By Yusuf Shuaibu Yusuf
Though there is still one form of slavery or the other worldwide, I was particular on this topic after watching recent footage showing how a housemaid was savagely killed by her supposed Arab employer. I, therefore, aim to join multiple voices clamouring for the governments of some Gulf countries, United Nations and other international communities to end the practice of domestic servitude whose victims are primarily African and Asian migrants. These poor people are stuck in many Gulf countries. The housemaids undergo horrendous treatment. Among these victims are many Nigerians who leave their country for political or economic reasons.
At first, I couldn’t have expounded on issues so sensitive as this, even more so, as it involves the place of birth of our Noble Prophet, the country inhabiting the holy sites, the Qibla and the pilgrimage of any Muslim. Still, the issue at hand transcends any sentiment.
While many Arabs in Gulf countries are piously angelic, treating their housemaids with honour and dignity, others are contrary to that. Instead, they are fiendishly sadistic as they take delight in humiliating their African and Asian housemaids, turning them into modern-day slaves.
Since time immemorial, it has been a long tradition for African Muslims to stay in Saudi Arabia and work as domestic servants after performing their religious obligations. Consequently, domestic service in Saudi Arabia came to be considered lucrative jobs among many Asians and Africans, particularly Nigerians.
Recently, due to political and economic challenges, Nigeria has witnessed the proliferation of bogus travel agents who fill their clients with utopian ideals about Gulf countries and who themselves are loosely linked with the recruiting firms in those countries. Desperate to leave the country, these clients easily fall for these lies and illusions. Hence, there has been an influx of youth from Nigeria into Saudi Arabia, Oman, Dubai, Qatar, Lebanon and some few Arab countries in Africa like Libya and Algeria.
While most of the pilgrims working as domestic servants in Saudi Arabia before were primarily people of diverse age and sex, the recent influx has seen political refugees and economic migrants constituting of youth – predominantly females. Some of these migrants usually become disillusioned a few days after their arrivals in such countries as their recruiters leave them at the mercy of their employers. Having nobody to turn to for help, they often become subject to molestation and other forms of gender-based violence.
Women are believed to be more exposed and vulnerable to all sorts of these harassments than men. Perhaps their relatively delicate biological constitution and the fact that most of them live in the same compounds with their employers heighten their risks of being abused.
The emotional story of “Sarah”, a Ghanaian maid in Lebanon who narrowly made her escape from the abusive family she had been working for, is an excellent example of how prone to abuse housemaids are. Sarah is not her real name for privacy sake. Shortly after her escape, she narrates to Mark Stone, a Middle East correspondent, how she was raped at knifepoint by her employer’s brother while taking a bath.
It was also recounted, in another video clip, by a former housemaid in one of the Arab countries that a housemaid can be called to work at any time. A housemaid is not assigned one particular job like cooking, cleaning, or attending to children. Instead, she is given different tasks like attending to the sexual needs of her employer or some members of his family or both. Should she fail one of these tasks, she is treated savagely.
The case of housemaids being thrashed by their bosses in Gulf countries has become a norm. Racist and invective are the common languages used to address the housemaids on slight provocation.
I couldn’t believe what my eyes saw in one footage sent to my sister on September 16, 2021, from Saudi Arabia via WhatsApp. I had never before imagined a barbarous and atrocious act of that magnitude could be perpetrated against animals at this so-called civilized age, much less a human being. The footage videotapes a person, allegedly a Saudi nobleman, attired decently in Arab dress, closing in on a black lady, supposedly his maid, who is lying on the floor, screaming, frantically struggling to disentangle herself from her supposed killer. But, on the other hand, stands, a broadly built woman, dressed in a green jacket, clenched in her left hand is what looks like a syringe, yelling at the struggling and screaming woman to stop resisting (at what only God knows what). This second black lady could be a nurse or anything else.
I’m sure that she is also under the payroll of this assumed killer. Even though the man’s intention is bent on killing the other housemaid, this woman has never attempted to intervene. Throughout the footage, she can just be seen yelling and pleading with the screaming girl to stop resisting. The man is captured in the video clip incessantly hitting the face of this screaming lady with his right hand and his right knee while pinning her down with his left hand and his left knee so that she can’t escape. Finally, the man ruthlessly strangulates her.
Prompted by this macabre footage, I tenaciously grew more curious and went further to download some television interviews, more violent footage and audios (some of which I have already hinted about) of some ex-housemaids in Gulf countries recounting their harrowing experiences while conducting their jobs as housemaids.
According to Middle East Eye, the first video is of Sumi Akter 25-year-old Bangladeshi maid, bitterly and soulfully crying and begging for her escape. She shares how she was beaten, tortured and abused by her employer and his family in Saudi Arabia. She is said to have posted the video from a hidden location to her Facebook account, where millions viewed it, which prompted protests in Bangladesh.
Another footage of a black lady trying to get out from what looks like a toilet while being sent back by repeated flogs by her supposed Arab boss. As shown in the video clip, the incident occurs in a family room in an Arab quarter in an unidentified country. Arab family and other black housemaids are in the footage. An Arab lady asks the enraged boss to stop beating the black lady, but he doesn’t seem to listen. Later the beaten housemaid is captured standing in the middle of the living room, desperate, her back awash with blood.
An ex-Nigerian housemaid in Oman shared her tormenting experience in audio recently trending on social media. She recounts how she had to leave two jobs because of advances made to her by her lesbian mistresses.
To end this crime, the countries these victims come from should impose laws checkmating the activities of those bogus domestic service agencies and their clients internationally. They should also ensure the rights of their citizens are not only protected within their countries but also in foreign countries. The governments of the Gulf states should crack down on those households who take advantage of the defenceless migrant domestic workers in their states. The killers such as the one described above shouldn’t go unpunished. They should be tracked down and brought to justice to serve as deterrents to others. United Nations should also formulate stricter laws safeguarding the rights of domestic workers internationally.
Yusuf Shuaibu Yusuf sent this via firstname.lastname@example.org.