The woman in the freezer is a mother of 7 from Sulu, victim of human trafficking

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/14 October) – Laida Hajan of Barangay Kapian in Indanan Sulu is coming home soon, in a box from Iraq, a country that was not her destination and where deployment of Filipinos is supposed to be banned.

A victim of human trafficking, the 36-year old Laida passed away in her sleep on August 27 in Erbil, Kurdistan in northern Iraq, her remains kept in a freezer at a hospital morgue under another name. Her unclaimed body may perhaps have been disposed of and nobody would have known she had died were it not for a concerned employer and a concerned Embassy official who “did a DU30” in dealing with the unconcerned employment agency.

Victimized by an illegal recruiter, Laida left her husband and seven children in Sulu over a year ago, and together with other victims “took a perilous boat ride to Malaysia” supposedly en route to their employment in Jordan or Dubai, “and eventually ended up in Iraq despite the existing ban in the deployment of Filipinos,” Elmer Cato, Charge d’ Affairs at the Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines in Baghdad, Iraq, wrote on his Facebook wall.

In Kurdistan, Laida was sent to work for an employer who paid thousands of dollars to the agency for her.

Laida Hajan, the woman in the freezer, a victim of human trafficking who died in Kurdistan, Iraq will be home by next week, according to the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad
Laida Hajan, the woman in the freezer, a victim of human trafficking who died in Kurdistan, Iraq will be home by next week, according to the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad

“Like many trafficking victims, the woman in the freezer used an assumed name in applying for a job abroad,” said Cato. Laida’s friends in Erbil knew her as “Enon,” a 36-year old mother of seven from Barangay Kapian, Indanan, Sulu.

“There are many more victims like her out there. Please help us find them,” Cato added.

Cato narrated that Laida’s Kurdish employer immediately reported her death to the manpower company in Erbil that was responsible for bringing her to Iraq. The Embassy never received a call from them.

“When the agency had the chance to, it still did not bother to tell us there was a Filipina in the freezer of a hospital in Erbil who needs to be brought home. This was two weeks after she died when we asked Kurdish authorities to summon the agency managers so we could confront them in connection with a trafficking case involving another Filipina,” Cato said.

Laida’s employer reported her death to the Embassy last week. “He felt sorry for the Filipina when he found out she was still in the freezer 40 days after she died. When he asked if the Embassy had already been informed, the agency insisted it was his responsibility and not theirs,” Cato wrote.

When the Embassy called the employment agency to inquire about her, the agency “even lied and said they were only informed about her death a few days earlier.” When they asked for her next of kin information so the family could be informed in the Philippines, Cato said the agency said they had no emergency contact details.

“That’s when we did a DU30 and said things you would never hear diplomats say. This was totally unacceptable. This is not the way to treat both the living and the dead,” Cato wrote.

Asked how he “did a DU30,” Cato told MindaNews through a message via Facebook: “more of me raising my voice than cursing but I think I did tell them not to f–k with us.”

How the woman in the freezer was finally identified as Laida Hajan, the Embassy thanks “our other kababayans in Kurdistan.”

“We requested her passport records from DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs- Philippines) when the agency told us they do not have her emergency contact details. From her records we suspected she had assumed another person’s identity. We then asked the help of other OFWs from Mindanao who were part of a Facebook group that we have been engaging with since June. We were able to identify her and contact her family with their help,” Cato said.

“We were able to get her true name and reach her family in Mindanao. We condoled with them and assured them we will bring her home, he wrote on Facebook. Richard Billedo, the Embassy’s Assistance To Nationals officer, went to the morgue on October 11 “to see the woman in the freezer and quietly told her, she will be home soon. Her husband and her children are there waiting.”

Cato told MindaNews Laida passed away on August 27, her death certificate showing she succumbed to “chronic pneumonia with chronic atherosclerosis.”

Cato said Laida was one of 50 women, “mostly from Mindanao, who were brought into Iraq by the agency through illegal recruiters in Mindanao.”

“There are several of them. We have some of the names. They applied for jobs in Jordan, Turkey and Dubai but somehow ended up here. They were first taken to Malaysia and from there took flights to Cairo and Amman en route to Erbil.”

He said some of the women told them there were 200 of them “but records from Kurdish authorities place the number at only 50. The others may have been taken to other countries.”

Cato said the Embassy has been monitoring the agency since June when the OFWs they had been engaging with first reached out to them.

“Last month, we had them summoned to the Ministry of Interior in Kurdistan where I berated them for mistreating our people. This after we rescued one OFW who complained that the agency was even requiring her to pay her ticket home. We have asked Kurdish authorities to investigate the agency and to provide us with a list of Filipinos they brought into Kurdistan so that we could contact them one by one and check on their condition,” he said.

Asked when Laida will be home, Cato replied, “If we could get all the paperwork from her agency, she should be home hopefully before the end of the week next week.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)