Maid abuse in Qatar is a growing problem, human rights groups say. Abir Bouguerra, Angel Polacco and Sara Al-Darwish report.
Dog. Animal. Donkey.
These are the names Genoveva was called every day while working as a housemaid in Qatar.
The 37-year-old Filipina, who said she was subjected to physical and verbal abuse nearly on a daily basis, eventually fled her employer and now sits in limbo at the country’s Search and Follow-Up Department, also known as the Deportation Center.
Once the paperwork is sorted out, she can finally go home.
Genoveva’s situation is not an isolated case. The number of abused domestic workers in Qatar is growing, according to a 2011 report by Amnesty International. The Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking reports a similar trend, saying there was a 4 percent increase from 2009 to 2011 in the number of complaints filed by maids.
The deportation center where Genoveva is housed currently holds more than 500 maids who have run away from their employers. Most of these women stay for a couple of months, depending on their cases and the paperwork involved.
The center, located on Salwa Road, provides food and shelter for these maids while investigating their stories. Nasser Al Khalaf, an official there, said that the center cannot instigate any action against potentially abusive sponsors until officials look into the claims of the maids. Even then, most employers go unpunished, he said.
“It’s a terrible condition. It’s terrible for the workers who come here… It’s even more drastic for domestic workers, like nannies and maids and drivers,” said Silvia Pessoa, an assistant professor of English and Sociolinguistics at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar and a researcher on migrant laborers. “It’s tragic because these women are abused, verbally, psychologically, physically (and) sometimes sexually,” she added.
Many maids come to Doha with the sole purpose of supporting their impoverished families back home. But their monthly pay is low. Genoveva earned about QR950 a month, or about $260. Most maids send nearly all of their pay to their families.
“I’m a single mom. I need to feed my sick child. He’s three years old. I need money to support my child,” Genoveva said.
Manpower agencies in Doha provide domestic help to families by recruiting maids of various nationalities, including Indonesians, Filipinas, Sri Lankans and Nepalis.
But there are no specific laws that offer these women protection when they are abused or denied pay.
Officials usually refer to Law Number 14, the Labor Law, as an umbrella provision that covers the rights of domestic workers. But some dispute this point.
“They (domestic workers) have no protection in Qatar; they have no rights,” Pessoa said. “There’s a Qatari Labor Law, but domestic workers are not part of the law and they have to work for the person that sponsors them.”
“The person that sponsors them is their sponsor, their employer and the person they live with. So that creates lots of issues of power… The sponsor is very powerful and these women – especially – are very vulnerable.”
The lack of protection and legal recourse for housemaids has had severe consequences on domestic workers, particularly those of Indian origin.
In fact, the Indian government prohibited Indian maids from working in Qatar because of widespread mistreatment, including sexual harassment, physical abuse and refusal to pay their salaries, said Zayed Al Shemali, executive director of Jassim Manpower Agency.
Although Indian maids, who used to be in high demand because they are considered hard working – are not allowed to work in Qatar, some employers have found a way to get around the ban. Rashid Al Hajri, a Brigadier of the Immigration Department in Qatar, said that Indian maids are allowed in the country as visitors using a visit visa, which is valid for two months. Families who want Indian maids then change the visit visa to a working visa, allowing the maids to stay for a longer period of time.
Despite a lack of protection for their citizens, other countries have not followed India’s example.
Last year, the Philippines, the source of some 40,000 maids working in Qatar, released a blacklist of countries whose laws failed to protect its workers. Though Gulf countries including Qatar did not make the list, they remain under review for failing to observe the Philippine government’s standards with respect to migrant workers, officials said.
However, a memorandum exists between the Filipino government and the state of Qatar that defines all the rights and privileges of these workers, including a guaranteed minimum salary, proper treatment and free food and residence, said Philip Alano, an official at the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in Qatar.
“But they’re not being followed,” added Alano, whose organization serves as a support center for distressed and abused Filipino housemaids.
Although the situation seems dire for some domestic workers, other maids report positive relationships with their sponsors.
“I am comfortable working here. I feel like I’m living in my own home. They are like my sisters, my family, and my madam is also nice,” said Jocelyn Brito, a 35-year-old Filipina maid who has been working in Qatar for eight months.
The Qatar government is also taking steps to establish official rights for domestic workers.
Last year, local media reported that a draft law ensuring more protection for domestic workers was released. This law supposedly addresses the rights of housemaids: food, housing, medical care, breaks in an eight-hour workday, freedom to practice religion and the right of a deceased maid’s family to file a case against the sponsor if they suspect foul play.
