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Fathima S.

2006 (Narrative date)

There are an estimated 61,000 people living in modern slavery in Saudi Arabia (GSI 2018). It is a source and destination country for men and women trafficked from South and South East Asia and Africa. People voluntarily migrate to the country to work in a variety of sectors including construction and domestic service; many of these workers are vulnerable to forced labour. Traffickers and brokers often illegally recruit migrants to work in Saudi Arabia and subsequently forced them into domestic servitude or debt bondage. Female domestic workers are particularly at risk of trafficking due to their isolation inside private residences. Non-payment or late payment of wages remains a complaint from foreign workers, while employer's withholding of worker's passports remains a significant problem. Trafficking perpetrators include businesses of all sizes, private families, recruitment companies in both Saudi Arabia and labor-sending countries and organized criminal elements.

Fathima S. travelled from Sri Lanka to Saudi Arabia for domestic work through an agent. She worked for a woman who consistently found fault with her work. Her employer called the recruitment agency who threatened to beat Fathima if she did not work to her employer’s satisfaction. Fathima asked for a new employer but was denied and was forced to continue working long hours for inadequate pay.

I did not pay any money to the subagent, but he gave me 10,000-15,000 rupees because I am a Muslim…. I did not spend five cents; he paid for my medical, food, and travel.

The lady called the agent and complained that I’m not working. The agent spoke to me and shouted at me on the phone and said, “You are behaving like a breastfed baby and if you continue to do that I will take you back to the agency and beat you thoroughly.” I told him I am working but this lady is finding fault with me and shouting at me and I asked him to send me to Sri Lanka to my home…. He told me that he will not send me back to Sri Lanka and I have to stay in that house working until I finish working two years, and only then will he send me back to Sri Lanka. I cried. I had no other options…. I asked him to change my employer. He refused and said that he had got the visa and everything for me to work in that house and nowhere else.

I found out that… Indonesian maids are paid 600 riyals and for Sri Lankans it’s only 400 riyals. I used to cry before going to sleep, thinking that I have come here to work and earn and I am very poor and I don’t have money to look after my children, but this lady … is only paying me 400 riyals, for which I am doing a lot of work.


Narrative as told to Human Rights Watch for their report “As If I Am Not Human”:Abuses against Asian Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia. 

All credit given.