Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East

Return to research Posted on Jun 21 2010

Padma and Chandrangani, two young Sri Lankan women, both went to Kuwait to work as maids with the hope of earning enough money to support their families. Both faced horrific physical and mental abuse at the hands of their employers, and were treated by their Sri Lankan recruitment brokers as though they were mere commodities.
Today’s Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) carried this feature telling their stories.

Due to a fragile post-war economy, thousands of Sri Lankan women travel to the Middle East each year to find work as housemaids or cleaners in the hope that they will be able to send money back home.

There are roughly 1 million Sri Lankans employed overseas – roughly one person in every 19. Out of these an estimated 600,000 are employed as domestic workers.

Unfortunately Padma’s horrific story (below) is not an isolated case. According to the article, hundreds of workers return home each year with unpaid salaries and physical injuries. Some are caught up in human trafficking or prostitution. Some do not come home at all – suicides and ‘accidents’ claim the lives of many migrant workers in the Gulf.

Padma (name changed) left for Kuwait in February 2009 and was sent immediately to her employer’s home. There were twelve people in the family despite initially being told by the agency in Panadura that there were only five in that house.

Padhma, alone, was forced to cook heavy meals for the family and their friends and was always left without food.

Her Madam would purposely supervise her in the kitchen so that Padhma could not sneak a bite to ease her starving stomach. Padhma worked for over a month on little food and started searching for a way out when the beatings finally began. One day, as Padhma was left without food for nearly two days, she sneaked into the kitchen in desperation to search for something to eat. Her madam who caught her searching the kitchen cupboards, pulled her by the hair and lit the fire on the stove and held her face very close, threatening to burn her. Padhma screamed, begging her for forgiveness. However Padhma’s screams and tears were of no avail as her madam burnt part of Padhma’s beautiful face and then bashed her head to the wall several times till she finally collapsed.

Padhma regained consciousness an hour later only to be lying on the kitchen floor in pain. Her madam had walked in a few minutes later and screamed at Padhma to get up and prepare lunch or face a beating again.

Padhma worked in silence for days, enduring the severe beatings she received. Her several attempts to escape also failed and each time she got caught, she received severe blows.

However one day, Padhma, after gathering her belongings, escaped when the front gate was left opened and fled to the agency which had brought her to her employer’s home.

Luckily she had studied the roads in the six months she was employed at her ‘madam’s house’ when she went marketing with her daily. After days of torture, Padhma was glad to see Sri Lankans at the agency and urged them for medication and help. She begged them not to send her back.
Instead of helping her, the men at the agency, who were all Sri Lankans had only kicked Padhma in the stomach and told her she would be sold to a brothel if she did not go back to work. “They screamed at me and told me embarrassing things which cannot be mentioned. I was shocked to see Sri Lankans behaving in such a manner,” Padhma cried.

After being tortured in the agency for two weeks, Padhma finally returned back home,after almost seven months, after her brother sent Rs.65,000 cash to the agency. She returned home, devastated and in pain.

Chandrangani’s story is equally horrific; she was beaten and starved by her Kuwaiti employer, and was then subjected to yet more abuse the Sri Lankan recruitment brokers who had found her the job.

Housemaids, Kuwait, Research, Women

33 thoughts on “Horror in the Middle East: Abused Sri Lankan Women Speak Out

  1. garawi says:

    So why the f*** is the government encouraging our poor women to go ?
    Isn’t it better to develop the country so that they can stay behind and live a better life?

    Dear Mr. President please stop these women going out. Let only the men go as skilled worker but none as maids!

  2. P A. M says:

    This is what, foreign emplyiment beauro officials and sri lankan foreign ministry officials who suckup countries money and collect heaveay taxes saying insurances from this poor foreign employees doing.

  3. hameed says:

    very sad to hear her story, this is not the end, I have seen plenty of cases like this and our embessy to aware about kind of issues, some embessy officials are depending on our recruitment brokers run by Sri-Lankans, and these agency brokers they enjoy there life lavishly,with these poor Sri-Lankan maids hard earn money, why our income tax officers not interested to inspect these brokers bank balance & wealth, they rob poor maids money. I am very much thankfull to your for publishing this artical, our president & concern minster should know why our poor maids are suffering here mainly because of our brooker,

  4. charlie says:

    they call them selfs muslims!! no wonder the karma comes backs and americans starts killing these basterds.

