By Abdifatah Sheikh Ibrahim
As read the harrowing news of “exporting” Somali sisters to the gulf as domestic workers, a piercing chill went down my spine at the thought of the abuse and exploitation, with their stratospheric proportion, itching and pining for their expected arrival. It is painfully mind-blowing when one comes to the realization that the same government that is tasked with the protection of its queens, who are suffering from post-conflict traumas and are already bearing the brunt of the displacements and inter-tribal conflicts and wars engineered by their men, has dared to give the green light to the woes of our Somali sisters. Given the unbelievable record of inhumane exploitative acts adopted as everyday reality by the “defenseless” poor domestic workers, this is the last thing any government would do, no matter how desperate it is for financial revenues.
The record of barbarity in the Gulf
For starters, there are companies that deduce huge profits from “importing” domestic workers in the Gulf. Their operations have been extensively and mainly active in Asian countries like India, Indonesia, Sri lank, Bangladesh, Philippine, Eretria and Ethiopia for quite some time. Their formal recruitment (as they call it) involves in negotiating with the concerned authorities (Ministries Of Labour of foreign countries) who, besides thrusting all the spoils in their laps, assure their dubious clients they will hold up to their end of the bargain. The poor domestic workers are brainwashed with the rehearsed enticing bogus mantra of “your destination is utopian paradise, the hub of money and oil” with absolute oblivion to the fact that this is small part of a more elaborate scheme of “slavery”.
Upon their arrival, the domestic workers are automatically rendered an item or a property of the concerned company whose value can be haggled and bargained with no respect to their well-being, care and health. Their passports and documents are wrested of their hands so that they won’t run away even if they are subjected to violence, abuse and humiliations. These Arab families, who usually boast about “who has got a better domestic worker according to the country they come from”, flock to the offices of these companies and snatch away their subconsciously-deemed commodity.
This is when nightmare of the poor domestic workers begin to rage in full-swing. Right of the bat, the jealousy-ridden vixen imposes and dictates her traditions to the poor domestic worker and orders her to drape herself with clothes as heavy as a blanket incase her ” husband” eyes for her like a prey ,and on top of the daily hectic chores that are not restricted to any schedule and require them to work around the clock, some of them oscillating between several jobs they were coerced to do, the daily inexorable and annoying ” I need this and I need that” of the children turn them into a ” Humanoid Robot” with a functioning heart and a muzzled mouth which pitifully and reluctantly causes them to embrace an outlandish world of depression and psychological traumas that is, as has become the norm, an excruciating introduction to a more dehumanizing and tormenting one.
As reported by many Media outlets, the level of torture and abuse subjected to these helpless domestic workers is so astounding, to say the least, that it goes as far as having their heads savagely decapitated. This was, among many, the case of Ruyati Bint Supabi, an Indonesian national, who was beheaded publicly in Saudi Arabia in 2011 after she was convicted of murdering the wife of her employer. The motive was the constant nerve-racking denial of permission to her request of leaving the kingdom to see her beloved family. Siti Zainab, another Indonesian national, who right groups said was mentally ill, was also executed (by beheading of course) after she allegedly confessed killing her female employer after abuse and mistreatment. Karni Binti Medi suffered the same fate and was put to the sword two days after Siti Zainab. These incidents stoked simmering tensions between Indonesia and Saudi Arabia to the point the Indonesian Ambassador was recalled. Earlier this year, as a result, Indonesia has issued a moratorium to stop sending domestic workers to 21 countries, mainly Arab States.
Equally astonishing is the case of the Indian domestic worker, whose Saudi employer chopped off her hand. Munirathinum, who had gone to Saudi Arabia to help pay off her family’s debts and had been promised a monthly salary of around $180, as Aljazeera puts it, had already experienced a series of harassment and abuse under her employer and when she tried to escape the abysmal work conditions the Saudi employer, wasting no time, cut off her hand for sport and took her fingers as trophies. Munirathinum was lucky that her Indian government intervened and, after days, was flown back to her beloved country.
The violent behavior has cast its ghastly shadow on other nationals. Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan citizen, was beheaded for the death of an infant in her care. The Sri Lankan president made a personal appeal on two occasions after the confirmation of the death sentence but the Saudi government rejected the plea of the Sri Lankan president to grant Rizana Nafeek a pardon and continued with the execution despite the fact the rights groups vehemently stated her birth certificate revealed she was 17 years old at the time of the infant’s death, hence rendering the implementation of the punishment illegal. There was another inhumane incident that attracted the media coverage involving another Sri Lankan domestic worker whose employer, a Kuwaiti, cruelly drove metal pins into her body when she demanded her wages, shattering her life and easily getting away with it.
