What pushes people to seek greener pastures in the Middle-East despite the danger they may face?
“Years ago, I tried to go Lebanon in search of a better life and job to take care of my children. For some reason it failed. Many months passed while I struggled to secure a job with steady pay.
“A son introduced me to a recruitment agent who was willing to help. I got my passport done and in no time, with the help of the agent and my sponsor n the country, I was going to work in as a domestic servant.
“All my necessities were paid for and I was ready to leave Ghana. There is nothing more I regret doing till this very day than leaving my family behind to travel to Kuwait.”
Nearly three million women immigrants work as maids in the Middle East. “Maid in Hell,” a documentary by BBC follow the experiences of women who travel to work in such countries, and maids who struggle o find a way home after harrowing, and sometimes, deadly encounters, prompted this article, as many of such victims are Ghanaians. Most of them are Africans and the most popular are Ghanaians and Kenyans. Despite stories of people severely maltreated, many more people from African countries travel and want to travel to Middle Eastern countries, known for their brutality and disregard for human rights, for domestic jobs.
Work and abuse
The ill-treatment, abuse and slavery of African workers within the Arabian countries have a long history. With few instances which involve men, these girls who are stuck in such countries are now begging to be rescued and pressuring their leaders to bring them home.
There is certainly enough fault on their part for falling into these hopeless schemes in the first place, paying agents money which could have been used to start a business at home, but the current distribution of wealth in Ghana does not encourage most people to stay in the country in the hope that things will get better.
Even though we hear of cases of physical and psychological abuse, most of the cases have to do with overwork. Speaking to the lady who wanted her story to be heard and shared to deter others from going, she said she never had a day of rest. “I worked every day for three years. Even when they gave me a break, where was I going to stay? So, for every day in three years and four months, even when I was sick, I would work tirelessly ? scrub their bathrooms, do their laundry, cook for them, take care of their children and the list goes on.”
Others are not allowed to keep a mobile phone or speak to anyone in the outside world. On arriving, some have their passport and phone taken. The lucky ones are given phones to use when need be or so they can contact their family once in a while. Some are given substandard food, or kept in poorly ventilated rooms under poor conditions.
There are cases of rape, physical abuse and torture, though severe, [????] the issue of overworking, receiving a lower salary than agreed, and generally very poor conditions of service has effects on these women.
In recent years, the print and electronic media has put in writing ordeals of Ghanaian girls who willingly travelled and in some cases were being trafficked to the Gulf countries to work as maids. Every story we have come across speaks of abuse, injury, sometimes even death. When talking about this subject, radio and TV stations show some of these ladies narrating their stories, mainly in countries such as Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The lure factor
Why are people still paying agencies and looking for a “better life” in these countries?
The Gulf States are rich, very rich. Per capita income is higher in that region than most parts of the world. Yet all of these countries, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, have more foreigners as workers and residents than citizens.
In Qatar, for example, about 88 per cent of all residents are foreigners. The United Arab Emirates, which many refer to as Dubai, has about 80 per cent foreigners. Their wealth, coupled with their relatively low population, gives these countries’ citizens a high per capita income and extremely high standards of living. As such, domestic work and jobs considered as low-class or low-paying will not be done by citizens of these countries, as they can employ others to do them.
They then recruit housemaids and other domestic staff from abroad and mainly poor countries in Africa and the Far East. In the UAE payment made to these workers are seen as meager or nothing as compared to the amounts they make. That very amount paid to a housemaid from Ghana sees this as huge, even for the average Ghanaian in a white- collar job.
Another reason for the demand in housemaids from Ghana has increased is the ban placed by many countries in their citizens from working in the Gulf and Middle East. Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nepal and other countless have put a total ban on their citizens working in all or most of the countries in the Gulf due to maltreatment and abuses over the past five years. This is resulting in the massive shortage of maids in mainly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where most of the abuses are reporting from.
Recruitment agencies in these countries have fallen on Ghanaians and offer mouthwatering deals to recruiters who in turn offer irresistible offers to people. Posing as a young girl who wanted to travel outside for a job, I spoke to a recruitment agent whose ad I saw online. All I needed was a passport and GHC315 for medical check-up, for free transportation, free accommodation and an opportunity to earn between GHC1,600 and GHC4,000 each month in Dubai. Even as someone with a well-paid job, I found the offer very tempting.
“I still have receipts of sending money home to my account, family and children. I made money. But as we are speaking, there is no money left from what I made. All my work was in vain, as I still have to work as a house help in Ghana. It is not worth it.” she added.
Columnist: Priscilla Owusu