  5. Indu says:

    I work in Israel as a caregiver, this is my first time working abroad. I meet many Srilankan caregivers here who has worked in Arab countries as house maids, it’s very pathetic to hear their stories and they say Israel is thousand times better than those countries.
    Almost all the people are very good here. There’s no discrimination, they treat us like a member of their family.
    The rules in the country to protect the immigration workers rights are carried out well. Employers respect the rules.

  6. Saffe says:

    Dear President and politician please ban women going as maids. Women must be close to their children, so that they will be grown to be good citizens of sri lanka and build the country. Why should sri lanka sell quöity work for öow salary when you can use it to develop the country.
    Most of the asian countries have ban house maids for middle east.

  7. Earnest says:

    There are plenty of such stories, but our government is not taking any action to prevent such happenings, nor are they getting the authorities in those countries to take action against wicked and ruthless beings in these Muslim countries. It appears that the Muslims of the Middle Eastern countries are about the worst type of employers one can be so unfortunate to have.
    Such people should be prosecuted as well as those Sri Lankans who act as brokers. Why no action has been taken so far is beyond my comprehension.

  8. Alex says:

    I think what government need to do is give all powers to embassies to inspect the houses where Lankan maids are working and observe there grievances. if they feel that those families are not doing good for the maids withdraw them and give them a option to fly to Sri Lanka using money they have paid for the foreign bureau. Those agencies who are money minded should be brought to the court. Or else do not to send maids to ME but provide them opportunities to work in Sri Lanka. I am aware that some of our ambassadors are just heating the chairs in the office and entertaining theire relatives and friends wasting tax payers money. They should do something to the country not only to friends and relations.

  9. Alex says:

    I think what government need to do is give all powers to embassies to inspect the houses where Lankan maids are working and observe their grievances. if they feel that those families are not doing good for the maids withdraw them and give them a option to fly to Sri Lanka using money they have paid for the foreign bureau. Those agencies who are money minded should be brought to the court. Or else do not to send maids to ME but provide them opportunities to work in Sri Lanka. I am aware that some of our ambassadors are just heating the chairs in the office and entertaining their relatives and friends wasting tax payers money. They should do something to the country not only to friends and relations.

  10. Mohammed says:

    I am in Qatar and came to know many stories like this. Specially unskilled workers suffering from a local agent’s representative call Mr. Ghanam. He recruit people from SL with a huge pay of Rs.100,000 and above. Later he supply them to local companies (specially to Jami’eyaa call co-operative shop) for low salary. while transfering he charge with poor workers almost QR3,000 and if they don’t agree will left behind without job. This culprit doing this for years and there are hundreds of poor workers crying to punish this man. Unfortunately our foreign mission also not taking any action against this bogus fellow. (I came to know that this guy supply high level vehicles to the mission when ever needed therefore, the are liable to him. I am not sure how much tue on this)

  11. These are one off incidents, our women are not angels. They have their own faults have their own whims and fancies. And what percent of abuse of the total house-maids employed here are we talking about. If one really compared it is less than 0.5 % (one could check this statistic with Sri Lankan Embassy in Kuwait which houses the run-away maids) It a wonder for a maid to observe the roads to the agency in 6 months. There are people living here in Kuwait for the past 20 odd years and still unable to find a place the first time without any guidance, as most of houses and roads look alike in some localities . And daily going to supermarket with a burnt face is something to be noted.I am sure there is another side of the story for the madam to harass her. That does mean there are few genuine cases of abuse which our women should be prepared to tolerate at the beginning of employed and after some time they rule entire family which is a noticeable scene here.

  12. Pranith says:

    Where is Wimal Weerawansa? Why don’t he talk on behalf of poor maids and abuse of maids by employers, particularly Saudis and Kuwaitis. I believe Emiratis, Omanis, Qataris and Baharanis are much much better. Unfortunately majority of our maids work in Saudi and Kuwait. It is the responsibility of the Govt to protect our sisters and mothers. These poor women are helpless and many people try to abuse or take advantage of them. It is not only Kuwaitis and Saudis, there are others who prey on them including some sexual harassment by Pakistanis, fellow Sri Lankan males, Indians and other nationalities. They also face harrassment by Sri Lankan crooks when they arrive in Sri Lanka, at the airport. So, the GOSL must have a better system to protect these vulnerable poor women by educating them and creating new laws to protect them from exposure.

