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.
Sri Lankan domestic worker Katunayake was trapped in domestic servitude in Saudi Arabia. She was forced to work long hours cleaning and taking care of seven children and an elderly woman. After running away Katunayake was picked up by police, accused of theft, and locked up with other domestic workers.
In Saudi Arabia I had to look after an old lady as well as seven children, in a two-story building. The eldest child was 24, the youngest was four. I had to clean the house, wash and iron clothes, cook, and look after that old sick lady, [which was] like looking after a child…. by the time I went to bed it was 12 or 1, and I had to get out of bed at 5:30. They should have two or more maids to do the work in the house, but I was the only one who did all the work…. I told them, ‘You are not paying me any salary and I am doing the work of three people and when work is delayed you shout at me.
[T]he police put me in a prison cell where the housemaids who have faced problems stay…. it’s one of their police divisions…. I was locked up … they have rooms for Sri Lankan housemaids, Indonesian housemaids, Filipina, and Nepalese housemaids. They asked me questions like whether I stole anything when I ran away, and they checked my body to see whether I had anything hidden. They asked me why I left that house, whether the Baba is not good, and did I take anything with me when I left.
Narrative credit to Human Rights Watch
Original Narrative can be found in Human Rights Watch Report “As If I am Not Human”: Abuses Against Asian Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia