Ethiopians 'to replace' Filipino domestic workers amid Kuwait-Manila dispute

Ethiopians 'to replace' Filipino domestic workers amid Kuwait-Manila dispute
3 min read
03 April, 2018
Ethiopian nationals will replace Filipino domestic workers in Kuwait, the Gulf state announced, after the Philippines banned its citizens from working in there following a murder of a maid.
Thousands of Filipino domestic workers left Kuwait after the ban [AFP]
Kuwait will recruit Ethiopian nationals to make up for a "deficit" in domestic workers, authorities said on Tuesday, following the grisly murder of a Filipina maid in the Gulf state.

The rich Gulf state announced the move following Philippines ban on citizens working there after the body of 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis was found in a freezer earlier this year, bearing signs of torture. 

"We aim to open the door to the recruitment of Ethiopian workers to fill the deficit of domestic servants and reduce prices," General Talal Al-Maarifi, head of Kuwait's General Department of Residency Affairs, told AFP.

On Monday, a Kuwaiti judicial source said the Lebanese man and his Syrian wife who were charged with killing the Filipino maid were sentenced to death by hanging.

A Kuwaiti court issued the sentence in the first hearing in the case of Demafelis, but the sentencing can still be appealed if the couple returns to Kuwait, the source added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Lebanese-Syrian couple were arrested in February in the Syrian capital Damascus following an Interpol manhunt. 

Syrian authorities handed the husband, Nader Essam Assaf, over to Lebanese authorities, while his Syrian wife remained in custody in Damascus.

Five years ago, Ethiopia instituted a similar ban, following reports of abuse and complaints that employment agencies lured its citizens to work under illegal and appalling conditions, but the ban was lifted last Thursday. 

Maarifi said there were more than 15,000 Ethiopians currently living and working in Kuwait. 

In March 2017, Kuwaiti police detained a woman for filming her Ethiopian maid falling from the seventh floor without trying to rescue her, an incident which grabbed international headlines.

The 12-second video showed the maid hanging outside the building, with one hand tightly gripping the window frame, as she begs for help. 

Rights groups have voiced alarm over the plight of workers in the Gulf and other Arab countries, where migrant labour is regulated under a system known as "kafala". 

The Middle East's Gulf region has an estimated 2.4 million migrant domestic workers, the majority from Asia and Africa. They fall under the kafala ("visa sponsorship") system, forbidding them to leave or change employers without their initial employer's consent.

If they do, they can be arrested and punished for "absconding" with fines, detention and deportation.

The isolating and harsh working conditions often, though not always, lead to workers being treated as property of their employers – leaving the worker vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Also in the Gulf region, rape victims can face charges of zina – "sexual relations outside of marriage" – once they report the crime.