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Now Free, Unpaid Lankan Maid Just Wants to Go Home

On September 18, 2007

From Arab News:

RIYADH, 18 September 2007 — The wheels of justice would move too slow for a Sri Lankan woman who was rescued by Riyadh police after working for years in slave-like conditions: She now says she can’t wait around in the Kingdom for the legal process of suing her sponsor, and just wants to go home to be with her family.

“I don’t want to wait anymore for my dues from the employer,” said 40-year-old Anista Marie, who has been working in bondage since 1999 and is owed eight year’s worth of back pay from a Saudi woman with four teenage daughters. “I am desperate to see my children. I have not seen them for the past 10 years.”

If Marie signs away her so-called private rights to press charges against her sponsor, not only does she pose a good chance of losing eight years of her salary owed to her, but her sponsor may not face any punitive action.

Marie could sign over power of attorney to a lawyer before she leaves in order to have a legal proxy in the Kingdom to follow through with pressing charges, but it’s unclear what she’s being advised to do by Sri Lankan officials.

An embassy source said efforts were being made to try to recover the back pay, but didn’t provide details except to say the woman had been granted the emergency paperwork to facilitate immigration and customs in Riyadh and Colombo to get her home faster.

He said the mission would provide her with an air ticket. However, he added that it does not have a budget for other expenses.

Marie called Arab News on Aug. 14 to describe her dilemma. She was able to make the call only because of the help of a member of the family who sympathized with her plight. Arab News informed the police who came to the villa and rescued the woman two weeks later.

Her sponsor, the Saudi woman, refused police requests for her passport and has not had charges pressed against her.

“I don’t want anything more now but to fly home to see my children who have been living like orphans without their mother,” Marie said.

Her eight years’ back salary, holiday pay and home ticket would amount to at least SR40,000, not counting whatever punitive damages from the sponsor she could be awarded by the court.

Saudi security authorities working in cooperation with officials from the Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh rescued Marie. The maid was working without pay in a house located at Khansalallilah district, about 12 km from the city center.

The police handed over the maid to the mission and she is currently being kept in embassy custody in its safe house.

Marie is from a poverty-stricken fishing family, from Chilaw, a coastal town 70 km from Colombo. The maid has four children, including two girls. Her eldest son was 10 years old at the time of her departure for Saudi Arabia. During this period, Marie lost her fisherman husband in Sri Lanka but she came to know of it two years later through a third party.

“I met Marie this morning and she is determined to go to Sri Lanka as soon as possible to see her children,” W.S.M.S. Wijesundera, charge d’affaires of the Sri Lankan Embassy, said yesterday.

Link to article.