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Chan'ad Bahraini

(Scomberomorous maculatus Bahrainius)

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Newsflash: Saudi system abuses foreigners!

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Sorry for the sarcasm. I was just slightly amused by the headline of the report on the BBC website: Saudi system 'abuses foreigners', as though they've discovered the missing WMDs or something. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I am referring to the report published by Human Rights Watch a few days ago: "Bad Dreams:" Exploitation and Abuse of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia.

At last... it took a long time coming, but I'm relieved to see that finally the world is becoming aware of the huge problems faced by migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf states. The report is quite thorough and includes some chilling personal accounts by migrant workers in Saudi and their families. Below is an excerpt from the report about the story of a Filipina, Melda, hired to work as a housemaid for a Saudi family:

On the morning of June 2, 2003, Melda was cleaning the hallway on the second floor when Rashid walked out of his bedroom, naked. “I was frightened. He grabbed me and pushed me down on the floor. I was shouting and crying. He told me that he would kill me if I said anything to his wife,” she said. She could not describe the details but told Human Rights Watch that she tried to fight Rashid as he raped her. “He finished,” she said, shaking, “and then went into his room, closed the door, and ignored me. I washed myself, stopped working, and waited for my madame to come home.”

Another story documents the case of Joselito Alejo, also from the Philippines, who was arrested in 1997 in connection with the murder of a Saudi policeman. He was not brought before a court until five years later:

Joselito told us that he was instructed to return on July 2, 2003, for the court’s decision. He said that the judge referred to the Arabic confession that he signed in 1997, and sentenced him to 350 lashes for “not telling the truth.” Noting that Joselito had already served almost six years in prison, the judge did not impose a prison term. Joselito described what happened next:

"The interpreter asked me if I accepted the judgment. I told the judge that I had to do what the police wanted or they would have continued to beat me and torture me. I told him that they threatened to kill me. I told him they tortured me five or six hours a day and I did not know when it would stop. I told him about the first three days and nights, when I felt there was air inside my brain, as if I was floating."

The judge showed no interest in Joselito’s allegations of mistreatment and torture which led to his coerced confession. The judge apparently accepted that Joselito was telling the truth before his court but sought to punish him for signing a false statement in 1997.

I'm not too sure where I would want to be if I had to choose between Abu Ghraib or a Saudi prison.

But to further add to the insult are the denials coming out of Saudi in response to the HRW report. Here are the responses of some members of the National Human Rights Association (NHRWA), Saudi Arabia’s newly formed human rights group (from Arab News):

Suhaila Hammad, member of the NHRA, said: “The HRW report is an exaggeration. There might have been individual cases but they don’t reflect the majority. Otherwise, there would not be a lot of foreign workers working in the Kingdom.”

Dr. Bahija Ezze, another NHRA member in Jeddah said: “There is a committee for detection and follow-up, which receives complaints from expats. It has not received any complaints from foreign workers.”

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the US said in a statement:

We disagree with the report by Human Rights Watch and do not believe it is a fair or accurate reflection of Saudi Arabia and grossly exaggerates the few instances which in no way reflect the positive experiences of the millions of foreign workers in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has effective labor laws which protect all workers, including foreign workers. If there are any violations, there is legal recourse and people who have violated the laws are subject to punishment.

Shameful. There obviously must be something wrong with their labour laws and their "committee for detection and follow-up" if they are unaware of any wrongdoings, while I sitting here in Bahrain can tell you about many many cases of abuse recounted to me by friends and family who have lived in Saudi.

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