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Horror in the Middle East: Abused Sri Lankan Women Speak Out

On June 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.