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Migrant Abuse: May Roundup

On June 7, 2013

The following catalog of abuses against migrant workers is not comprehensive but rather reflective of issues systematic in the Gulf and wider Mideast region. Many of these incidents are also documented on our twitter account, @MigrantRights.

A court ordered a Sri Lankan maid who ran away from her abusive employer to 'compensate' the employer for recruitment costs. The maid's salary was only BD60, despite having to clean the home as well as the employer's saloon, and she cannot afford the BD600 fine. She is unable to return home until the debt is paid, but she is also unable to work legally. Absconding is criminalized throughout the GCC, and absconders are detained and deported if caught. Bahrain's Migrant Worker Protections Society is attempting to appeal the ruling.

Maids - in particular maids attempting to flee their employers - are often vulnerable to kidnapping and sexual assault. Saudi authorities arrested two men who lured an absconding housemaid with a free ride and then raped her. In Kuwait, a retired Kuwaiti Marine officer promised maids work with a coffee shop if they escaped their employers. Instead, they were forced to work for his brothel. Another Kuwaiti is accused of abducting, raping, and confining 8 Filipina women in his apartment. Also in Kuwait, an Ethiopian maid suffered injuries after escaping from a driver who attempted to rape her, and a man accused his son in-law of attempting to rape their domestic worker.

In Kuwait city, an Indian houseboy hung himself and an Ethiopian housemaid consumed poisoned in their sponsors' homes. Another domestic worker in Kuwait also hung herself in her sponsor's home. In the UAE, a migrant worker committed suicide at the Sharjah International Airport. The official reasons for these suicides have not yet been determined, but the majority of suicides involving migrant workers are linked to working or living conditions.

Throughout the GCC, authorities have launched mass raids against undocumented migrant workers. The indefinite detention and mass deportation of migrant workers contravene international norms, which require that migrants receive individual reviews and are ensured access to lawyers and translators. Most migrants do not receive any trial - only in the case of grace periods may migrants contest their status.

In Abu Dhabi, three migrants died in a building fire. The migrants were told to evacuate two years ago, but the rundown building was their only housing option in the city. The lack of centralized, affordable and safe housing for single migrant workers is common throughout the Gulf and comprises a critical health risk. The owners of these unkempt buildings are rarely penalized for failing to perform maintenance and contravening housing laws, despite charging exorbitant rent.

In Al Ain, two Indian laborers died and one was injured at a construction site. They were buried under sand when deep trench collapsed on them. Though officials are investigating whether safety precautions were neglected, penalties are often either inconsequential or poorly enforced.

In the UAE, an Indian migrant wrongly accused of passing fake checks has been unable to return home for years. Khan Hassan Kunji Mohammad was jailed more than 15 separate times on the same false charges. He spent two and a half months in jail, after which a court cleared him, but continues to be subjected to the legal labyrinth that entraps so many migrant workers.

In Amman, 115 Filipina workers continued their plea for repatriation. The workers, mostly human trafficking victims, have waited almost three years for Jordanian authorities to honor travel documents issued to them by the Filipino embassy. The workers' passports had been confiscated by their employers, and are necessary for them to brain out passes to leave Jordan.

In the UAE, video of a Saudi officer physically and verbally abusing migrant workers at a passport office went viral in hours. In the UAE, a maid sexually and physically assaulted by her employer obtained relief only after her pleas were circulated on Facebook.