A young lady, Yaa Baby Oparebea Asare who travelled to work as a house help in Saudi Arabia and some other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has narrated her harrowing ordeal.
Speaking on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show, Miss Oparebea Asare narrated her traumatising experience detailing the deplorable living conditions she was subjected to during her stay there as a housemaid.
It all started when she was introduced to the agent in Madina, a suburb of Accra by a friend. At that time when she was facing some financial difficulties and family problems.
The lady told host, Kojo Yankson that after all her travel documentation were ready, she was set to leave the shores of the land to better her fortunes.
However before she left, her mobile phone was taken from her by the agent who assured her that her sponsors (the family she would living with) would get her a better and more sophisticated one on arrival.
Unfortunately, that wouldn’t happen. When they arrived at the airport in Saudi Arabia, she and some other ladies on the same contract were picked up by the corresponding agent, loaded into a blacked-out van and driven to the house of the agent.
“From the airport, they came with a van and packed us like sardines. We were more than twenty in a small van. When they are taking you to the agent’s house, you are not supposed to look outside, they have curtains in the van. If you make an attempt to open it, you’ll receive a slap,” she said, Friday.
Their sponsors subsequently came to fetch them from the supposed agent’s house and took them to their houses to work. Hers was a 5-storey building where she was to work alone; to cook, clean, and maintain the upkeep of the homes in that building.
“The building was a 5-storey building and you are going to work alone. Immediately you enter the room, they will tell you to rest and after an hour or two, they will call you to get to work. They will give you food and that will be all you’ll have for the rest of the day. Sometimes, you won’t get the food at all.”
While there, she met another Ghanaian girl who alerted her to the dangers of working in Saudi Arabia as a maid.
“I met a Ghanaian girl at a family event we went to one day and she told me I was better off dead. She told me to throw away any food they gave me to eat because it would be drugged to make me go mad and also forget about my family,” Yaa Baby narrated.
From her account, the promise of a newer more sophisticated phone never materialized. She recounted how she had to insist on being given a phone, but her ‘Madam’ told her she had to wait for 3 years before she could get one.
Eventually, she was given a small feature phone with limited airtime. She tried to call her family back home as she had been unable to contact anyone a month after she had arrived in Saudi Arabia. As her airtime was limited and calling was expensive, she resorted to sending texts to contacts she knew back home for help.
At a point in time, Miss Oparebea Asare recounted how she was instructed to wash the 5-storey building as part of her duties in the house after being falsely accused by her boss’ sister-in-law.
Throughout her stay there, she was maltreated by family members, denied sufficient rest and food, and had no other connection to the outside world save her small phone with limited airtime.
First attempt to escape
Fed up with her treatment, Yaa Baby decided to escape.
Unfortunately, her first attempt was unsuccessful.
Her sponsors had locked her up in one of the rooms in the 5-storey house, but she managed to open it and found her way out through the back door. But not knowing where to go she was recaptured and locked up again in their garage.
“When my boss was going out they locked me inside the room. When they went out, I opened the door and passed through the backdoor and went outside. I was standing outside and didn’t know where to go. They saw me and locked me in the garage,” she said.
Second time lucky?
Undeterred by her first failed escape attempt from her tormentors, Miss Asare took another stab at escaping – this time with a more calculated plan.
While locked up in the garage, she saw her boss driving out of the garage and decided to throw herself on the floor and rolled out from under the garage door.
“So he was driving outside and what I have to do is when the garage door was coming down, I just threw myself down and rolled out of the garage”.
Unfortunately, he saw her, caught her and beat her up in the presence of a police officer. Determined to escape, she fought with him in front of the police and prevailed.
After this, she was arrested and locked up in jail for three months. There she met about 12 other ladies in the same predicament; some from Kenya, Sri Lanka, India and even from Ghana.
The sponsors were later also arrested for her mistreatment while with them.
Before she left the jail, she was able to give the contact details of her mother and sister with Aisha, the Ghanaian lady she met there.
Thankfully, Aisha, who used the same agent as Yaa Baby was returning to Ghana.
The ordeal was not over yet for Yaa Baby.
After 3 months of jail time, she was sent to another house to work as a help, and there she suffered abuse and sexual harassment from her boss.
“After five days, I was sleeping when my boss came and brought out his penis and ordered me to remove my dress because he wanted to have anal sex with me.”
“I struggled with him and he brought out a knife from which I received a cut”.
While trying to escape from this threat, she run out unto the street and collapsed in the middle of the road. When she came to, she was being taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
Meanwhile back in Ghana, Aisha had located her family and had caused the arrest of the agent who had sent them there.
She was subsequently rescued through an initiative by the Ghanaian government through Ghana’s ambassador to Egypt, Dr. Winfred Nii Okai, the Lebanon community in Ghana and other well-meaning organisations.
Her story is one of the many out there who are living in slavery-like situations.
While some have lost their lives, others are still trapped in the homes of their ‘sponsor’ as there are no means of escape.
The Kafala (Sponsorship) System emerged in the 1950s to check the relationship between employers and migrant workers in many countries across West Asia.
This is common in some Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries including; Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia as well as the Arab states of Jordan and Lebanon.
Under the system, a foreign worker’s immigration status is legally bound to their sponsor for the duration of the contract.
The migrant worker is prohibited from transferring their employment or leaving the country for any reason without first obtaining explicit written permission from the kafeel.
In most instances, the kafeel exerts further control over the migrant worker by withholding their travel documents and passports although this is illegal.
Some former members of this system such as the United Arab Emirates have reformed the system and made it more transparent and human friendly.
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