Sri Lankan report claims that around 40 young housemaids die each month in Saudi Arabia

A HORRIFYING claim that the bodies of around 40 Sri Lankan housemaids are returned each month from Saudi Arabia after they died of unnatural causes is contained in a report in the Sri Lankan Guardian.

Writing for the newpaper, Fr J C Pieris said:

That is more than one body a day. Our house maids in the Middle East are not moribund old grannies. They are mostly young women. These are certainly not natural deaths. This is like body bags brought back from a war front. It is not a war front but more like a slaughter house.

Our women, daughters of Mother Lanka, citizens by descent of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka are being mercilessly used, abused, tortured and butchered by moneyed but illiterate, inhuman, uncivilized, savage Bedouins. What is Sri Lanka doing about it? NOTHING! Shame on all of us!

Pieris, who slammed religious leaders, politicians, trade unions and women’s rights groups for not taking action to stop women from becoming “slaves and playthings of cruel sub-humans in the Hell of the Middle East” added:

Our legislators must pass a law immediately prohibiting sending women to the Middle East as domestic workers, as house maids.

The report comes a couple of months after worldwide outrage was expressed over the execution in Saudi Arabia of 24-year-old Rizana Nafeek, who allegedly killed a child in her care.

Demonstrators in Colombo protest against the execution of Rizana Nafeek. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

Demonstrators in Colombo protest against the execution of Rizana Nafeek. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

At the time the UK Guardian reported that the execution highlighted the plight of foreign workers in the Islamic kingdom, and revealed that many foreign maids were facing execution.

It added that Indonesians are believed to account for the majority of those facing a death sentence. Human rights groups say 45 Indonesian women are on death row, and five have exhausted the legal process.

Figures for other nationalities, said the Guardian, are harder to come by. Rights groups say they believe there are also Sri Lankan, Filipina, Indian and Ethiopian maids facing the death penalty.

Nafeek’s execution drew condemnation from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, both of which have campaigned against the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. They say many migrant domestic workers, drawn to the Middle East by the prospect of employment with well-off families, face abuse.

Said Nisha Varia from Human Rights Watch:

Some domestic workers find kind employers who treat them well, but others face intense exploitation and abuse, ranging from months of hard work without pay to physical violence to slavery-like conditions.

There are about 1.5 million foreign maids in Saudi Arabia, including about 375,000 Sri Lankans.

In January, it was reported here that, in a single week, three housemaids – two Ethiopians and an Indonesian – hanged themselves in their employers’ homes in Riyadh because of the abuse they suffered.

In 2010 a video was posted on YouTube detailing abuse – including sexual assaults – suffered by Indonesia workers at the hands of their Saudi employers.

Following the execution of Rizana Nafeek, the Sri Lankan government said it would raise the minimum age for female domestic workers to be eligible to seek employment in Saudi Arabia to 25 years from the present 21 with an eye on eventually stopping such employment altogether.

Hat tip: Great Satan & BarrieJohn