A tweet by Migrant Rights (@MigrantRights) on twitter on September 2, 2010 called my attention to rampant abuse of migrant domestic workers - many of whom are tortured and mistreated by employers - in the Middle East. The tweet provided a link to an article on The Economist, entitled Maids in the Middle East: Little better than slavery. The article sheds light on slavery-like conditions which migrant domestic workers from Asia and Africa endure in the Middle East. While reading the article, one question lingered in my mind: Are migrant domestic workers in the Middle East modern-day slaves?
According to The Economist, many migrant domestic workers are forced to work under conditions reminiscent of the slave trade era - long hours, little food, no time to rest, with little or no pay.
In August 2010, rights advocates were alarmed by the story of Lahanda Purage Ariyawathie, a 49-year-old Sri Lankan woman who was tortured by her employer in Saudi Arabia.
Ariyawathie, like many migrant workers looking for an opportunity to make a decent living abroad, left Sri Lanka to work as a housemaid for a Saudi family in Saudi Arabia. While in Saudi Arabia, Ariyawathie was mercilessly tortured by her employer. According to the BBC, her employer embedded a total of 24 nails (5cm/2inches long) into her body. Scars (cicatrices) on the victim's body (see photo above) are testament to her ordeal.
Ariyawathie's story of torture, physical and psychological trauma is shared by many migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and other countries in the Middle East.
It is no secret that employers abuse migrant domestic workers in the Middle East with impunity. Rights groups have repeatedly called on governments in the region to protect domestic workers and bring perpetrators of such cruel and inhuman treatment of domestic workers to justice, but it remains to be seen whether governments in the region would heed the call. In the meantime, on a personal level, migrant workers should reconsider traveling to the the Middle East to work as housemaids.
Watch a slideshow of some graphic photos of Ariyawathie's injuries, here. Viewer discretion is advised.
*Photo of Ariyawathie's scars: The Sunday Leader.