She flew to Saudi Arabia to work as a house-help with a hope to spin the wheel of her fortune to the better. However, Salma (not her real name) from Habiganj got all her dreams shattered and fled back home within 15 days after being severely tortured by her employer.
She confronted another difficulty at home when her father refused to accept her in the family. Her husband had already left her and even her children are barred from meeting her.
Salma at present is residing in a shelter run by BRAC, a nongovernmental organisation that works on safe migration.
Salma gave a dismal account of the torture by her employer in Saudi Arabia to bdnews24.com saying the employer never listened to the plea to leave her at the Bangladesh Embassy. On the contrary, it only made matters worse.
Many others like Salma went to work as a house-help in Saudi Arabia over the last few years but had to return home being tortured; some of them even complained of being raped.
“They never gave me enough food and always beat me. He (the employer) used to say bad things to me. He beat me as I didn’t listen to his indecent proposal,” Salma told bdnews24.com while describing her ordeal.
“One day he asked me to make coffee. He followed me when I went to do that. I tried to avoid him but he said indecent things to me and pushed me down on the floor. I had a match-stick with me and I set fire to his attire.”
Salma said she fled from that household immediately and found other Bangladeshis on the street whom she shared her urge to return home.
“Those Bangladeshis told me I should go to Bangladesh Embassy in Saudi Arabia; I found other women with broken arms or legs over there. Some of the women were burnt with hot iron as part of the torture,” said Salma.
Salma’s father Shamsu Miah told bdnews24.com that she went to Saudi Arabia even after he forbade her and also never contacted her family, when asked why he was not accepting Salma.
However, migrant officers in BRAC said Shamsu Miah was never reluctant to take Salma back home when they informed him of her arrival.
Shamsu Miah said he will try when asked if he is going to accept his daughter back in the family.
They have been rejected many times while trying to return house-helps to their families, said Shariful Hassan, head of Migration Programme at BRAC who has worked with migrate workers of Bangladesh for long.
“Our society is not prepared to accept the women who returned from the Middle East, being tortured or even sexually abused; they treat them as outcast as if the flaw is within those women,” he said explaining the reasons behind the unwelcoming attitude towards returned house-helps.
“I called up the husband of a repatriated girl who said, ‘my wife has died.’ His wife was sick and needed treatment, but to him she was dead,” said Shariful.
There is no statistics on tortured women returning from the Middle East who never got accepted back in the family.
“We have seen in almost all cases that the family refuses to accept a woman who returned from Saudi Arabia; in few cases we persuaded the families but in reality, the women still remain to be outcasts,” said Shariful.
The BRAC officer could not provide a specific number of tortured women house-helps returning home.
On average, 200 women return every month. At least 800 women returned home over the last four months. BRAC wrote to the Bangladesh Embassy and the Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry over last few months to bring back 118 women and succeeded to bring back 80 of them.
He added a number of women house-helps come back under private initiatives. At least 1,000 women who have suffered sexual violence or other forms of torture returned home in last two years.
The Saudi Arabia National Recruitment Committee signed a memorandum of understanding with Bangladesh Association of International Recruitment Agencies or BAIRA to recruit house-helps from Bangladesh in April 2011.
However, no women house-helps went to the kingdom despite signing of the MoU as interview of 150 house-helps from Indonesia, Philippines and Sri Lanka working in Saudi Arabia published in a report by Human Rights Watch in 2010 revealed ‘physical and mental torture’ on them.
Saudi Arabia again signed a treaty with Bangladesh to recruit women house-help in 2015. The treaty included a clause that three male workers will be recruited against one female house-help. Bangladesh began to send women house-helps following it.
At least 83,354 women workers were sent to Saudi Arabia last year, said Shariful.
This year 30,000 women went to Saudi Arabia as of April. Almost 175,000 women house-helps went to Saudi Arabia over the last four years.
However, government officials in the country have been rejecting the claims of repatriated women workers from Saudi Arabia.
Followed by a visit to Saudi Arabia, members of a parliamentary committee said lack of knowledge in local language, dislikes for Saudi food and homesickness cause the women to return home.