Women workers return scarred from Saudi Arabia

Staff Correspondent . Dhaka | Update:

Female workers returning from Saudi Arabia bear torture  marks on their body. Photo: Prothom AloMigrant women workers from Bangladesh continue to be mistreated by their employers in Saudi Arabia. Other than having to adjust with the new environment and food, they are also often physically beaten by their employers.

Three women recently returning from Saudi Arabia, shared their traumatic experiences with Prothom Alo.

Kabirun Nahar emerged from the airport, limping with her right foot in a bandage. This middle-aged woman from Maulvibazar went to Saudi Arabia six months ago, hoping to earn enough to help her family. Instead she returned with a fractured foot.

Similarly, Hosne Ara of Chandpur also returned home with bitter experience in Saudi Arabia. She found it hard to adjust to her new surroundings and food habits. She was also often beaten up by her employer. She was forced to cut short her two-year contract to return home in just five months.

A total 18 such female migrant workers returned from Saudi Arabia along with these two women, arriving in Dhaka by an Emirates flight on Thursday morning.

All of these oppressed women had taken shelter at the Bangladesh embassy’s safe home in Saudi Arabia. Upon return to Bangladesh, they related their tales of trauma to Prothom Alo.

The non-government development organisation BRAC runs a programme for the rehabilitation of women migrant workers returning from abroad. According to BRAC, 850 women returned back home over the last eight and half months, after being tortured by their employers. Last month alone, 109 women returned, many of them victims of mental and physical torture as well as sexual abuse. Prior to that, 1353 women returned, many of them also having faced sexual abuse.

However, secretary general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruitment Agencies (BAIRA) Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury said that not all of the allegations brought about by the returning women are true. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said if an investigation was carried out, the actual picture would emerge.

In a letter sent by the Bangladesh embassy in Saudi Arabia to the ministry of expatriates welfare and overseas employment, it was said that from January last year to March this year, 2222 women domestic workers had returned to Bangladesh.

Speaking to Prothom Alo over mobile phone on Thursday night, labour counsellor of the Bangladesh embassy in Saudi Arabia, Aminul Islam, said that the women workers actually returned home as they could not take the work pressure or adjust to the food, climate, language and environment. They ran away from their workplaces and took shelter at the embassy’s safe home. However, this tendency had lessened in recent times.

After Indonesia and Philippines stopped sending housemaids to Saudi Arabia due to allegations or torture, the country signed an agreement with Bangladesh in 2015. Since then till July this year, around 300,000 women workers have gone to Saudi Arabia. The women go on a two-year contract for a monthly salary of 800 riyals, equivalent to around Tk 17,000. These housemaids do not have to pay their passage to Saudi Arabia.

Director (employment) of the bureau of manpower, employment and training, DM Atiqur Rahman, said that they immediately take measures to bring the women back home when allegations of torture arise. He said, 260 women who returned this year due to oppression and other reasons, were provided with compensation of around Tk 8 million to Tk 8.5 million from the relevant agencies. He said that vigilance was being stepped up to ensure that women migrant workers going to Saudi Arabia did not face any sort of problems.

Persons involved in the migration sector said that there was compulsory one-month training in language, work methods and climate adjustment before going to Saudi Arabia., but that was not followed. They felt the women could be sent to other sectors of employment rather than as housemaids.

Executive director of the Bangladesh Women Workers Centre, Sumaiya Islam, told Prothom Alo that women should not be sent to Saudi Arabia or any other country without ensuring their safety and protection. She said that the government must regularly monitor the working conditions of women migrant workers.

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