Middle-East countries have become vibrant zones for the world’s greatest constructions. Every day, more than a thousand Nepali citizens go to the Middle East to work. They migrate in search of better jobs and for the future of their family. In Qatar alone, it is estimated that there are a million Nepali people working as housemaids, goat herders and construction laborers. Burdened by debts and family responsibilities, they become ready to do all sorts of jobs.
However, they do not realise that, in most of the cases they are being sold as slaves in the Arabian labour market. Despite being a resource-rich region, the Middle East is considered as the worst place for abuse. Over the years, thousands of cases have emerged as a result of violence. The Foreign Nepali Workers Rescue Center (FNWRC) revealed that 90 percent of the Nepali housemaids working in the Middle-East face serious physical and psychological consequences. Construction labourers and domestic maids are two crucial jobs that lure the Nepali workers. Women working as domestic maids are more prone to exploitation than men. Though Nepal discourages women under thirty from going to the Gulf, they are trafficked through India.
Some countries in the Gulf have extremely poor human rights record. There are instances where the employers have exploited the workers by putting mental pressure, have mercilessly beaten them or have sometimes even killed them. Few years back, a Sri Lankan woman Ariyawathie, who worked as domestic maid, had 24 nails hammered on her body by her employer. Another Filipino victim named Jessica was repeatedly raped, kicked and spitted on her face on a daily basis as she recalled the incidents before a journalist who had secretly investigated her case. In 2009, a Kuwati woman had killed a Nepali maid by hitting her with a bathroom tile. Sapana B.K was impregnated by her employer and sent home. Another victim, Lila Acharya was murdered by her employer in Lebanon and her body was sent home within two months of her departure from Nepal. Dozens of women have committed suicide. Domestic maids working in private homes have returned back with cases of pregnancies. In an interview with the CNN, Kumari, a former maid who had worked for her Kuwati employer said,’ My landlord would beat me. He and his wife would beat. My body would ache. First he covered my mouth so I could not scream.’ A few months back, another Kuwati military man had killed his Nepali maid and buried her in the desert.
Another crucial problem that the maids face is accusations from their employers. Hundreds of Nepali woman are rotting in jail. In Saudi Arabia alone, there are 45 foreign domestic maids facing death row. Rizana Nafeek, a maid from Sri Lanka was recently beheaded. Due to legal insulations, the victims do not receive fair trial. Nisha Varia, a human rights activist says, ‘The Saudi justice system is characterized by arbitrary arrests, unfair trials and harsh punishments.’ Examples of electrocution, beating, verbal and physical abuses, food deprivation and forced confinement have been reported against domestic workers on a regular basis.
Every day, dead bodies of migrant workers are flown home. Hundreds of Nepali workers have died as a result of violence, heat stroke, accidents and lack of medical care. To add to this misfortune and woe, the family members have to wait for months and months on end to receive the bodies of their loved ones.
Describing a scene from one of the labour camps, Ghaith-Abdul Ahad, a columnist reports, ‘All around, a city of labour camps stretches out in the middle of the Arabian desert, a jumble of low, concrete barracks, corrugated iron, chicken-mesh walls, barbed wire, scrap metal, empty paint cans, rusted machinery and thousands of men with tired and gloomy faces.’
Nesrine Malik, another columnist from The Guardian had written that Dubai’s Skyscrapers is stained by the blood of migrant workers.
Despite the ordeal, the trend of workers flying to the middle-east has not stopped. The journeys of these workers begin with the recruitment agencies. The agencies are not regulated by stringent code of conduct thus they function haphazardly. They dupe the workers with hopes of better job opportunities. Many of the agencies trick the candidates by showing different companies at the time of recruitment than the one they are actually sent.
Though there are limited protection laws in paperwork, it is not effectively enforced. When it comes to illegal workers, it is almost non-existent. Most of the countries in the Gulf have the sponsorship system in which an employer sponsors workers. It is the worst loophole of exploitation. The extant labour law has to be closely monitored. Fragile legal structures of both Nepal and the receiving countries have exacerbated the situation. The only way to check abuse is to formulate a worker-friendly regulation. Victims should have the provision to lodge a complaint against their perpetrators. The workers and the employers should be bound by a strong legal contract which reflects the rights of both the parties. These efforts must be directly monitored by the joint exercise of UN, ILO, the countries receiving the migrant workers and the government of Nepal.
The government must monitor the manpower agencies and immediately ban and penalise those agencies who do not meet the required norms. It should also ban people from going to such countries, where the death toll, due to domestic abuse is more and where the rights of workers are not respected. The manpower agencies should be pinned with adequate legal responsibilities before sending the workers abroad. Meanwhile, Nepali consulates and embassies based in the Middle East must be proactive in dealing with the problems. Immediate concern from the government and other related organisations can definitely make a difference in saving the lives of thousands of men and women who go to the Middle-East to earn a living. Remittance should come to the country from a happy workforce and not from the blood of the Nepali migrant workers.