From being overworked to sexual harassment, Ugandan female migrant workers in Saudi Arabia endured pitiless life while there and often return as empty souls, write ZAHRA ABIGABA and EDWARD SSEKIKA.
With Saudi Arabia already under intense scrutiny over the rape, torture and harassment of Ugandan domestic workers, more shocking testimonies are still trickling from returnees.
Twenty-two-year-old Lillian Nakaweesa (not real name) who was a housemaid in Saudi Arabia describes her experience. “…before I left to go to Saudi Arabia, I used to work as a bar attendant but the money was not enough. So, my friend advised me to apply and go abroad to work as a housemaid since the salary was good.
I was promised that upon reaching there, I would be paid [something] like $230 (Shs 720,000), but little did I know that I was going to hell on earth. I had been ‘sold’ before I even left Uganda and was turned into a sex slave. Each day, I would sleep with at least five men and, in addition, do the house chores,” she said.
“From day one, I never rested. I was mistreated, never ate on time but still that would not have been a problem, but I was never paid for ‘services’ I rendered. One day, the son of my boss came into my room and forced himself on me.
When I reported him to his parents, instead of punishing him, I was the one who was severely beaten and imprisoned for two months. While still there [prison], my boss sent me an air ticket to come back to Uganda. I headed straight to the airport in my prison uniform and slippers without my belongings. So, I just came back without a penny but with a broken soul,” she narrated.
“Upon reaching Addis Ababa [Ethiopia], a Kenyan lady saw me and I could see in her eyes that she wanted to cry. She gave me clothes to change into. I hate the country called Saudi Arabia, even the sound of someone mentioning it gets me scared. I hated myself, my body and all men. In the first week after my return, I would lock myself in the house and never wanted to associate with anyone until my family took me for counseling at Kyampisi children’s ministry,” she said.
On the other hand, Dorothy Achen holds a degree in secretarial studies from Makerere University. She said that after looking for a job for years, one of her relatives told her to apply and go abroad since the salary was good. Upon reaching Saudi Arabia, she said, she was taken to a home where she was supposed to look after eight people.
“When I complained that the work was a lot, I was then taken to different houses to work still as a maid. On several occasions, I was assaulted and sexually harassed by the men in the house. One night my boss tried to rape me but somehow the wife got to know about it. So, when he left, the wife got his brothers and tied me down.
She got a knife and put it at my throat and also pierced my thighs and then I was thrown in the store and locked inside without any treatment. Due to over-bleeding, I think I collapsed and I woke up in a clinic. After some few days, my bosses came to the clinic to pick me and told me that I have to report to work immediately.
I had nothing to do but to go back and work even though I was weak and could not finish work in time. One time, my lady boss found me cleaning the kitchen and pushed me down the stairs. The scar she had inflicted on my neck ruptured again and this time I was not taken to the clinic but to prison on allegations that I had stolen my boss’ money,” she recounted.
“I really suffered at the hands of the Arabs. In the evening, my boss picked me from prison but that night I told them that if they don’t take me back home [Uganda], I would kill myself. They allowed me to go back home the following day but I was never allowed to pick any of my belongings, never allowed to even take a shower. For the seven months that I spent in Saudi Arabia, I had never laughed, I only laughed when I met a colleague at the airport,” she said.
These sorry tales demonstrate the suffering Ugandan girls, mostly domestic workers, go through in Saudi Arabia and other Arab and Gulf states. Though they willingly go there with promises of money, they are, instead, turned into sex slaves!
On Monday, The Observer found relatives of 27-year-old Mariam Namale at the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Kireka, demanding that government and the company that deployed her to Saudi Arabia bring her back home. Unlike Dorothy and Lillian, Mariam is still trapped in slavery.
It is such appalling tales that have forced the Ugandan government to ban the recruitment and deployment of Ugandan domestic workers in Saudi Arabia and other countries. In a letter dated January 22, 2016, Muruli Mukasa, the minster for gender, labor and social development, said the ban follows failure by employers to follow standard employment contracts of Ugandan domestic workers.
“The purpose of the letter was to inform all the concerned parties about the ban on recruitment and deployment of housemaids to Saudi Arabia and also noted that the ban will remain in force until the conditions are deemed fitting,” the letter reads in part.
On Tuesday, the Ugandan embassy in Saudi Arabia said seven more girls were rescued from slavery. They were part of the 24 who had been stranded at a migrant shelter after failing to pay their return tickets back home.
Dr Rashid Yahya Ssemuddu, the Ugandan ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said the embassy is working closely with Samaoc Holdings Limited, a company contracted by government of Uganda to monitor and oversee Ugandan migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.
“Our people should remain calm because we have known all the problems and their sources and we are going to deal with them. We have discovered that a big number of our girls are being recruited by Kenyan companies to Oman,” he said.
ARRESTS AND INVESTIGATIONS
According to police, most of the girls were recruited by companies that are not registered or licensed. The main culprits include Turkey Business Solutions based in Kabalagala, a Kampala suburb, and Supreme Security Limited. There are 58 companies licensed to recruit Ugandan workers for employment abroad.
On Monday, police arrested Khalima Abdullah of Turkey Business Solutions on suspicion of human trafficking. Polly Namaye, the deputy spokesperson of police, said the Kenyan national is suspected to have export girls into ‘slavery’.