The United Arab Emirates is a destination for men and women predominantly from South and Southeast Asia, trafficked for the purposes of labour and commercial sexual exploitation. Migrant workers make up over 90 per cent of the UAE’s private sector workforce and are recruited from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, China, and the Philippines. Though some travel willingly, they are subjected to conditions of modern slavery including withholding of passports, non-payment of wages, restrictions of movement and threats of physical and sexual abuse. Trafficking of domestic workers is facilitated by the fact that normal protections for workers under UAE labour laws do not apply to domestic workers, leaving them more vulnerable to abuse.
Tahira S. travelled from Indonesia to UAE for domestic work. Upon arrival, her passport was confiscated, she was locked inside her employer’s home, forced to work 15 hours a day and beaten daily. Tahira received no rest periods or days off and had to sleep on the floor with no blanket or mattress. She was given food only once a day and was never paid a wage. Following a violent incident in May 2013, Tahira was able to escape from her employer and obtain medical treatment, however she suffered permanent damage to her arm which had been broken by her employer 2 months earlier.
My boss started hitting me after two weeks of being there. Even though she hit me every day I wanted to wait for my salary. I thought if I waited three months I could get the money. She hit me with her fist to my chest. She scraped her finger nails to my neck and slapped my face. I was bruised on my neck. She sometimes pulled out tufts of my hair.
If she [the sponsor] wasn’t happy with my work, she didn’t give me food. Once I didn’t eat for three days. She said, ‘If you’re not doing a good job, you don’t need to eat.
The police said I have to take her to court for her to learn a lesson. They said, “It’s not just you, it’s all the others.” The workers had come from different agents. I felt, thank god I’m here. I don’t have to face that terrible madam.
As told to researchers for Human Rights Watch