Mission Europa Netzwerk Karl Martell

In Bondage in Kuwait

Posted by paulipoldie on December 25, 2008

http://gatesofvienna.blogspot.com/2008/02/in-bondage-in-kuwait.html#readfurther

by Baron Bodissey

 

This email is from our Austrian correspondent ESW, and concerns her personal experiences with “guest workers” in Kuwait.


Dear Baron,

Workers in DubaiI need to add my two cents’ worth to your post on workers’ exploitation in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. As you know, I lived in Kuwait in 1990 and again from 1997 to 2000. You cannot imagine the things I saw and heard.

In 1990 I got stuck in Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion. This is not the place for the entire story of my journey back to Austria. But let me tell you one of the most harrowing images I have stored in my memory: As our convoy — made up of Austrian citizens — approached the border between Iraq and Turkey near a town called Zakho, we found that the border had been closed for the night. We managed to bribe the guards into opening the border control area. The mountainous area was dimly lit at 3 a.m., but I was able to see the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of not so affluent Asian migrant workers lying asleep on the rugged and rocky ground, waiting for the gates to Turkey — and to freedom — to open in the morning.

I had seen these same workers driving in open trucks, children being baked in the hot desert sun, squashed between the family’s belongings in the open area in the back of the truck. We were lucky in that we were welcomed upon our return to Austria. The Asians were not welcomed at all because they brought with them problems: the countries they had left could not provide jobs for them; their families were dependent on the workers’ incomes and were now destitute.

When I returned to Kuwait in 1997, nothing had changed for the hundreds of thousands of maids and drivers. They were still in bondage. It starts with their sponsors — the Kuwaiti employer —confiscating their passports, making it impossible for the workers to run away, that is, to flee the country. Without their passports and — even more important — without the so-called iqama, the stamp in the passport with the work permit, they are stuck. Not even the embassies can help these poor souls.

Considering what we all know about Arab supremacy, what do you think the Minister of Labor is going to do to help when the Indian ambassador is at his doorstep? Nothing. You guessed right. So all these representatives can do is provide safe houses for these maids to hide in until things are sorted out with their sponsors.
– – – – – – – –
When summer approached and with it the unbearable heat, the number of visa requests rose steadily. The larger the family, the more maids and drivers were required to travel with these families. It sickened me having to stamp visas for the maids, knowing perfectly well that they would not have a wonderful and relaxing time in Austria, that they would have to work just as hard as in Kuwait, running after misbehaving and abusive children, often having to double as sex slaves. We at the embassy also knew perfectly well that the maids went along to work, which is actually illegal according to the visa regulations. But what could, what should we have done? It was an impossible situation.
 

It is well-known that maids were often forced to sleep in the kitchen, under the table, on a foam mattress. There is no law that regulates working hours, vacation time, or sickness compensation. Migrant workers, according to the law, fall into a special category. There are no lawyers they can contact because there is nothing these lawyers can do. If the workers do get vacation time, and that’s a big if, they usually travel home to the Philippines or India or Sri Lanka, or wherever they are from.

And they always return, which should tell us a thing or two about their lives back home. How bad must life be in these countries, that an abused maid leaves her family to return to Kuwait? To 40 Kuwaiti Dinars in salary, about $120.

Maids and drivers, which means boys and girls, are strictly segregated. Imagine the boredom. Imagine what happens if they do get together. Imagine the consequences. An illegitimate pregnancy. And that’s when the s**t hits the fan.

I usually enjoy reading the newspaper. Yet one of the saddest aspects of reading Kuwaiti newspapers was reading about abused maids. The English-language newspapers were filled with news about maids who had committed suicide by jumping out of windows.

Imagine how bad things must be to commit suicide, without saying good-bye to your family. Imagine the loneliness. Just imagine.

I couldn’t back then. I can’t now.

ESW

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