exporters of labor,  with around 10 percent of the country's 100 million people working abroad. While many work in lower-paid unregulated jobs, the workers have been hailed as national heroes back home, because the money they send back amounts to around 10 percent the country's gross domestic product.

The situation in Kuwait is reported to be particularly bad for Filipino migrant laborers, who make up more than 250,000 of the country's 4 million inhabitants.

Read more: No social security for most of world's domestic workers

Hans Leo Cacdac, the administrator for the Philippines' Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, reported that almost 200 Filipinos had died in Kuwait in the last two years, mostly for unspecified reasons, although four had committed suicide.

Kuwaiti authorities have vowed to do everything they can in the hunt for Assaf's wife. However, Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told a recent Senate hearing that his office would investigate three Kuwaiti labor officials over their failure to act upon requests for help from Demafelis' family after she went missing in January 2017.

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dm/sms (AP, dpa)

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