A Bangladeshi woman has been missing and another stranded in Saudi Arabia for over three months, after they separately travelled to work as domestic help in the Middle Eastern country and complained of torture at the hands of their employers there.
Family members of Yasmin Akter said she had travelled to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, on April 27 this year. However, they have been unable to contact her since June.
Yasmin, the elder daughter of Abdul Motaleb from Habiganj district, is 22 years old on paper but only 16 in reality, her family said.
According to Yasmin’s younger brother Ful Mia, her journey to Saudi Arabia was organised through broker Manik Mia, who they had been referred to by one Jorgina Begum, and she obtained her visa through Fakirapool based licensed recruiting agency Travel Care (Pvt) Ltd.
Ful Mia said: “Yasmin went to Saudi Arabia to change our financial fortune. She sent her salary for May, but problems started from June.”
“She called us and said that her employer tortured her both physically and mentally, and that she received similar abuse from the employer’s 20 odd family members. After that call she never ever call us again,” he added.
Subsequently, Yasmin’s father contacted Manik Mia in an attempt to organise her return. The two, along with Ful Mia, went to the Travel Cara office but the recruiting agency’s Managing Director Abu Sufian assured them that Yasmin was safe and happy.
Sufian further demanded Tk2.8 lakhs from them in order to bring Yasmin back to Bangladesh, Ful Miya said.
He added that Sufian did not even heed their request to speak to Yasmin, throwing them out of the office instead of making a phone call to Saudi Arabia.
However, Sufian denied ever having been contacted by Yasmin’s family members regarding her return.
“No one contacted us. Allegations of Yasmin having been tortured are totally wrong. Her family members want money from us and that’s why they have made these allegations. Yasmin is staying in Saudi Arabia and working there,” he said.
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Meanwhile, a woman named Sairun Begum, 50, also went to Saudi Arabia to work as a domestic help through Travel Care on March 9. She is currently in the town of Malga in the Al Qassim region.
Sairun’s husband Amzad hussain, who hails from Jessore and now lives in Mirpur, Dhaka, said they had organised her journey through broker Ali Hossain.
“15 days after going in Saudi Arabia, my wife called me and said that her employer did not permit her to use mobile phone to talk with her family. The employer did not even provide her with food, but tortured and overworked her,” Amzad said.
He added that Sufian said she had suffered a number of injuries due to the harsh treatment, including burns on her hand and leg as well as injuries sustained from a fall off a roof after she fainted due to a lack of food.
Amzad further said that he had gone with broker Ali Hossain to speak to Travel Care MD Sufian regarding his wife’s return after receiving the phone call, but he is yet to take any measures.
“Sufian assured me that he would bring my wife back. But a month passed after his assurance and nothing happened. The office staff members do not even allow us to enter the office anymore,” Amzad told the Dhaka Tribune.
Sufian once again denied the allegations of torture and said: “There is a rule in Saudi Araba to shift workers from one house to another if they face any problem and we are trying to do that with Sairun.”
A broker, asking to remain anonymous, told the Dhaka Tribune that hundreds of female Bangladeshi migrants were similarly trapped and tortured in Saudi Arabia.
When contacted, acting secretary of the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Dr Nomita Halder acknowledged that many women who went to Saudi Arabia as domestic help faced brutal torture, but said they could not take any action as no one filed written complaints.
“As domestic help usually come from poor families, they often do not have the knowledge of where and how to file complaints,” she said, suggesting that journalists file complaints on their behalf as it was very difficult to take action otherwise.
Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) President Benjir Ahmed said: “We will investigate the accusations against the recruiting agency. If we find that any agency is involved in such activity, then we will ban their membership from BAIRA.”
He also confirmed that it was near impossible to take action without a written complaint.