Shoddy oversight and poor regulation and implementation of extant laws by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment are aiding trafficking of women to Saudi Arabia in the name of searching for greener pastures.
Recently, through the intervention of the Nigerian Embassy in Saudi Arabia, 1,000 housemaids were deported to Nigeria.
These housemaids are airlifted to Saudi Arabia by private employment agencies licensed by the Federal Ministry of Labour.
Information obtained from the ministry through the Freedom of Information Law indicated that two agencies were fully accredited to recruit Nigerians as domestic staff in Saudi Arabia. It, however, said a total of 22 of such agencies were licensed.
The experiences of those maids are not palatable, according to findings by Daily Trust on Sunday.
How we recruit maids to Saudi Arabia – Agent
Musa Aliyu Fagge is the managing director/chief executive of Fagge Global Services Limited, one of the agencies licensed to recruit housemaids and send them to Saudi Arabia.
He told Daily Trust on Sunday in Abuja that women came to them on their own volition, seeking to work in Saudi Arabia. “What we are doing is legal. We are registered with the relevant agencies such as the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC),” he said.
He said interested women must first and foremost sign a personal “agreement /undertaking” form that indicates their interest, as well as the fact that they are free from all ailments. The second form is for “consent for guarantorship,” which will be signed by a guarantor of an interested maid. The third form is the “court affidavit for the consent of guarantor,” which is deposed to by the guardian of the women.
Another form that would be signed is that of the Al-Khebrah Al-Taweelah, one of the many “recruitment offices” in Saudi Arabia. On the recruitment agency form, it was stated that the maids would have their mobile phones, use the wifi in the house, minimum of 10 hours rest time daily, among others. But findings revealed that the maids end up enjoying none of these.
On the other hand, it was stated in the same agency’s form that the maid, during the 24-month contract period, “must not ask for salary increment, stop work or runaway, or refuse to work or finish the contract, even for one day.”
Fagge said, “The potential maids are told of what to expect in the foreign land. In fact, we train them on the basics of housekeeping, among others things, before their departure.” He, however, said that many of the maids return home before the end of the contracts, for many reasons.
I was treated like a slave – former maid
When Ladidi Danliti (not real name) decided to travel to Saudi Arabia and work as a maid, she was full of hope of supporting her struggling family in Kaduna. Mohiya Integrated Services Limited, Kaduna facilitated her trip.
Her hopes were dashed the moment she landed at the residence of an old lady who was living with her three grown up sons in Riyadh.
“I sensed trouble when the old lady confiscated my mobile phone. When I protested, she shouted at me, saying, ‘I bought a slave. Were you not told that I bought you with my money?’ Ladidi told Daily Trust on Sunday amidst tears.
In her early 30s and married, Ladidi thought she could travel and work in Saudi Arabia for two years to help her family with the N250,000 monthly salaries she was promised. “But the situation was scary. The old woman made me work almost 20 hours non-stop. The relationship was that of a master-slave: the usual shouting. The scariest of them all was the constant reminder that I was brought as a slave,” she said.
Though she didn’t tell Daily Trust on Sunday whether she was sexually abused, Ladidi said the constant fear of being sexually assaulted by those three grown-up men in the house was another nightmare she contented with. “Their sexual advances towards me and my resistance created an atmosphere of hatred and disgust around me. Like their mother, it was constant shouting and verbal abuses, which reinforced their claim that I was their slave,” she said.
She said after the first month, she decided that she was no longer interested and she wanted to come back home. According to her, “When the lady realised that I was serious, she contacted the Saudi agent that brought me to her.”
She said that for 11 days, she was detained in one house owned by a Saudi agent, Muhammed Muhammed. Throughout these days, they were fed only twice a day, she said. “The experiences of the four other detainees I met were horrific. Two of them said they were repeatedly raped. The others were physically assaulted with marks all over their bodies. All these fueled my fears,” she said.
Thereafter, Ladidi said she was transferred to the office of the recruitment agency, where she spent another 10 days. The officials insisted that she must go back to another house and continue working.
“I resisted, despite threats of bundling me into Saudi prison. In one of such instances, I was asked to follow a bearded tall man wearing shorts, who came to the office looking for a maid. I said I would rather die than to follow him,” she added.
Ladidi’s resistance finally paid up when the recruitment office called the Nigerian agent who happened to be in Saudi at that time. After a day-long back and forth, she was taken to the Nigerian embassy in Riyadh, and after some days she was airlifted back home.
Although she was promised a salary of N250,000 per month, Ladidi ended up getting 950 Saudi Riyals (N92,313) per month.
Endless search for greener pasture
Baraka Alhaji (not real name), is a divorcee and mother of two, from Kano. Like Ladidi, she travelled to Saudi Arabia as a housemaid. She left her two children with her mother. But the condition she met in Riyadh was “unbearable and inhuman. “I cannot be sleeping with some pampered brats because of poverty,” she vowed.
In her case, Baraka was beaten and assaulted by the husband and his grown-up child, who happened to be her masters. “I didn’t know that what they brought was not a maid but a sex slave. I worked like a donkey non-stop, including washing their clothes, plates, cleaning their 6-bedroom room apartment and making their beds. Again, they wanted to sleep with me,” she explained.