The rape, killing at whim, with-holding their wages, beating, and abusive acts are the only routine these domestic workers have ever known since their arrival but for some, it is totally different story. Domestic workers from East Africa, like Ethiopia and Eretria endure far worse nightmares. The constant abuse and oppression is coupled by a naked discrimination and deeply-rooted racism. They are viewed as mere “investment” by their employer. This is one of the ordeals both emotionally, and mentally lived by Miryam Kessiya in Lebanon. According to Aljazeera, narrating and lamenting the hardships and humiliations she was put through, she said,” we are not humans in Lebanon. We are treated like animals or may be a machine or a robot that they can charge to work. I am not treated as human. I am not treated like a woman.” The strange thing is that the vulnerability of domestic workers, in general, has been exacerbated by a directive from the Labanese Justice Ministry which stated : No domestic worker can have any relationship, be it marriage or otherwise. This travesty of justice has been exploited by the unscrupulous employers who sexually violate the rights of their employees with impunity.
These troubling stories are just the tip of the iceberg, a fraction of copious personal accounts, with their own magnitude, that are nipped and hidden from the media coverage. There is no telling the level of dehumanization endured by the domestic workers on a daily basis. There is no telling the innumerable domestic workers that commit suicide every year in the processing of emancipating themselves from the terror of slavery. The physical and mental capacity of these workers has been stretched beyond their breaking point so much so they have succumbed to mental illnesses and psychological traumas. The utopian paradise has proved to be nothing but a trap to lure them into a bottomless pit of both emotional and mental purgatory, the meticulously- engineered deception has conveniently set up the stage and the abuse and exploitation have pulled down the curtain of the multi-faceted slavery
Greed or Naivety
For the Somali politicians, the cloak of tribal dogma has tremendously proved to be a trident, a sharp and decisive one, to forge their way into illegal lucrative dealings and overt contracts. The selfish” It is my turn to milk the system” has become a well-known profession that even a warlord, a chief, and a Wadaad crave for. The funneling of public money for personal purposes has taken root and assumed status in the political domain with no thought for the more than Quarter a century stunted progress, the rampant unemployment that has triggered a huge exodus of youth to dare the perilous journey which claims countless lives every year, the displacement and starvation of the refugees suffocated in camps at the mercy of foreign entities….the list goes on!
In lieu of leaving an exemplary and laudable legacy for the thousands of disenfranchised youth in their own homeland, these goons smudge it (the legacy) with the soot of embezzlement, the auctioning of national properties behind closed doors, and the corruption with its bastardized versions- cronyism and nepotism etc. All of this lends a credence to the fact that it is not naivety that blinds them to the what is incumbent on them and the horrifying climate of abuse, slavery and impunity in the gulf states but rather the greed, an insatiable greed, that has bloated and numbed them to the suffering of their fellow citizens to the point they have officially licensed a tragedy that will haunt those Somali sisters for the rest of their lives. It baffles me how the hell they think these Gulf States that do not protect the basic human rights of citizens with functioning governments and diplomatically robust embassies around the world will even bother to bat an eye when it comes to Somali sisters.
This has reminded me of the German folklore “Hansel and Gretel” which depicts a husband and wife. The wife, who is very imperious, dictates the husband, for fear of poverty, to abandon the children in a notorious jungle inhabited by a cannibal witch that lures her prey to be roasted later in a gigantic oven. In this case the husband is the Somali politician, the wife is the greed, the cannibal witch is the Gulf States, and the children are the Somali sisters who are abound to come out of the affair the worst. They (Somali sisters) will have no choice but to wander in the barren arid desert with humiliation and exploitation being their sole friend in the journey, while their leaders recline beside the oasis raking thousands if not millions from the mismanagement and the profiteering of public funds. They will be dragged and tossed on the floor while Somali politicians bask in the luxury of those over-sized sofas and cushions. This current administration has made a colossal blunder and created a black hole for the dignity, the health and the respect of our Somali sisters. The gravity of this blunder will only be rightly measured in the hands of time and I hope, I truly hope, it proves me WRONG.
Abdifatah Sheikh Ibrahim