Hundreds of 'tortured' Bangladeshi women flee Saudi Arabia
Naseeba* arrived in Saudi Arabia after being promised a career as a nurse assistant in Saudi Arabia. She left her home country Bangladesh with high hopes of earning a decent living and building a new life for herself and her family.
She was guaranteed the job she had applied for and had trustfully opened her arms to the opportunity, but her story took a bitter turn after she landed inside the kingdom.
“They promised me a job as a nurse assistant,” she told Bangladeshi newspaper Bdnews24, “but when I landed, they assigned me as a house cleaner and forced me to take it. They tortured me throughout.”
Naseeba eventually managed to escape her ordeal after fleeing to the Bangladeshi embassy, where she is now staying in an overcrowded camp awaiting to return to her home country.
She is one of hundreds of Bangladeshi women that have fled their Saudi employers. The Bangladeshi embassy in Riyadh estimates that there are currently around 329 women seeking refuge inside the embassy awaiting to return. More than 500 were returned to Bangladesh at the end of last month.
There are also 74 women in the Bangladeshi Consulate General in Jeddah.
The escapees came with a range of horror stories of being mistreated. Many were lied to about their job role before arriving in Saudi Arabia. Stories of torture and sexual abuse are also all too common within the camps.
|The escapees came with a range of horror stories of being mistreated. Many were lied to about their job role before arriving in Saudi Arabia. Stories of torture and sexual abuse are also all too common within the camps|
Despite escaping, they are still not safe. Their lives are hanging on a thread while they are sardined inside camps, not knowing when they will be sent back home. Because the camps are so overcrowded, many women have fallen ill.
While devastating, the state of these women should not be of a shock. Saudi Arabia, along with other countries in the Middle East practice a controversial sponsorship system, commonly known as the ‘kafala’ system, a system built on institutional racism, which effectively makes migrant workers property of their employees.
When a migrant worker enters a country that practices the kafala system, their passports are often confiscated and their movement is monitored by the employee, who is deemed legally responsible for the migrant workers as the system strips them of their autonomy and their basic human rights.
More recently, the abuse of migrant workers are recorded on social media, in sadistic attempts to gain followers and fame.
A recent example of this is a Saudi Snapchat user finding herself in the Saudi Snapchat hall-of-fame by recording videos of herself visiting houses across the country to interrogate housemaids.
|Read more: Saudi Snapchatter targets and terrifies 'black magic' housemaids|
She is called by employers across the country when the domestic worker is suspected to have placed a curse on the household, or to have performed "black magic", or even when a domestic worker has been suspected of lying about their religion.
The evidence that the kafala system is effectively allowing migrant workers to be dehumanised and subject to slave-like conditions is growing at an overwhelming rate.
Social media activists are able to trace experiences of individual victims, and are becoming increasingly able to translate reports and cases to different languages and spread them across media outlets.
Yet despite this, governments that practice the kafala system are showing little desire to implement genuine change and abolish the oppressive system as a whole.
(* Names have been changed as victims have requested anonymity)