Bangladeshi workers speak of 'torture, enslavement' in Saudi Arabia
Dozens of Bangladeshi domestic workers who have returned home this week have spoken about being abused, tortured and even de-facto enslavement by employers in Saudi Arabia, prompting calls to stop sending Bangladeshi women to the kingdom to work as housemaids.
According to a Thomson Reuters Foundation report citing local human rights activists, more than 100 Bangladeshi female workers "abused or exploited" in Saudi Arabia returned over the past several days.
They join around between 950 and 1,500 returneers since the start of 2018, according to estimates by the Bangladeshi Ministry of Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment and NGOs, suggesting an exodus of Bangladeshi domestic workers from the kingdom.
According to Bangladeshi non-government organization BRAC, an increasing number of women are returning after being mistreated.
Shariful Hasan, head of BRAC’s migration program, told Thomson Reuters Foundation the women who returned this week were tortured mentally and physically.
"They don’t receive their wages properly. They are also physically beaten and tortured," Hasan said.
"In the last two years we found 25 to 30 women workers from the Middle East who suffered from major mental disorders. We also found five to six of them who were pregnant."
There are tens of thousands of Bangladeshi women working in Saudi Arabia, according to government data.
Bangladeh's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has called for the government to take immediate action.
“The stories of torture that we heard from these women were inhumane. Bangladesh should avoid sending housemaids and look at other professions,” said Kazi Reazul Hoque, chairman of the NHRC, an autonomous public body.
“I used to work for 18 hours a day. At the end of the day, I never had any energy to do anything but collapse and go to sleep. Despite this, I did not get paid for three months. I used to get shouted at whenever I asked for my salary,” said Nasima Akter, 24, who returned from Saudi Arabia in February.
“I thought working in Saudi Arabia would make me rich. But if this is the kind of pain you have to go through for that, it’s definitely not worth it.”
Domestic workers and other low-skilled workers from poor countries are routinely abused and mistreated in Saudi Arabia and the region, due to exploitative labour laws, common racist attitudes and poor enforcement of standards.
Human rights groups have repeatedly urged Gulf states to reform their labour laws affecting domestic workers, who mostly come from south Asian and African countries and a lack of legal protection leave them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.