She said she was wrong when she thought that reporting the matter to the wife and mother of her aggressors would end the nightmare. “After I reported what was happening to me, the woman became more infuriated. She threw anything within her grasp after the verbal assault,” she said.
Baraka said she decided to “return to her poverty after three months of nightmare.” She indeed returned to Nigeria but not without a valedictory scar on her right cheek, courtesy of her former madam’s physical assault.
It is human trafficking – Security officials
Security officials who investigated the matter told Daily Trust on Sunday that the scheme has all the elements of human trafficking.
“From our investigations and debriefings of the deportees, the scheme has violated equality of treatment and non-discrimination as provided by the principles of universal human rights and applicable to all workers,” a security official who declined being named said.
He said the Ministry of Labour was aiding the scheme by refusing to ensure that proper procedures and regulations were adhered to before the journeys. The official said, “Before the departure, details of addresses, emails and telephone numbers of potential employers are provided to the ministry.
“The agencies are mandated to submit the same information to the Nigerian Embassy in Saudi Arabia. But from our investigation, all these are not done.”
Another official said the women were mostly with a low educational background, a situation that aided their exploitation.
“Apart from the mouthwatering salaries promised and the frenzy of travelling to the Holy Land, the women know nothing about their potential employers and environment. On arrival, they are distributed to various parts of the kingdom, forcing the majority of them to endure the two years of hardship,” the official said.
Plight of Filipino, Indonesian maids in Saudi Arabia
Nigerians maids are not the only ones suffering in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom and Philippines had, in 2013, signed bilateral labour agreement, which reinforces the Standard Employment Contract providing enough protection for Filipino Household Service Workers (HSWs) in the kingdom. But this has not stopped abuse.
In February, a Filipino maid, Mary Jane Abogadie, sought the help of her government after her Saudi employer refused to release her after the contract ended in 2016. She said she served the family of 23 without pay.
In April, a domestic worker identified as Agnes Mancilla, was left in a critical condition after her employer forced her to drink bleach.
Indonesia also sends domestic workers to Saudi Arabia and has often complained about the treatment of its workers in the kingdom.
In 2015, the Asian country barred them from going to 21 countries, mostly in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia executed two Indonesian domestic workers in one week on murder convictions.
The execution of Tuti Tursilawati by Saudi authorities in October 2018 without even informing her family and consular staff drew strong condemnation from Indonesian officials.
She was killed seven years after she was sentenced to death for killing her employer in an act she claimed was self-defense from sexual abuse.
We registered 22 hiring agencies – Ministry
Responding to the Freedom of Information request by Daily Trust on Sunday, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity said sections 25 (1) (a) of the Labour Act CAP Li, 2004 LFN gave the ministry the mandate to license fit and proper persons to recruit citizens in Nigeria for the purpose of employment as workers outside the country.
“In order to determine fit and proper person’’ the ministry developed guidelines a person who wishes to be licensed must meet,” the ministry stated in a letter signed by Umar A. Yahaya, Director of Employment and Wages.
The ministry has licensed 22 agencies under the international category. Yahaya, however, noted that “licensing is merely a preliminary requirement for the recruitment of workers for employment outside the country; thereafter, the licensee still has to comply with all the provisions of Section 39 of the Labour Act, including presenting all recruited persons for a pre-departure orientation seminar before they are issued with the final clearance.
“So far, only two private employment agencies have met these conditions and were issued final clearance to recruit. Note that this clearance is not open-ended; it has to be obtained each time a new batch of workers is recruited,” he explained.
The letter stated that between March 2016 and December 2017, the ministry issued approvals for the two agencies for the recruitment of 272 domestic female workers.
The ministry stated that it usually transmitted the list of recruited workers to the Nigerian mission in Saudi Arabia through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that consular services were provided to them on arrival.
The ministry stated that it liaised with agencies such as the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) before issuing licence to any agency in Nigeria.
Nigerian Embassy not contacted – Ambassador
The Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Justice Isa Muhammadu Dodo, told Daily Trust on Sunday in Jeddah that the Embassy only got to know about these domestic workers when they were in trouble and needed to go back home.
“The process is done without the knowledge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
“The problem is mostly with the agents recruiting domestic servants, who promise them better lives in Saudi Arabia. They go to Immigration and get them passports and visas, and thereafter, bring them to Saudi Arabia. They are not bringing them through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so we don’t know anything about their coming. The only time we know that they are here is when they enter into problems. That’s when they come to us.
“When I came I discovered this. It is a daily thing that is disturbing us at the Embassy and Jeddah Consulate. We are always dealing with these people. They usually think they are coming to enjoy here.
“We are always at deportation centres, prisons and police stations trying to secure the release of our people. Some countries have banned their people from coming to work in Saudi Arabia, so why not Nigeria? When I came, I discovered this and wrote through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, appealing to the government to ban people from coming to work here in Saudi Arabia. I don’t know what is happening; so this is it.” Ambassador Dodo said.
Ministry confirms abuse of maids
The ministry also confirmed the abuse of the domestic workers, saying a fact-finding mission was carried out. It told Daily Trust on Sunday that as a result of persistent complaint of abuses, the ministry, NIS, NAPTIP and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs jointly embarked on a fact-finding mission to Saudi Arabia in July 2018. It said a committee had been set up to implement the recommendations of the investigation.