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Condition of foreign workers in Jordan

On September 11, 2008

A disturbing article from IRIN News:

AMMAN, 10 September 2008 (IRIN) - A lawsuit in a US court over the alleged involvement of a Jordanian company in human trafficking has forced the Jordanian government to act against the practice.

The Ministry of Interior has formed committees to draft legislation banning trafficking and to investigate conditions of foreign workers in Qualified Industrial Zones and other areas, Ziad Zubi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said on 10 September.

"The government is determined to quash all rumours that the country is a safe haven for human traffickers by introducing tough legislation against this practice," Zubi told IRIN.

He said several committees had been formed from the justice, labour, health, industry and trade and social development ministries to examine the conditions of foreign workers after complaints that employees in industrial zones were harshly treated.

"The new law will be based on international human rights laws and agreements between countries that ban human trafficking," said Zubi.

Legal action

Companies in Jordan are accused of using the country as a transit point to forcefully send Asian workers to Iraq following the outbreak of war in 2003.

Some workers were allegedly lured to the kingdom with contracts in industrial zone areas and construction sectors, before they were shipped to Iraq, mostly against their wishes.

The issue was highlighted last month when a lawsuit was filed in the US by a Nepalese man, Buddi Prasad Gurung, and relatives of 12 of his colleagues, who were killed in Iraq.

The men were hired to work "as kitchen staff in hotels and restaurants in Amman, Jordan, before their passports were confiscated and [they were] sent to Baghdad to work", according to a statement by the plaintiffs' lawyers.

"For 15 months, the 13th man, Gurung, was held in Iraq against his will," before the US-based company KBR and its Jordanian sub-contractor Daoud and Partners allowed him to return home to Nepal, the statement said.

A member of the Jordanian parliament, Narmiman Rousan, has called for an official investigation.

"We want the truth behind these allegations to be uncovered," she told IRIN.

Zubi said a special committee was formed on 9 August comprising officials from the labour ministry and the security authority to investigate human trafficking allegations made against any individual or entity in Jordan.

Abuse accusations

Foreign workers complain of slavery-like working conditions in the kingdom, with many domestic helpers "imprisoned" in employers' houses for up to two years.

They also complain of physical, psychological and sexual abuse by employers.

Last year, the government of the Philippines stopped sending domestic workers to Jordan, saying such a step would highlight the abuse they were subjected to by their Jordanian employers.

Labour Ministry records show that about 70,000 domestic helpers work in the kingdom - 20,000 Indonesians and 35,000 Sri Lankans, in addition to Filipinos and others.