    Thanks for publishing this article.

    Hope MR will look at this and do what is necessary.

    Tripple gem bless you all.

    Pranith

  13. Janaka says:

    Why note foreign ministry Jail the Sri Lankans who harazed her in the agency. And Local Agency must pay compensation for her. if they avoide then cancel their licence.

  14. R Ratnayaka says:

    First a fall, this is not a new story. Similar stories have been published in new papers time to time. Most of our maid have been victimed in middle east more than a decade. As every one knows middle east doesn’t treat our maids well.

    Only solution to this prolem is to have a strong economy to our country. Solution is in the hand of our president and the ruling party. Otherwise, more and more sri lankan domestic workers in middle east will return to srilanka in coffins . This is a national problem.

  15. Chanaka says:

    This is indeed a very sad story. We have heard many like this before and will continue to hear more like this in the future unless the government steps in to take serious steps to prevent such abuse. The Foreign Employment Bureau has never made any serious efforts to take out these croocked agencies of which there are many. They are only intersted in using strong arm tactics to collect money from from people leaving for jobs. I have experienced their strong arm approach many times at the CMB airport and they are only a buch of goons out for our blood. As anyone can now see, the money they collect from us at the airport just goes to pay their salaries and keep the minister in luxury, nothing good will ever be done for the worker who leaves the comfort of his / her home to make a few bucks for the sake of family. This is shameful to say the least.

  16. Dear Mr President,

    Please arrest all these agencies who make blood money by sending poor Sri lankans to Middle East countries for employment. Its easy, just confiscate their properties in Sri Lanka and gve it over to the poor victims. I am living here in Switzerland for the past 39 years, I have met a ot of Sri Lankans who have gone through this type of horror treatment in the Middle East.

    Jayraj

  17. Sarojini says:

    I would advise that you do not publish any false nasty news about Dubai. The Emiratis are very nice people – the RULERS, men, women and children – They are the nicest in the World one could say, they are all educated and very nice in their ways. Dubai has the best which Sri Lanka cannot offer. One should remember that Dubai has a multi national expatriate community living in Dubai, who employ Sri Lankan labour or maids. Kindly do not blame the Rulers or the Emiratis for the mistake committed by the others. First and formost kindly contact the Consul General’s Office in Dubai and Northern Emirates prior to publishing any article against Dubai.

  18. FRENCHMAN says:

    When ministers and employement agencies are trying to make money by sending poor women to work specially in middle east..Who is going to take action and punish these people.

  19. Hari says:

    Who are these agencies? Let anyone come out with proof of mistreatments by Srilankan agency staff against these poor women, We’ll get someone to take care of them. Don’t just complain, there’s no use of it. Publish some names and addresses of these offenders.

  20. kanishka says:

    even it’s 0.5 % it’s a sri lankan. I think you work for a agent of our a** kissing enmbassy mr MHM. HOW CAN YOU JUST THAT AND LOOK AWAY. D ubai is no different i live in dxb for last 23years the locals think we are slaves. i agree other nationals can be good. but majorty locals are fools with mony, thats why god has send them bank croupt. stop sending our mother of our nation for slavery.

  21. sara says:

    Kanishka boy, you are still in dubai, for the last 23 yrs. if the country and the people are so bad, what the hell are you doing in dubai, why not go back to lanka and pluck coconuts. ungreatful bugger, you eat, feed your family with arab money and cursing them. ungreatful cheap fellow

  22. hameed says:

    Dear President & concern minister for manpower supply,

    Please looking to this matter seriouly, most of the kuwaitis think our poor maids are beggers and prostitutes, and also our Sri-Lankan who run manpower agencies in Kuwait most of them they rob innocent maids wages and other belongs, there is a leading agentn name DAKNAN MANPOWER & LUTFI BILLAL MAMPOWER IN KUWAIT HAWALI AREA, and they make millions of kuwait dinnar from maids businees but the way thery treat maid are very pathatic, and they keep nearly 60 to 75 maids in a small house with a small toilet for all , and about this our embessy officials are aware for money bribe they cover up everything, and there are many Sri-Lankan prostitues dens run by these manpower supply office staffs, they sell our maids for get influance from police and other immigrations, our embassy is blind they are good to organize functions, only to ger prestige,

