Female migrants – Realm of modern day slavery
Young Bangladeshi female migrants, working in the middle eastern and other oil-rich countries are increasingly subjected to torture and sexual abuse by their employers.
Sources in Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh said that of the victims, younger ones become more vulnerable despite their legal status in the destination countries. In many cases the employers pick them up, illegally stripping them off their cell phones and passports and exploit them as sex workers. Many of them do not even receive their agreed wages. They are unable to complain to the police under intimidation and torture. In cases when a victim escapes, her unscrupulous employer reports her as “absconding” to the police. She immediately becomes more helpless.
On January 11, 127 such victims were repatriated from oil-rich Saudi Arabia, the largest overseas labour market for Bangladeshi workers. In 2017 alone, over 83,000 Bangladeshi female workers found employment opportunities in the kingdom.
There are also similar reports of abuses from other countries like United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Oman, Jordan, Malaysia, Qatar and Bahrain.
Traumatized, the returnees narrated how their plight had started on arrival at the Kingdom having spent their last money back home for the job of a domestic worker.
Kohinoor Begum, 24 (not her real name) from Faridpur district, one of the returnees, said just on arrival in the KSA in September last year she realized something was wrong.
“They took away my cell phone and passport and bundled me into an apartment where men speaking in Arabic raped me in turn. “I was taken from house to house and tortured.”
“Almost every female worker I met at the shelter home in Riyadh had similar experience,” she added.
Kohinoor was rescued by the Bangladesh Embassy in Riyadh after she discreetly rang up an acquaintance in Dhaka who informed Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET) in Dhaka.
“Since early December I was at the Shelter Home in Riyadh waiting to be repatriated,” she said terming the whole episode as a nightmare for her.
Despite all these criminal offences, there is hardly any punishment for the offenders. Saudi Arabia’s strict sharia law does not seem to catch up with these criminals.
Sarwar Alam, the labour counsellor at the Bangladesh Embassy in Riyadh told this correspondent over phone that in the three shelter homes for distressed female migrants there are many victims waiting to be repatriated. The one in Riyadh has 45 distressed female workers waiting to be repatriated, and such incidents are now frequent, he said.
“As soon as a distressed female migrant comes into the shelter home, we note down their case history and I can tell you many of these are horrendous stories,” Alam said.
Not all the victims avail the facility of shelter. Alam said that many take shelter with relatives and also with the Saudi police. “But none of these women is willing to lodge any complaint with the law enforcers, they want to return home as soon as possible,” the costs of repatriation are usually borne by the Saudi government. In the whole process nobody raises any questions as to why they are being sent home.
“We cannot also press for any compensation because the local agencies say the victims’ time period in their respective ‘jobs’ is too short for claiming a compensation,” Alam added.
Kohinoor said that thousands of women workers have accepted their situation as their own fate and are going through torture and abuse with the hope that one day they would be able to return home with some money.
Sharikul Islam, Chairperson of Ovibashi Kormi Unnayan Program (OKUP), a Dhaka based NGO working for the welfare of the migrant workers, said that in the oil rich countries rights of “ajnabi” (foreign migrants) are almost non-existent. It is an unwritten law implemented by the state and social traditions.
“It is the modern day slavery where the female migrant workers are forced into ugly realities of torture and abuse and there is no justice for them,” Islam said.
“There are instances when the employers take advantage of the unskilled worker and their lack of linguistic ability and unleash barbaric behavior on them.”
“Of all the countries Saudi treatment of the workers is the worst. An employer pays up to US $ 3,000 to the local agency and gets a female domestic worker say from Bangladesh, and he (employer) immediately thinks he has bought a slave just like in the medieval times.”
“Many of these women workers also change hands when their wishful employers sell them off to other parties. In the process all communications with their families back home are cut off for months and years and they become traceless. They have no way of returning from this vicious cycle,” Islam added.
Bangladesh has signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with at least 15 countries, including Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The MoU with Saudi Arabia clearly states that the female domestic workers must retain their personal cell phones and Passports on them while working. If the worker does not like the work atmosphere she may use her passport with her work visa permit to get another job. But in most cases their cell phones and passports are taken away on arrival.
Salim Reza, Director General of BMET told reportsbd.com that a record number of female migrant workers have left the country for destinations around the world in 2017.
About the plight of the female migrants in the Arab countries Reza said that BMET is now collecting information from the returnees to ascertain the situation.
“This is no doubt a matter of great concern and we shall officially take the matter up as soon as the data is ready,” Reza added.
(Originally published in the reportsbd.com, Bangladesh.)