A new report by Migrant-Rights.org details the extent of violence, abuse and exploitation Kenyan women experience as migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.
Dehumanization of migrant domestic workers
Extensive interviews with a group of women who have returned from working in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf shine a light on the dehumanizing treatment women migrant workers are forced to endure. All of the women experienced labor exploitation through delayed or non-payment of wages, long work hours, verbal abuse, and confiscation of their passports.
But extreme sexual and physical violence, torture, and even attempts on their lives are part of the daily risks these women faced.
For those who managed to escape and seek assistance to return to their country of origin, reintegration into their communities is not always straightforward. Some aren’t accepted back into their families so organizations like Counter Human Trafficking Trust-East Africa (CHTEA) support these women by providing a safe house and counseling sessions.
Sister Florence, a professional counselor at CHTEA explains, “We have victims of trafficking from other countries in the world, but none as bad as the ones coming from the Gulf. Especially Saudi.”
Feith is one woman who spent time in Saudia Arabia as a domestic worker. Though her contract stated that she would be working for a family of four, she had to work 17-hour-days for multiple families. Eventually, Feith fell ill and decided to escape her employers’ home to seek the medical assistance she needed. She recounts:
“I took my phone and put it inside my panty, took my blanket, and ran from the house. It was 12 noon. I walked in the heat, all the signs were in Arabic. One old man who saw me asked ‘binti (daughter), where are you going?’ He gave me water and called the police who came immediately. I had only my contract, but no passport or ID.”
The police took her back to her employers’ home where she was severely beaten and forced to continue working through her pain and illness.
While she was cooking, the employer started ranting at her again, looming over her from behind – ‘You are here to work not to be sick. In Saudi, there is no sickness. I buy you, you are my property.’ As Feith turned to speak to him, he picked up the kettle of hot water and poured it on her.
Many other women like Feith turn to the police for help in escaping potentially life-threatening situations but are simply sent back to abusive households.
Enforcement of legislation needed
Migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia are excluded from the country’s labor laws and though there is an anti-trafficking law in place that criminalizes forced labor, there is little evidence that abusive employers are being held accountable.
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