THE exploitation and inhuman sufferings of women migrant workers in Saudi Arabia came to light again when a worker in her desperate attempt to save her life used social media. Her plea received wider public attention. Many women’s organisations held protests and put down the plight of domestic workers to government failures to protect rights of the citizens abroad. BRAC Migration programme records say that at least 311 women workers were repatriated dead from Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia. This year, 119 women workers reached home dead. Then there are cases in which bodies remained in morgues more than a year or buried in destination countries as their travel documents were confiscated on arrival. In this context, the foreign minister’s remark that the number death is insignificant and small compared with the total number of women working in Saudi Arabia is atrocious.
Sumi Akter on returning home described her harrowing tales of torture, overwork and starvation in her first employer’s house until she was sold to a second employer where exploitation continued. She, however, considered herself lucky as the Bangladesh mission intervened after her social media plea had gone viral. There are many women in Saudi Arabia with no place to turn to in crisis. The labour wing of the mission is under-resourced and lacks the sensitivity to look into worker’s needs. Experts blamed the lack of coordination between different government agencies responsible for coordinating the recruitment process. They also blame exploitative middlemen who rob women of their entitled wages and often send women abroad through unauthorised channels. As issues stand, there is absolutely no right granted to domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. Their travel documents are confiscated, they are sold by agents, sexually assaulted by employers and their wages are often withheld. When they die, the death is commonly declared as suicide as the presence of Bangladesh mission people is not ensured during post-mortem examinations. Domestic workers clearly fall victim to a system of negligence and poor oversight by the Bangladesh ministry concerned and widespread systemic disregard for worker rights in Saudi Arabia is evident in their mistreatment at the hands of employers.
The government must, therefore, take early steps to improve the working conditions for Bangladeshi women in Saudi Arabia and sort out the procedural problems. The Bangladesh mission in Saudi Arabia must have detailed protocol to monitor worker rights violation and required authority to intervene, when needed. The government must raise the issue at the diplomatic level and demand investigations of the 51 women who died recently while working in Saudi Arabia so that local authorities take up the issue of worker rights violation seriously and penalise abusive employers.
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