July 15, 2004


This should have brought into light much earlier. At last Human Rights Watch publishes a 135 page report "Bad Dreams: Exploitation and Abuse of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia", which depicts how many of the immigrant workers are abused and treated as slaves.

Non-Saudis make up 35 percent of Saudi Arabia's labor force. An estimated 1.5 million workers are from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and almost 900,000 each from Egypt, the Philippines and Sudan. There are an estimated 500,000 Indonesians and 350,000 from Sri Lanka, most of them women. The report was complied from interviews mostly conducted in India, Pakistan and the Philippines, with workers who returned from Saudi Arabia.

Some of the frightening and troubling findings of the reports are:

* Sexual abuse and rape of women migrant workers, both in the workplace and in Saudi prisons by Saudi male employers.
* Migrant workers from Bangladesh, India and Phillipines were forced to work ten to eighteen hours a day, and sometimes throughout the night without overtime pay.
* The pay is very meager (e.g. $133 for a month and 16 hours of work daily)
* Hundreds of low-paid Asian women who cleaned hospitals in Jeddah worked twelve-hour days, without food or a break, and were confined to locked dormitories during their time off.
* Migrant workers experienced shocking treatment in Saudi Arabia?s criminal justice system.

The Saudi Prince Bander said that the report is grossly exaggerated. However, the kingdom's highest Muslim religious authority, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh, acknowledged that migrants suffer "exploitation and oppression."

The migrants silently accept the exploitation and deprivation of their rights because they arrive in Saudi Arabia ignorant or only vaguely informed and view themselves as powerless.

Now will the world community do something about it as I doubt the Saudi government is anyway bothered about it? The governments of the migrant workers have a role to play in this.


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