This is only half of the story which is trying to down play the situation of the slaves working in muslim homes. Passports confiscated on arrival by their employers to prevent them from leaving, the slaves are then kept within the four walls of their houses while being sexually exploited, sometimes raped, by the man in the house. Added to that an around-the-clock work schedule which includes beatings and abuse by both the man and the woman, they are rarely paid what they are promised and slave-maids are prevented from keeping contact with the outside world. Those are the main reasons maid workers flee their employers.
Why have 9,000 domestic workers absconded?
October 16, 2016
Many maids have had no choice but to flee because of their treatment.
Physical abuse, a lack of basic amenities like food and the non-payment of salaries are among some of the reasons why more than 9,000 domestic workers have fled their sponsors, embassy officials and lawyers have said.
Dubai Police last month revealed that 9,751 domestic workers were listed ‘missing’ as of May, having left their sponsors.
7DAYS spoke to diplomats, lawyers representing low-paid workers in legal cases, maids themselves and police.
In some cases, domestic staff are found to have stolen possessions and run off. But, officials say the majority flee because of a lack of basic, human treatment.
Dinesh Kumar, First Secretary at the Indian Embassy, said: “We see at least 10 to 20 cases of runaway maids in a month.
“Most of the maids run away because they feel harassed, are given more work than they can handle, given work that they didn’t expect and are not given sufficient rest time.”
Kumar said the embassy helps runaway maids through the Indian Community Welfare Fund, set up by the Indian government and given millions of dollars to ensure the rights of its citizens abroad.
In some cases the embassy is involved with responding to sponsors who have filed legal cases against absconding staff.
Kumar added: “If they do not have their passport, we get them an emergency certificate, air tickets and a shelter if they need it for a few days.
“If their sponsor files a case against them for absconding we help them with the procedure to go through the deportation centre.”
Among those who left their employer was Halima N, 22, from Uganda. She told 7DAYS that she was hired by a recruitment agency in Ajman in July 2015 and sent to work for an Iranian family in Sharjah.
But one month in, she says, the family flew to their home country for the summer – leaving her with no food or money.
She said: “The family spent more than three months in Iran, leaving me alone keeping the house. I didn’t get any pay in those months, no food – nothing.”
Dubai lawyer Barney Almazar, Director at Gulf Law, who also assists the Philippines Embassy in labour cases, said: “We had a case where a maid was asked to pay Dhs150 for using the internet and also not given any toiletries or basic amenities, although her contract said all of this would be provided.
“Some runaway maids have said their employers confiscated their phones to avoid communication with other people and locked them inside the house when they went on vacation.”
He continued: “In cases where the employer has not legally sponsored the maid, they take advantage of the fact that the maid cannot go to the police, so they are most vulnerable to abuse and we see a lot of such cases.
“The embassy provides shelter to these maids until their cases are resolved and also provides air tickets back home when necessary.”
Almazar said domestic staff fleeing abuse or non-payment are not penalised by the authorities for absconding.
‘Maids must know their rights’
Experts say that one way to combat abuse is to ensure that maids working here in the UAE know their rights.
Ophelia Almenario, Labour Attache at the Philippines Embassy, said: “We try hard to resolve the disputes with the employers through cooperating with the immigration authorities who force their bosses to pay unpaid wages and facilitating their repatriation.”
The Philippines Embassy had started a pre-departure programme for maids in the Philippines.
“We always tell recruitment agencies to inform maids before signing any contract about their expected monthly salary,” said Almenario.
Housemaids in the UAE receive an average wage of between Dhs800 and Dhs1,500 a month.
Huge fines for anyone who hires an illegal maid
A family that hired an illegal maid has described how they were hit with huge fines after the authorities found out.
Egyptian housewife, Najila M, took on the domestic worker two years ago but regrets breaching labour laws. She said: “I opted for a runaway maid after I tried getting one from recruiting agencies and failed. They were too expensive.”
Recruitment agency fees range from Dhs5,500 to Dhs15,000, depending on the maid’s nationality and experience.
But three months later, Najila found out that the maid was wanted by the authorities for stealing money and other items from a former employer. Najila said: “I was forced to hand her over to authorities and had to pay huge fines for employing a runaway housemaid. I will never do it again.”
A Dubai Police spokesman warned an employer faces a fine of up to Dhs50,000 if they hire a maid listed as absconded.
“When they hire a person illegally, they put themselves as well as others in danger,” he said.