After two cases of alleged torture by employers in Saudi Arabia the past week, there are growing calls within Indonesia to stop sending migrant domestic workers there.
A moratorium on local women travelling to work in Saudi Arabia has already been announced by the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara (NTB), following the hospitalization in the Saudi city of Medina of Sumiati binti Salan Mustapa, a 23-year-old woman from the region (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk).
While she worked there as a maid, Sumiati’s employers allegedly burned her, broke her middle finger and cut her lips with scissors.
“This moratorium is an assertion from the local administration, which also pushes for the central government to take action to stop abuse of Indonesian migrant workers, especially those from NTB,” Zainui Majdi, the governor of NTB, was quoting as saying by the news website kompas.com.
Majdi promised to provide her with compensation and urged the central government to defend Sumiati’s rights.
‘Climate of impunity’
On Thursday, Abdulrahman al-Khayyat, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Indonesia, said that the case of Sumiati was “a very rare case”, according to The Jakarta Post newspaper.
But the daily reported that this statement was condemned as “deceitful” by Anis Hidayah, the executive director of the Indonesia-based voluntary body Migrant Care,
5,563 cases of alleged abuse of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia have been recorded by his organisation so far this year. This includes 1,090 allegations of physical abuse and 898 allegations of sexual abuse.
On Friday, London-based human-rights watchdog Amnesty International, said the two cases could be just “the tip of the iceberg” concerning the “systematic abuse” of Asian women working as domestic servants in the Gulf region.
Gulf states “have to take steps to put an end to this horrific treatment of migrant domestic workers, by immediately removing the legal climate of impunity that allows employers to exploit, enslave, abuse, assault and injure their domestic workers with virtual impunity” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.
According to Amnesty International, Sumiati’s treatment symbolises the plight of foreign workers in the region.
Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait were all urged by Human Rights Watch, the New York based group, to do more in order to protect domestic workers in their countries, arguing that a string of allegations point to a “broader pattern of abuse”.
Indonesia has already requested an investigation into the second case of domestic worker abuse to emerge in the country this week : a maid was allegedly killed by her employer in Saudi Arabia and dumped in a bin.
On Friday, the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said a team had been sent to the Saudi town of Abha in order to investigate reports of the murder of 36-year-old Kikim Komalasari binti Uko Marta.
Before her death, Kikim was allegedly sexually and physically abused.
According to the Indonesian labour minister, Muhaimin Iskandar, Komalasari’s neck had been slashed and she had severe cuts to the rest of her body.
“As ordered by the president, we will make a full review to reach a final conclusion over whether to continue or not [sending migrant workers],” he said after a cabinet meeting about the need to give greater protection to the country’s migrant workers in the Middle East.
Estimation say they are close to one million.
Demanding justice for the “extraordinary torture”, Yudhoyono said: “We will launch an investigation this week for the two cases. It’s not only to seek justice but to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.”
Yudhoyono said the Saudi government’s quick response had encouraged him, but added that Indonesia was reviewing sending migrant workers to Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
“I’m hopeful the perpetrators will be punished according to law,” he said.
In August, a maid from Sri Lanka claimed she had been tortured by her Saudi Arabian employer, saying he hammered nails into her body.