Opportunity or ‘modern-day slavery’: Qatar seeks Balkan housemaids

by 1389 on August 31, 2014

in 1389 (blog admin), Bosnia, human trafficking, Macedonia (FYROM), Muslim mindset

This article is a year old, but systematic enslavement of foreign workers continues in Muslim Arab countries.

Balkanist has the story:


Officials from Qatar, the desert sheikdom that also happens to be the richest country in the world, are currently recruiting women with Bosnian or Macedonian citizenship to live and work in domestic arrangements that have been characterized as “modern-day slavery” and “indentured servitude”.

Disturbingly, politicians in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia have not addressed these well-publicized problems, and instead have been busy telling the public that Qatar is a great place to work and entirely safe for workers.

Denisa Maglic-Sarajlic, Bosnia’s deputy civil affairs minister, says that Qatar represents “The greatest opportunity for employment of BiH citizens abroad.”

Civil affairs minister Sredoje Novic agrees with his deputy, and says that domestic work in Qatar is safer than in other countries. “The reason we signed this agreement is to protect workers from Bosnia and Herzegovina from the negative situation they’ve faced when seeking employment in other countries,” he said.

In Kosovo, Deputy Labour Minister Fatmir Shurdhaj said that the government was “making maximum efforts” to ensure the first workers would arrive in Doha by “early 2014”.

This glossing over of the Gulf’s many structural problems that encourage the exploitation of workers is deceptive. Of course, not all housemaids in Qatar have a bad experience, and the worst reporting on the subject is filled with stereotypes about meek third world women and the “barbarism” of the Arab world. But enough foreign workers have been mistreated in the Gulf to warrant serious concern


The decision to ship Balkan women off to Qatar for work was undoubtedly influenced by the countries’ devastating unemployment rates. Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia have some of the highest unemployment rates in Europe.


The nightmare for domestic workers in Qatar often begins like this: While still in her home country, a housemaid’s future employer signs a contract agreeing to pay a certain monthly salary. After she arrives, her employer slashes her monthly pay. And once she’s in the emirate, it’s usually impossible to do anything but accept the lower salary. It’s not as if she can leave the country without her employer’s permission.

This kind of exploitation is rife under the Gulf’s kafala system, where a “sponsor” or kafeel (employer) essentially owns their foreign employee. Domestic workers can’t leave the country, rent an apartment, switch jobs, open a bank account, or obtain a driver’s license without their sponsor’s permission. A maid’s visa is also linked to her kafeel, so if she quits — even to escape physical abuse or lack of pay — her visa is automatically invalidated. She becomes “illegal”, subject to hefty fines and even imprisonment.

It’s also common for a kafeel to force domestic workers to relinquish any travel documents, including passports, upon arrival, and to hold these items for the duration of the contract. This means workers are literally trapped in Qatar.

The kafeel must also assume full legal responsibility for their employee’s actions, which some sponsors have used as an excuse to deprive domestic workers of “privileges”, like the right to have a mobile phone, or to have a day off.

One woman wrote on a Qatarliving.com thread about maids: “If you give them a day off they go and have sex with a man.” Others seemed to agree with her — no days off . Another explained that she keeps her maid locked inside the family home at all times, save for one supervised trip to the drugstore to buy sanitary products every other month. And one commenter boasted that she installed a hidden camera in her maid’s tiny bedroom.

Some of the mistreatment suffered by domestic workers in Qatar has been so awful it’s painful to read about.

Recently, a 17-year-old maid was raped multiple times by her employer the day she arrived in Qatar.

A 30-year-old woman gave birth to a baby boy after being raped by her employer, and left him in an airport bathroom in Doha when she flew home. She said she’d been terrified about what her family might think. She later reunited with the baby.

Severe beatings and verbal abuse are also common. “Genoveva” (not her real name), a housemaid from the Philippines who says her sponsor cut her hair off the day she arrived in Qatar, remembers the names: Dog. Animal. Donkey.

Mistreatment of maids is so common that the Philippines has its own center in Doha for workers who have fled abusive sponsors. Officials from the Indonesian embassy report that every day, between three and five women show up seeking help for similar problems. They keep a special room for women who’ve left abusive households, and have pictures of beaten and injured maids on the wall.

And then there’s “M.’s” story. When she was found dead inside her sponsor’s villa, the 24-year-old weighed just 39 kg (86 lbs). Forensic experts said it appeared she’d been deprived adequate food for six months.

Her injuries were severe: She had 43 bruises (one official would later say he suspected she’d been battered with a hot iron), was missing teeth, her skin had been scarred by cigarette burns, and she’d sustained multiple stab wounds. When investigators searched the home they found what they believed to be the murder weapons: A kitchen knife and an ashtray, both covered in blood. She’d been murdered by her sponsor.

Like many domestic workers in Qatar, M. had worked to support her family back home. After her murder, they decided they had no choice but to accept the diyya or “blood money”. M.’s life was calculated to be worth $40,000 — less than half of Qatar’s GDP per capita. Her murderer got three years in prison.

Mistreatment of foreign workers has become so commonplace that it has strained Qatar’s relations with several countries.

Nepal recently instituted a ban on maids under the age of 30 from working in the Gulf. The Philippines insisted that all of its citizens receive a minimum monthly salary of $400. Qatar refused. The Indonesian embassy in Doha said it could no longer cope with the number of its citizens seeking refuge from abuse, and announced that it would suspend recruitment of new domestic workers.

Read it all…

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