I wish I asked her the name of the agency that recruited her to the UAE (United Arab Emirates) early last year. I now only remember she mentioned a middle eastern man, most probably of Egyptian descent, working with the recruiting agency in Manila. This man constantly shuttles between Manila and Dubai, knows the international travel bureaucracy well, and probably has a significant base of Emirati clientele needing cheap domestic helpers from overseas. But she was supposed to have been hired as a hair stylist to work in Dubai, not as a maid in a house in a sparsely populated desert town far from the city - but it was too late when she realized she's been trapped.
There must have been at least two dozen new Filipina recruits in her flight from Manila to Dubai. They were met by agency representatives at the airport and quickly herded into an 'agency house' where they were told to stay for a few days and wait until their work assignments are confirmed. Apparently, details of their employment contracts are going to be blatantly ignored - and it's easy enough for these crooks to do this! The recruits are made to surrender their passports, essential travel documents and cell phones; all their luggage and personal belongings are searched, and they are also subjected to strip-search, as if they are all criminals. At this point they are cut-off from the rest of the world...
She was no longer crying. She even gave me a smile when she proudly declared she knew about such strip-searches beforehand, and was ready with a clever plan to hide a small cell phone. This phone will turn out to be her ticket to freedom. She was also very happy to find out later that there are two of them, two Filipina OFWs, assigned as maids in the same Emirati house. Loneliness will be somewhat bearable.
Her story of how they were treated as slaves and prisoners by an Emirati family is heartbreaking. It shocked me to the bone; it elicited an extreme anger I thought I'm not capable of, and it made me really think what being human is all about. They work seven days a week, from four o'clock in the morning until midnight. They only have two meals a day. They will not be paid for the first three months because the Emirati family has given an advance payment to their agency (so the family said); and because the recruits owe money to the agency (so the agency later said), their monthly salary, when it starts to be paid, is less than what's stated in their employment contract ($200 per month). They have to wear the hijab and muslim-appropriate clothing, and they are prohibited from making eye contacts with their male masters. They were slapped or spat on when they make mistakes or are slow to respond to commands. I believe all her stories (just like I believe the documentary Jessica: A Saudi Slave). I can't remember all her other stories about the barbaric treatments they endured, but I do recall that in the midst of my increasing anger I somehow felt relieved that she didn't seem to show signs of a crushed self-esteem.
There were physical abuses and sexual advances which ultimately led her to use her secret cell phone to call the police and the Philippine Embassy in the UAE. Instead of believing her (and despite showing her bruises), the police listened to the Emirati family's side of the story and put her to jail. In the end, an officer of the Philippine Embassy was able to arrange for the cancellation of her two-year employment contract, and after about seven months of slavery she's going home. With no money saved. With a heavy heart for her compatriot and friend who is now left alone in that house in the desert......... (To be Continued; Next: Filipina OFWS I met at the Doha airport)
Below is a list of contact telephone numbers and email addresses for emergency support for OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers). I think it should be mandatory to provide each OFW a small handbook containing hotline numbers and other information for obtaining support in case of an emergency. Ensuring an open communication line with each OFW (especially with loved ones at home!) is the least the government of the Philippines can do for these unsung heroes of the Philippine economy.
It happened twice at the end of December last year, in two airports in the middle east - first in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and second in Doha (Qatar). I was flying back to Washington DC.
My flight from Dubai to Doha was leaving late in the afternoon. In a queue to get my boarding pass, the young lady behind me makes a deliberate eye contact and a nice smile. She is hauling a huge luggage and her hands are full of pasalubong (probably late Christmas gifts to family at home). I was sure she is Filipina, and was also sure she's eager to chat. (We, Filipinos, can spot a kabayan (compatriot) easily and, like it or not, once introduced to each other, the assumption of familiarity and friendship is a given). She called me kuya(older brother) right away. She seems genuinely delighted to have met a familiar face in a foreign land. She was bubbly at first, but just a few minutes into our conversation her eyes began to well up.
She was driven to the airport by a member of an Emirati family who employed her as a domestic helper. She was given about an hour to pack her luggage; her passport, airline tickets and other travel documents were only 'released' to her when they arrived at the airport. She didn't have anything to eat that day. She wasn't paid her last salary, and probably would have waited for the food served in the plane rather than spend whatever money she had. But that food is at least 2 hours away.
I was hungry myself, so I invited her for a light meal. I also gave her a couple of twenty american dollars in case she needs money to buy food at the next airport (she has many hours of layover in Doha before her last flight to Manila). I pretty much know the story at this point - having read enough horror stories of OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) from the Philippines - or so, I thought. Reality does hit you when the victim herself tells you the story in her own words. It is because of her that I am starting this blog. I don't want to forget her story and how I felt listening to them.
She worked as a hair stylist in a salon in Doha a few years ago, but her contract was not renewed and had to return to the Philippines. She was able to save money for her own young family in Manila - but the money didn't last long and, encouraged by her pleasant experience in Doha, she didn't hesitate to find work again in the middle east and leave her young daughter and husband for the second time. This time, however, she ran into an unscrupulous recruiting agency in Manila.... (to be continued..see part 2)