  23. Ramon says:

    Kanishka. You are an ungreateful rascal .you licking their butts for last 23 years.if you dont like what the hell are you doing in UAE.why dont you go back to Sri lanka and wash toilets. instead of licking their butts to feed you and your family.

  24. gayathri says:

    The srilankan government should know better, this has been happening for so long and I;ve been reading similar articles since my childhood and nothing has changed. The government should protect sri lankans living outside of the island, it is their duty. Why do you want to keep and embassy in these regions if it is of no use to sri lankans???

  25. Prevent our women from going to the Middle East. This will stop the rot. Recently we heard from a Sri Lankan doctor about rape of girls by their fathers. All this abuse will come to an end if our women are prevented from going to the Middle East. Our Government should find work for them in Sri Lanka. India for instance, does not allow their women to work in the Middle East. But our Government simply wants the cash and is not bothered about the suffering our women face both at work and later when they return to Sri lanka and fine that their children have been abused.
    Fahima (Sri Lankan)

  26. M.S.Mudali says:

    I agree with Fahima. SL government must ban sending women to work in Middle East! When Indira Gandhi was the PM. she made the ban. But Sri Lankan rulers who spend millions for political Tamashas and other unwanted issues. Middle East, though wealthy, still not liberated itself from the old days of Slave Trade!

    Sri Lankans, of any religeon, must respect the Mothers of our nation.

  27. MOHAMMED says:

    THESE KIND OF INCIDENT NOT ONLY HAPPENING IN GULF, ITS HAPPENING OUR OWN COUNTRY TOO BUT NO ONE IS FINGERING THAT AT ALL, WHEN ITS HAPPENING IN THE MIDDLEAST ALL OF A SUDDENT SRILANKANS BOWING AGAISNT MIDDLEAST. OVER MANY DECADES THESE KIND OF THINGS AGAISNT HOUSEMAIDS ARE HAPPENING IN THE MIDDLEAST AND SRILANKA BUT NO ACTION HAS BEEN TAKEN BY RESPONSIBLE AUTHORITY SOFAR ACCEPT SENDING THOUSANDS AND THOUSAND AGAIN AND AGAIN TO WORK AS A HOUSEMAID IN THE MIDDLEAST. JUST FOR LITTLE MONEY WORKING FULL DAY IN THE HOUSE IS NOT EASY FOR STRANGER. SRILANKAN GOVERNMENT MUST GET ALL RESPONSIBILITIES. AS A SRILANKA I AM THINKING SHAME FOR US TO SEND OUR WOMENS TO MIDDLEAST FOR SERVANT IN THE HOUSE. SAUDI ARABIA WANT TO STOP RECRUTING HOUSE MAID FROM SRILANKA BUT SRILANKAN GOVERNMENT DOESNT WANT TO STOP. GOVERNMENT SURVIVING FROM FORING CURRENCY. SAD TO HEAR INCIDENT LIKE THIS .

  28. MOHAMMED says:

    DEAR CHARLIE
    FOR HOUSE SERVANTS IN SRILANKA TO ABUSED BY OWN SRILANKANS, DONT FORGET THAT, HOW MANY INNOCENT POOR HOUSE SERVANTS ARE RAPED AND ABUSED BY THE OWNERS IN SRILANKA, THERE MORE STORIES THAN MIDDLEAST. DONT SAY MUSLIMS AND THIS AND THAT. AMERICANS ARE BUCHERS AND THEIR NOT HUMAN BEEN KEEP IT IN YOUR MIND OK. YOU ARE BASTERD NOT ARABS OR MUSLIMS.

