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Migrant Abuse: February Roundup

On March 2, 2013

Negligence in safety precautions caused several fatalities and injuries this month. Two 21-year old migrant workers died from asphyxiation while performing maintenance on a water tank at an Emrati industrial company. Another thirty year-old migrant was injured. Their employers claimed the men were not provided with safety equipment because they were not required to perform the task - according to company, the men cleaned the tank of their own volition. The company was not convicted of neglect but were ordered to bay Dh10,000 and Dh400,000 per worker in compensation.

In Kuwait, an Egyptian and Pakistani worker were also hospitalized after inhaling toxic gas from an oil field leak. Another Egyptian man working on a building fell to his death. The construction company claimed that he lost his balance and fell from scaffolding, but police are investigating the incident to determine if the building's safety mechanisms were deficient.

Several suicides with unconfirmed but suspicious causes were also reported this month. In Lebanon, Filipina domestic worker Criselda Canonigo died after 'falling' from the 10th floor of her employer's apartment. The Department of Foreign Affairs determined the incident was an accident, but Canonigo's family suspect employer mistreatment played a role in her death. Canonigo had recently told relatives that her employer abused her verbally, threw items at her, and even submerged her face in the toilet. Filipino authorities are further investigating the incident. Also in Lebanon, a 39 year old Bangladeshi woman hung herself in her employer's apartment.

In Kuwait, an Indian migrant working with an oil company committed suicide in the company's store room. Another Indian migrant committed suicide by swallowing pesticide. His roommates allege he received ‘bad news’ from home but the investigation remains open. Yet another Indian man committed suicide by hanging himself in his room. His acquaintances told police he suffered from depression. A fourth Indian migrant detained for alcohol consumption committed suicide in a Kuwaiti police station.

A number of sexual and physical assaults against domestic workers were also recorded to authorities. In Kuwait, a Nepali housemaid was kidnapped and raped by three expatriates. Kuwaiti Police are still looking for an individual who posed as a security officer in an attempt to kidnap an Ethiopian maid.

A Kuwaiti sponsor’s son raped a Filipina housemaid. After the maid informed the boy’s father, she was locked in the house and threatened with deportation if she involved the police. Both the sponsor and son were summoned for interrogation.

In the UAE, Dubai police arrested a woman for beating an African maid to death. The sponsor claimed the maid fell from the stairs, but forensics noted evident signs of physical abuse on her body. The woman tried to bribe her other housekeeper, whom she also abused, to lie to authorities. The employer had tied headscarf on the second housekeeper, who is not Muslim, to conceal an injury on the side of her face. A friend of the employer was also charged as an accomplice for failing to report her crimes.

In Kuwait, an Asian maid accused her sponsor of beating her, providing a medical report in support of her claim. At the time of publishing, the sponsor was summed for questioning.

These reports only represent a small fraction of actual abuses against migrant workers, as most cases are not reported to authorities or circulated by local media. Though not all workers suffer the extent of physical or verbal abuse reported here, micro-aggressions (such as discrimination) is normalized and accounts for the frequency of these violations.

Furthermore, the absence and under-enforcement of protective legislation for domestic workers facilitates such abuse. Domestic migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the private realm of the household, in which employers can easily restrict their communication and mobility. Some sending-nations are making strides in providing support to workers in distress; for instance, the Filipino embassy provided a lawyer to a domestic worker lodging a complaint against her sponsor. Despite the importance of pursuing exploitative employers legally, these punitive measures have a limited impact on the prevalence of abuse. Rather, sending and receiving nations must coordinate together to ensure domestic workers are entitled to their basic labor rights. Currently, recruitment agencies are charged with ensuring employers comply with existing standards and with specific contracts. However, agencies themselves are only very loosely monitored and few are willing to take accountability for placing workers in exploitative conditions. GCC states can begin to address these issues by substantiating the prospective unified contract with a robust enforcement mechanism.