Friday, October 24, 2014

Kafala Servitude

“I would wake up to start cooking, then cleaning, washing clothes, and then cooking again. No rest, there was just no rest... Because she kept yelling, I cried and asked to go back to agency, but madam said ‘I already bought you…’” a 23-year-old Indonesian domestic worker in Dubai

Domestic workers across the UAE have been subjected to horrendous physical, verbal and sexual abuse or passport confiscation in the abuse of the kafala, or sponsorship, system according to a new report by Humans Right Watch. 

HRW estimates that some 146,000 domestic female workers have arrived to the UAE from countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, India or Bangladesh. They come on promises of good working conditions, higher wages, and a chance to escape the poverty of their home countries. However, the NGO heard complaints that workers are forced to labor excessive hours, or are even being subjected to physical violence or sexual abuse - while they cannot leave as employers confiscate their passports.

The problems arise through the UAE’s visa sponsorship system, known as ‘kafala’ which creates a tie between migrant workers and their visa sponsor and which also means that migrant workers cannot switch employers. The kafala system is also used in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Gulf Arab states including Qatar,

“The UAE’s sponsorship system chains domestic workers to their employers and then leaves them isolated and at risk of abuse behind the closed doors of private homes,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at HRW. “With no labor law protections for domestic workers, employers can, and many do, overwork, underpay and abuse these women.” 

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