  29. MOHAMMED says:

    EXPATRIATE CAN WORK AND LIVE SAFELY WITHOUT ANY PROBLEM ONLY IN BAHRAIN, WORLD NUMBER ONE COMPARING TO AMERICA OR ANY OTHER COUNTRIES ACCORDING TO THE SURVEY. BAHRAIN IS THE FIRST COUNTRY SEEING EXPATRIATE WITHOUT ANY DESCRIMINATIONS. THERE IS NO AMERICANS OR NO ANY OTHER EUROPEAN NATIONS KEEP IN YOUR RACIST MIND OK.

  30. Lak says:

    Middle east!!! F****** Countries..

  31. Madhuker says:

    very worry to read the story of Padma at Kuwait,Agent who is cheating innocent and poor girl looking bread in foreign land, should be shoot without hesitation, at same time, civilized and rich country like kuwait has no any rule and regulation for protecting the right of house maid, if not why are they giving permit to work? who is responsible for it? government or Padma or Agent

  32. listen up people true kuwaiti familys never treat poor people as animals,after the iraq invation in 1990 everything is been changed many original kuwaitys family escaped and some been arrested to be taken to iraq and even the government nationality data base been mixed out those who own homes became homeless and those who where homeless became and had homes,i dont want to go deep but those stone hearted people in this current new generation are not the original kuwaitys which is numbered by fingers under than 900,000 and the other million which u see now they came from KSA and became kuwaitys,and there women wear like ninjas in whole black and there men have beards true kuwaiti’s are extremely modern wear style and some they wear there tradition cloth if he had to visit special areas,if u look the 50′s of kuwait images u will see how the country is free,thats why they say free kuwait if u heard it before,and it is even on beachs they drink even but those from KSA,always dmg the reputation as what u see now and many think they are the original ones there are no more true kuwaiti all been out world wide the country now is totaly mixed after the war and they got the nationality,to let u know once u see a house with 5 or more kids with 2 or more maids just know they are the second new generation of family which came from KSA after the war and lived in the country,imagin u are the ruler of your land your true people personalitys is kind,and nice to others but a war came to the country and changed everything,by the way not only the maids subject is should only be mentioned in those times but its also happen bitween kuwaiti familis who seek for help from goverment while they are dieing and they cant even feed them selfs what a shame to see that no one knows the truth about the country and whats happening inside & gaining all those reputation,kuwaiti’s families are humiliated more than those maids u are talking about even not all family are rich as the damn world thinks because of the damn oil u all just looking to the surface of the truth not the deep ones which is about the country it self,instead of this topic where is the otherside of it check and google for those maids in kuwait who killed kuwati mother and burned the whole house and even killed her baby using knife and hide him in the bin then stole the gold that the mother has and escape while the maid were treated as queen and has a bed sized as the queens bed (no joke) honestly many stories that will blow your mind up so dont take it as the whole country is a damn,u can google it in arabic using google traslator to catch the dail arab news in historys of logs related to what i sayed if u didnt find them in english,and there are many maids who claimed that just to take alot of money from here madam or try to jail her even for no reason just because the maid didnt liked the home she visited and she talks shit to her madam u wont beleave what u may hear but lets end it tell here,everywhere in this world u will find the chaos or piece,we all are humans if u see any nonesense stories like this from a family or person just know he is an animal and not an original kuwaiti,the true kuwaiti’s heart can kill him self if he had to just to bring the smile and support to the one who is in need cheers.

  33. gohar says:

    Back In history the Arabs use to have slaves for their service. The prophet (PBUH) preached the ummah how to treat their slaves and what is the significance and returns of good deeds (Hassanh).
    Currently the Arab culture and society is in a phase where their women are least concerned about their family responsibility.
    their focus is how to look beautiful so that their dickheaded husbands should not look anywhere else but to them. Unfortunately these Arab women can’t cook, clean and maintain their homes therefore they need maids for help. They consider their maids/ servants as if they are their slaves and their dickheaded husbands believe that having sex with their maids is halal.
    Because A- Arab men think from their dick and B-they think their maids are halal on them therefore they consider it their legitimate right to do whatever they want to the maids and Indulge In sexual torture. It is strange for people belonging from a society and culture which normal and is a shock for them.
    The Arab women who is the most irrelevant creature in arab society feels insecure even by their maids and because they can’t do anything to their dickheaded husbands they torture their maids so that these maids should look ugly unattractive to their husband’s

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Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East