Female Bangladeshi workers have shared harrowing accounts of physical and mental abuse at the hands of their employers in Saudi Arabia.
An Etihad Airways flight, carrying at least 78 women workers, landed at the capital’s Shahjalal International Airport on Thursday (Sept 13). However, according to the Expatriate Welfare Desk, 46 women were scheduled to return.
These women flew to Saudi Arabia with hopes of a better life, but they had to instead return home with scars that will perhaps never cease to haunt them.
According to their accounts, these women were made to endure unimaginable physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The employers preyed upon them whenever and in whatever way they felt like.
Names of the victims have been changed in this report to protect their identities.
Shefali Akter went to Saudi Arabia about a year ago to work as a domestic help. A few months into her employment, her Kafeel (employer) started to take advantage of her, she told this correspondent at the airport.
She alleged that Kafeel used to force her into having sex with him on a regular basis. If she resisted, physical torture would follow. When she found out that she was three months pregnant, Kafeel got her child aborted. Kafeel continued to torture her after the abortion. Shefali managed to escape one day and went to the police.
Similar accounts of sexual and physical abuse were shared by other women who returned on Thursday.
Shefali told Bangla Tribune, “police kept me in their custody for about a week and then sent me to the deport centre. I was sent home from there.”
“I will sue the company that sent me to Saudi Arabia,” she said.
40-year-old widow Fariza too flew to Saudi Arabia with a lot of hopes. She only wanted to support her only daughter and ensure for her a better life than the one Fariza lived.
She alleged that a broker from Cumilla named Sumon got her a training card (BMET card). She then worked at two houses as a domestic help. In her first workplace, she only got salaries for the first two months. Sumon promised her a monthly salary of 1200, instead, she was paid 900 Riyal.
She was then assigned to another house where she worked for five months without a single penny. The lady in the house used to beat her whenever she asked for her pay.
Many other women who returned home on Thursday said that they will rather beg to survive, than ever going to Saudi Arabia. These women literally pleaded to the newsmen present at the Airport to not send Bangladeshi women to Saudi Arabia.
Other than the physical torture, sexual abuse and deprivation of earned wages, these women also said that they were given just enough food to survive. Some weren’t provided with a proper place to sleep through the night. All of these forced them to come back home, they said.
It was learned from their accounts that sexual torture is even common at the employers’ recruiting agency offices. They alleged that most incidents of sexual abuse take place in Abdullah’s agency. They also said that over 50 Bangladeshi women are currently staying there who are being subject to barbaric physical torture.
Rujina, another woman who returned on the Etihad flight was seen behaving in a strange manner. Other women said that she had been deeply traumatized since her days in Riyadh.
Information Officer Al Amin Noyon took Rujina to a BRAC safe home in Ashkona from the airport.
Noyon told Bangla Tribune on Friday that Rujina was later sent home after she was a little bit stable.
BRAC’s Emergency Support Program for Vulnerable team is providing special support to these women with food, treatment, medicine, shelter and counselling.
BRAC Migration Program Chief Shariful Hasan told Bangla Tribune, “First we give them food and then get proper medical treatment for those who need it. If someone needs further medical help, we arrange that as well in other hospitals.”
“We find a lot of returnees who do not want to go home upon arriving. Then there are others who are abandoned by their families. We take them to our centre and provide them with necessary counselling and therapy,” he added.
He also said that they provide legal help to those who want to take steps against unscrupulous recruiting agencies which deceived these women. Unfortunately, the employers, who tortured these women, are beyond our legal jurisdiction.
According to information obtained from the Expatriate Welfare Desk, 429 women workers have returned home from May 3 to Aug 3 this year. According to other sources, many other women have returned. The exact number of the returnees is not available.
Bangladeshi women workers are going to 18 different countries including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Lebanon.