An army officer has confessed to murdering five migrant domestic workers and two of their young daughters — one just six-years-old — in Cyprus in what is believed to be the island’s first serial killing.
Among the victims were three Filipina domestic workers, Mary Rose Tiburcio, Arian Palanas Lozano, and Maricar Valtez Arquiola, as well as a woman Indian or Nepalese descent and a Romanian woman named Livia Bunea.
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Bunea’s young daughter, Elena, and Tiburcio’s six-year-old, Sierra, were also killed.
The killings have deeply shaken the migrant worker community in Cyprus as it is clear the murdered women were targeted because they were foreign workers. Protestors have also alleged that the police failed to properly investigate victims’ disappearances because they were migrants.
The BBC reports:
The case has exposed an exploitative system that allows tens of thousands of migrant women to work as housemaids in conditions that critics have described as akin to modern slavery.
“The killings are a wake-up call,” says Lissa Jatass, a domestic worker who campaigns for the rights of migrant women in Cyprus. “Housemaids here suffer with this bad system. Women here are the least represented in society,” she said.
Ester Beatty of the Philippines Organisation in Cyprus said women came to work in Cyprus because it was part of the European Union and they felt “a bit more relaxed”. Their contracts require their employers to provide them with free food and accommodation.
But Ms Beatty regularly deals with complaints from women whose monthly salaries are well below the minimum €400 (£340;$450). Despite signing contracts that stipulate a 42-hour working week with one day off, Ms Beatty said women frequently worked 12-14 hours a day with little or no holiday and often suffered sexual harassment.
Santie is one such Filipina domestic worker who came to work in Cyprus. She found the job through a recruitment agency, but had to pay thousands of dollars for the job placement.
Within three months of starting work in Cyprus, Santie says her employer started sexually harassing her and requested a change of employer. But her agent wouldn’t hear it, instead telling Santie that the sexual harassment “was only a friendly touch” and that she would need to spend six months with her employer before she could be “released” by the agency.
Although Cyprus says migrant workers are entitled to the same social protections as Cypriots, in reality migrants cannot access adequate healthcare and are made to fight for their pension even after years working in Cyprus.
“The whole system is built to keep them isolated and vulnerable and excluded,” said Doros Polykarpou, executive director of Kisa, an NGO supporting migrants in Cyprus.
“It is similar conditions to modern slavery.”