And earlier this month, Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, visited India, and made his first state visit to the Philippines, where the issue of the treatment of domestic workers was addressed, according to local media reports.
This initiative may mean that the situation and rights of domestic housemaids in Qatar will improve.
Pessoa said she is confident that because of increasing international pressure on Qatar in terms of human rights, the conditions will get better for housemaids.
“If Qatar is smart enough, they should be making progress in that area (human rights),” she said. “I’m optimistic, I think the situation is getting better. I think education plays a big role. But there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done.”
very very interesting report and as you reported there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done.”in order to improve maids situation in the golf.
I will be in qatar this coming friday to work as domestic helper.Because of this report, it feels like i am not interested anymore…i do not know if my employer is very nice or educated one but i want to let the qatar government know that we filipina workers are not robots, we are just human and i do hope that FILIPINA DOMESTIC HELPERS will be given A DAY OFF, and will given a freedom to use cellphone because it is not easy to be far from our family…PLEASE, PLEASE….FILIPINO PEOPLE HAVE A FAMILY TIES and if anyone out there can help me let the qatar government be able to read this comment of mine…I am lucy and if any press media in qatar would interview me for this matter, i will really, really want to speak because this can be the best way where we filipina workers can be heard…
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Filipinos are the best workers in the world. We are humble, easy to deal with, very good in english, honest,hardworking and educated too.. i do hope (my sponsor) has a good heart together with his wife..I will do my duties and responsibilities when i am in there…But please, to all the employers out there in qatar, please give a 1 day off to all the filipina workers…that is that only way where in we can work smoothly and can work longer years…Communication is very important to us to our family back home…I hope the QATAR GOVERNMENT will have this law so that we can be protected also…Employers should give monthly salary on time and should also provide proper food and accomodation..They should consider their housemaid as part of their family…that is the key to success!!!!
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pls help me find the name charisma apostol alquizar that there family here in the philippines believd she is maybe in the deportation area in qatar. they told me that charisma leave the philippines by november last year to qatar and now she contact once only her sister that she is deported. pls contack me by my cp# 09995871700, i really need help that we can locate this girl charisma alquizar and hope that there family can talk to her so that they will know if she is ok or not..im looking forward for your help on this..thank you so much…
Nice report but, not every one abuse the maid. My case I had a maid that have been treated 5 stars. She flys with us business clase and we treat her with all due respect. Unfortunately on our last vexation she decided to go visit her family instead of comming with us. Even though she just came from visiting 9 months back. But since that what she wanted we have granted her, her wish. She decided to come back two days before we come back. She did, but just to take her things and vanish. Yes her salary was paid in advance up till the end of August and she run away on the 22 of August. We don’t need anything from her, we just want to know why? After 5 years with the family she deside to do this wrong thing…. Very stupid. Even the kids have bought her gifts and don’t understand why she is not here. My conclusion is that it seems we have been abused by the maid.
i hope qatar will be banned for getting DH from philippines. qatari are not educated and they treat their maids like animals..20-24hrs work..very low and delay of salary. verbally and phisically abusive and most of the time sexually abusive and no one get punished.these are based on my friends experience. better stay out of qatar for domestic helpers.
ang kakapal nmn ng muka ng mga taong yan.. sila na nga pinagsisilbihan ng tapat ganyan pa sila… wala na silang makikita tulad ng isang pinoy na matyaga magtrabaho, mapagkakatiwalaan, at masipag… sila ang buhay na bayani sa panahong ito….
Great. I agree.
My girlfriend will be there within this day. She will be a domestic helper in Qatar. I’m worried about her. I hope she will be protected by laws once she’s there already. As of now, I’m praying that her sponsor will treat her properly.
How can people in the USA that would want to help in any way help? My family used to have a part time maid when we were growing up, but it shocks me that abuse and other stuff happens. Pls. let me know if there any ways i can help.
I am from Ethiopia, i have office here in Ethiopia and i wanna to work with you in house maids. If you want to work with me you can write and let us discuss about the job. Thanks in advance!
and hope it will given a chance to all run aways in qatar to work again instead of sending them back home….bcoz we dont know why they run away bcoz mostly of us come here in qatar to work for our family and bcoz of abuse and non treaten them right and also late salary thats why they run away and fine a job while thier are illegal hope the president will given a chance like what saudi did to all run aways….ONLY GIVE THEM A CHANCE TO WORK……..
it’s not our wish to work in such situation. some of us come from a very poor family, and we have to put food on our tables. I wish all employer were like you. For now am looking for a job and I hope I’ll find it in a good family. Thank you for having a caring heart. God bless you.
