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.
Nour Miyati had migrated for work twice previously and had good experiences. However the third time she was subjected to physical abuse from her employer, forced to work long hours, had her passport confiscated and was never paid for her labour. When she was finally able to escape Nour filed criminal charges against her employers. The criminal proceedings stretched over three years, while Nour Miyati waited in the overcrowded Indonesian embassy shelter for its resolution. A Riyadh court initially convicted Nour Miyati of making false allegations, sentencing her to 79 lashes, but later overturned this decision. The court dropped charges against her male employer. It sentenced the female employer to 35 lashes for committing abuse, but on May 19, 2008, a judge also dropped the charges against the female employer. That judge still awarded Nour Miyati 2,500 riyals ($668) in compensation, a small fraction of the amounts typically awarded for the types of injuries sustained.
This was my third time migrating. The first time I was in Medina for four years. The second time I was in Ta’if for two years. My previous employers were good and provided my full salary.
[The third time in Riyadh], the wife of the employer beat me, she did not work. Everyday she beat me. She beat my head, so I would cover it with my hands. She hit my foot with her sharp high heels. Everyday she did this until my foot was injured. When I told the husband about his wife’s behavior, he also beat me. After she beat my hands and they became swollen, [they made me] wash my hands with … one whole cup of bleach. I felt very hurt and had a lot of pain. I never got enough food. After one year, they still had not paid my salary.
I never got a chance to rest, I woke up at 4 a.m., made breakfast for the children, I worked all day without rest. I went to sleep at 3 a.m. So many times I didn’t get a chance to sleep at night, I worked around the clock.
My employer had my passport. He is a policeman [a member of the National Guard]. I never got a chance to leave the house. They locked me in from the outside. When I had stayed there for one year, I got a chance to escape, it was a Thursday and I ran out. My condition was bad, my left eye couldn’t see, I was swollen all over. I got a taxi that took me to a police officer…. My employer came to the station and took me back. I refused, I said, “My employer is a bad person.” My employer said, “You haven’t finished your contract yet, it should be two years.”
When I reached the house, they beat me again. They beat my mouth and one tooth fell out [shows scar on her lip]. After that, they locked all the doors, only the bathroom door was unlocked. I was never allowed to go out, not even to throw out the garbage. They didn’t let me use the telephone. The situation got very bad. The husband and wife beat me every day, they never gave me medicine.
It got worse after I tried to run away…. In the last month I slept in the bathroom…. they put tape on my mouth so I couldn’t say anything because my employers didn’t want the neighbors to know about me.
I didn’t escape, I asked [my employer] to take me to the hospital because of my condition. First I had to promise not to tell about their behavior to me. They forced me to stay silent.
[crying] I just worry I cannot work because of my hands. I don’t know about my future .
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.