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Migrant Abuse: April Roundup

On May 9, 2013

Migrant Rights' monthly roundups provide a snapshot of the abuses against migrants in the GCC and MENA region. The purpose of documenting these abuses is not to vilify all employers, but to evidence the scale and structural causes of exploitation. The sponsorship system lies at the root of this systematic abuse, forcing migrants to be dependent on employers with virtually no regulation to curb exploitative practices. In many of the cases below, both states and individuals are complicit in physical and psychological violence against migrant workers.

A number of domestic workers escaped abusive conditions in April. In Bahrain, an Indian worker was forced to work 20-hour days, while enduring undernourishment and underpayment. She was repatriated with the help of Migrants Forum in Asia and India's National Domestic Workers Movement. In the UAE, several Nepali domestic workers recounted their experiences with abuse: one reported that her employer tied a shoelace around her neck, while another was unpaid for 19 months. In Kuwait, a Filipina worker was deprived of sleep and beaten with steel rods. She was forced to work despite the termination of her contract, only able to finally escape with the aid of neighborhood housemaids and Kuwaiti employers. Arab Times Online published disturbing images of her wounds here. In Saudi, a woman escaped from her employer but was subsequently raped by a driver and his friend.

Some workers attempted to escape by other means; in Kuwait, an Asian maid attempted to overdose on sleeping pills. In the UAE, an Indian laborer committed suicide at a construction site by hanging himself from a scaffold with an electric cord. Elsewhere in the UAE, an Indian man was stabbed by his employer after trying to recapture his passport. A fight between the two broke out after the employer demanded he sign a blank document. Withholding workers’ passports is illegal yet remains widely practiced by sponsors seeking to prevent workers from running away.

Many workers also escaped trafficking conditions. An Indian sub-agent was arrested after holding a worker in Kuwait ransom. Similarly, a Sri Lankan sub-agent in Saudi was arrested after Sri Lankan TV aired footage of him abusing maids in a "safe house." The women were beaten because they allegedly refused to work for their assigned sponsors. The ILO's recent report on trafficking noted the prevalent role of subagents in forced labor conditions. In Dubai, five Bangladeshi men who forced a fellow national into prostitution received five years each in prison.

Additionally, thousands of workers remain stranded throughout the region. Over 3500 Filipino workers were camped out near the Jeddah consulate following Saudi's crackdown on undocumented workers. Saudi recently announced repatriation schemes would begin this week. Over 40 Filipinas in Jordan also remain unemployed and unable to return home. 30 of the women protested in front of the embassy's shelter to demand repatriation. The women have attempted to obtain repatriation for over a year, and have not been allowed into the overcrowded shelter.

Thousands of stranded Somali and Ethiopian migrants also face severe conditions in Northern Yemen. The UN has published an extensive report on their enduring plight here.