Please, women from poor countries, don’t go to Middle East and Gulf Countries, Koweiit, Qatar, Saudi-Arabia, you risk death or rape and almost always insults and damage to your credit and your health by criminal working hours and you wille be absolutely forbidden to leave the house. Moreover, in case of problems, even very severe, your government will not protect you. The correct families are very few , slavery was abolished there in 1964 , but in the minds of employers, you are an inferior being without law, as the global mindset has not changed, and contemptuous racist because slavery was soon replaced by the Kafala system, you will belong to your employer (Kafal), like an animal. He will call you Animal ( Hayyawan ) dog ( kelb ) stupid , garbage , etc. and threaten you of the police and prison even at the risk to get rid of you without pay for the return ticket, hiding in your bag a jewel and accuse you of theft. You will then be imprisoned for months or years without any interpreter , abandoned by your government and subject to the law of men who rape women inmates.
My wife has been retained as a slave in Kuwait and she almost die. She was able to escape but it was VERY VERY difficult to obtain the exit visa. I was expecting the announcement of his death or imprisonment every minute for months. Indeed, local agencies working with agencies from the country of origin are complicit with employers and if you suffer violence and verbal abuse , they will not help you, and your embassy either. If you are lucky enough to come from a country where there are pressure groups to defend yourself, go here, but it will be very hard to escape anyway in case of problems. I’m talking of course cases that go wrong because some cases are going well, despite the scandalous to work 50 hours a week for a person without a single day of rest for $ 250 per month for two years, never allowed to leave home and treated like a slave . You will be subject to the whims of children and men in the house who will not stop pestering you with contradictory orders to go crazy, they will call you by home phone on your short 5 hours night to bring them water or to heat their tea.
Often , the boss will never say hello or thank you , you will not have the right to speak to him and if you are sick, they will always give you only PANADOL If you have a name that does not sound in Arabic , you will get another name than your’s and you will be banned from talking with employees of the same nationality as you, they will confiscate your phone or you will be forbidden to have one or your phone will be controlled as child, because rich people are afraid you give informations about their home for a housebreaking.
I hope that if you leave anyway, you come across a normal family and your suffering will be only caused by the missing from your family, your children. But such a departure in these MIDDLE-AGE monstrous countries, it is a lottery where you may win, but also lose your life or health and in any case suffer a lot.
Of course, what I say is the worst of what can happen to you, but it happened to my wife and I will not rest until my own death to denounce these heinous crimes committed in the Gulf (and now in Hong Kong and China ) on domestic and foreign construction workers or sometimes drivers, Indians, Madlagasy, Sri Lankan , Filipino, Indonesian, Nepali , Malay … with the active complicity of agencies and officials of the country of origin, real modern human traffickers.
I have to correct a mistake, my wife worked from 5:30 am until 10:30 pm, which is 15 hours a day and therefore, no rest day or 105 hours per week. For 4 weeks it was 420 hours, or $ 0.6 per hour as the cost for the sponsor, regardless of airfare. More, my wife was forced to buy her soap and even had a phone illegally. Western Union took her up to 6% of her “salary” to send money to the family.
She was obliged to buy credit thanks to the complicity of an Indian driver, which could lead to jail after this being triggered hysterical anger of the boss.
This patron controlled his office throughout the house with cameras on the Internet and there was also a camera in front of the room of the maids. One can imagine the strength it takes to endure all this without losing one’s head. My wife thought several times to commit suicide. Fortunately, this story is over, but some of its friends returned home dead in a coffin.
oh my when i read reports like this that generalize that all Qatari families are abusing made me so sad and mad ..i am a women that only hire filipino ladies because they are educated and understand the work rules and respect it .. i treat them like humans should treat other humans with respect and kindness because they are considered part of my family ..i am even currently at the united states and my helper is with me .. not all Qataries abuse maids there are some ignorant ppl that are but plz dont generalize that all Qataries are bad and that all filipino in Qatar are being abused ..do you know that the 2nd biggest population in Qatar is filipino ..i dont think this means we are bad or they are not happy and loving their life in Qatar ..
plz the media always puts what they want you to read or believe in ..dont judge us by this sad incedent
my wife a filipina use to work at doha qatar,the employer always shouted at her,they always shout even if they ask for something,they always shout they dindnt ask for low tone of voice,thats why my wife didnt want to finish the contract,she always expirienced that kind of abuse,i hope our goverment (phillipines)will take action for this kind of abuse.thank you