Rights groups denounce treatment of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia

July 8th, 2008 - 6:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Jakarta, July 8 (DPA) Saudi Arabia should implement labour, immigration and criminal justice reforms to protect domestic workers from serious human rights abuses that in some cases amount to slavery, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a new report released Tuesday. Employers often face no punishment for committing abuses including months or years of unpaid wages, forced confinement and physical and sexual violence while some domestic workers face imprisonment or lashings for spurious charges of theft, adultery, or “witchcraft,” the rights body said.

“Therefore, the Saudi Arabian government should immediately effect reforms in its manpower and immigration sectors, and its criminal courts to protect migrant workers in the country from criminal acts and enslavement,” HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said at a press conference.

The 133-page report entitled “As If I Were Not a Human Being: Arbitrary Action Against Household Workers from Asia in Saudi Arabia”, said many Saudi Arabian employers who violated human rights did not face proper punishment for their arbitrary action against migrant workers who worked as house maids.

“Many Saudi Arabian employers had committed sexual and physical violence against their house maids, and failed to pay their salaries for months, even years, and sometimes forcefully confined them,” the report said.

Nisha Varia, a senior observer at the group’s women rights division, said if the house maids in Saudi Arabia were lucky, they would enjoy good working conditions with good bosses, “but otherwise they would be treated like slaves.”

Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Nepal accounted for the bulk of the women, thousands of whom sought shelter each year at the Saudi social affairs ministry or at their respective embassies.

More than eight million migrants work in Saudi Arabia, including 1.5 million domestic workers, most of who remit money home to their families.

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