Abuse of migrant workers, especially female domestic workers, is rampant across the Gulf countries. Most of these cases are ‘resolved’ by paying a nominal settlement and repatriating the victim. In recent months, however, there seems to be more vigilance on trafficking cases by Kuwait’s General Attorney office. Migrant-Rights.org speaks to two recent victims.
A neighbour found Rosella, a 32-year-old Filipina domestic worker, battered and pleading for help outside her employer’s home on November 9. However, she was taken back in by the employer, and not allowed out.
A group of community workers then pursued the case and convinced the police to rescue Rosella from the home the very next day. The case against the doctor was first heard in court on November 13 and is now pending trial.
Rosella recounted her ordeal to Migrant-Rights.org from the Temporary Shelter for Women in Kuwait City, where she is currently housed.
“I arrived in Kuwait on February 26, and madam’s son-in-law took me home on March 2. When I first arrived there was a Sri Lankan and another Filipina working there. The Sri Lankan left within a few days of my arrival. I did not fully understand what the problem was, or who I was working for,” she says.
The family told other maids that ‘madam’ had been sick in the hospital for 10 months and had only recently come back home.
Abuse and torture from day 1
“When I started work madam was already back. From the first day, every day, she beat me and the other Filipina. The first day itself I said I want to go back. She also hit me on my private parts and called me ‘f**ker Filipina.’ The baba kept saying, ‘Please ignore madam, she very good.’ Just ignore…”
The ‘baba,’ Rosella says was ‘very good’ and his refrain every time ‘madam’ tortured the workers was to ‘ignore’.
In June, just over three months since Rosella started work, the ‘madam’ hit Rosella with her fists and with the wooden handle of a knife, leaving marks on her back.
“The other Filipina she beat with a strainer. I sent pictures to my agency in the Philippines asking for help. And I told madam too that I complained. She got very angry. Sir begged me to withdraw complaint but I didn’t.”
Right after she filed the complaint, Rosella ‘lost’ her phone.
“Madam said someone must have stolen [it] from my room. I had a tablet that I hid in the kitchen, so I can use FB messenger.”
Chito, a social worker with Sandigan, a Filipino community group, says the agency informed the embassy of the complaint, but that Rosella’s case was lost among many others and was not followed up on.
Through the months that she worked there, tortured and abused, Rosella had no clue that her ‘madam’ was already convicted in another case involving Vanessa, a domestic worker from Madagascar, and had only recently been pardoned following a 100,000 KD settlement.
The family was beginning to feel pressure with both women complaining about mistreatment and demanding release from their work contracts.
Chito believes the family was eager to send the workers back before a police case was filed. On November 2, the other domestic worker who had worked for the family for eight months was sent back.
When the neighbour found Rosella, they also tried to send Rosella back. Sandigan and the Social Work Society (a Kuwaiti NGO) were keen to avoid this, as her repatriation would effectively absolve the family of their crimes, and filed a case against the employers.
On November 9 things came to a head.
The doctor was going out and asked Rosella to clean her daughter’s room.
“I tried, but the room was locked. Madam and her daughter fought all the time, so she must have locked it. So I started cleaning the fridge. Madam came back and asked why I had not cleaned the room, and refused to listen when I said it was locked.”
That’s when the employer became viciously violent.
“She started kicking me and spitting at me and threw all the Tupperware at me. She then pulled my hair and scratched and pulled my mouth, and I started bleeding. She then pulled at my uniform and tore it. She then asked me to go up and change.”
Rosella refused, insisting she would show ‘baba’ the abuse when he returned.
“She then started threatening me. She said baba is nothing. And she took scissors and cut my uniform and then threatened to cut herself and kill herself.”
Terrified, Rosella dashed out of the house, on to the main road and tried flagging down a taxi to take her to the embassy. None stopped except a private vehicle stopped, who only brought her back to the gate of her employer’s house.
At this point, the neighbour, returning home, noticed Rosella’s state and tried to intervene. The neighbour demanded to speak to Rosella and to ensure she was alright. The employer refused and tried to rush Rosella back into the house.
“Madam then kissed me and hugged me and kept saying ‘Rosella you are my daughter’. She was acting. She took me inside forcibly even though the neighbour tried helping me.”
The neighbour, worried about Rosella's safety, contacted the Social Work Society, and who along with Sandigan, helped Rosella out of the situation. They immediately brought the case to the attention of the police.
“Because we knew they would try to send her back to the Philippines overnight, I stayed outside the house, all the time in touch with her on FB messenger,” says Chito.
The day after the complaint was raised, the police took Rosella out of the home and brought the doctor and her husband (the legal sponsor) in for questioning.
Rosella was left in the same room as her abuser during the criminal investigations procedure of the employers.
“It was completely unacceptable. She was looking so scared and shaking when the employer walked in,” according to a social worker who intervened to remove her from the environment.
It was only then that Rosella realised her ‘madam’ was not in the hospital for 10 months but in jail.
“The son-in-law kept asking me to forgive madam, as she just came out of jail and can’t go back in. They said they will pay me money and send me back. But I want to fight this case and then go back to my husband, back home, as he is sick.”
Since the husband was Rosella’s sponsor, and his name was on her visa, it was only after questioning that the social workers helping her also realised the madam in question was the same one whose brutal abuse of Vanessa, another domestic worker, made headlines a few short years ago. The Social Work Society was involved in the original case against the doctor.
She had begged for pardon after agreeing to pay KD100,000 to Vanessa
The pardon did not overturn the conviction, but only shortened the jail time. Yet, she was taken back to her old job and continued to work as a physician in the hospital.
The General Attorney has filed cases of trafficking and sexual assault against the employers.
The Humanitarian Legal Aid Foundation is fighting the case on Rosella’s behalf.