THE shocking scale of abuse directed at migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was exposed today by Human Rights Watch.
The charity’s latest report is based on interviews with 99 domestic workers — all women — as well as recruitment agents and employers.
Passport confiscation, unpaid wages, food deprivation and psychological, physical and sexual abuse of workers were found to be rampant in the tiny Gulf country which includes the emirate of Dubai.
Similar complaints are widespread in the Gulf, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar key offenders. The region is heavily reliant on foreign labour, with 146,000 migrant women employed in domestic work in the UAE alone.
Most come from south and south-east Asia.
Human Rights Watch said the way workers’ residency rights are tied to their employers makes it almost impossible to change jobs, giving bosses free rein to abuse their staff.
Twenty-two interviewees recorded being beaten with sticks or cables, punched or slapped in the face, kicked or choked.
A 28-year-old woman told investigators she was beaten “every day” and had been denied the right to see a doctor after her boss twisted her arm so severely that a bone broke.
Months later, the same boss had thrown a boot at her with such force that she started bleeding.
Six said either their employer or a member of their employer’s family had sexually assaulted or harassed them, with one Indonesian woman reporting being raped by her employer when he took her to clean his second home.
Most worked very long hours — up to 21 hours a day in some cases.
But if they try to escape they face deportation, being banned from future employment or even being charged with “absconding.”
HRW called on the UAE to repeal its “sponsorship” system, which gives employers control over their staff’s immigration status, movement between jobs and to terminate employment.