In the past few months, more than 150 Bangladeshi women have returned from Saudi Arabia escaping brutal sexual, physical and mental abuse, with hundreds still waiting to return.
Their stories are ones of sheer horror.
“I was sold to Saudi men for 1,000-1,200 riyals (roughly Tk22,000-27,000). After using me, they returned me to the [recruitment] agency there. I was sold to every city in Saudi Arabia,” said Sabrina, one of the returnees.
The Brac Migration Programme, an initiative of Brac to ensure safe migration, has been helping Bangladeshi female migrant workers in Saudi Arabia to return home safely.
Some of these women shared their experiences at an event titled “Emergency Support and Reintegration: Programme for Vulnerable Returnee” in Dhaka on Monday.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Sabrina said she flew to Saudi Arabia on September 22, 2017, leaving her husband, a human hauler driver, and their son back home.
“I went to Saudi Arabia to turn things around for my family, to ensure a good future for my son,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
Her hopes were shattered as soon as she landed in the country – her employer took her home and locked her in a room.
Two days later, he along with other men, started raping her.
“When I refused to comply, he beat me up. For 40 days, I suffered physical and sexual abuse. I was denied food, and they did not let me talk to my family,” said a distressed Sabrina.
After 40 days, her employer returned her to Azil Recruitment Agency, a local agency, where she met hundreds of other Bangladeshi women who had suffered the same ordeal.
When she was taken to the agency, Sabrina thought she had escaped the abuse. She could not have been more wrong.
The agency sold Sabrina and other women to different Saudi men. “I was usually sold two or three times a week,” she said.
While in custody, even the agency officials raped them.
When she told her husband of her ordeal, he refused to accept her and stopped responding to her calls.
She is currently staying at a Brac shelter.
Nurun Nahar lived in the Mirpur slum in Dhaka, with her rickshaw-puller husband, and their three children. Her husband could not work regularly due to a persistent illness.
In late 2017, Nahar’s husband met a middleman named Taijel, who promised a good job for Nahar as a housemaid in Saudi Arabia. He even assured the couple that his agency would bring her back for free if she faced any problem.
Thinking of her family, Nahar reluctantly agreed, paying Taijel Tk20,000 initially to process her visa.
On hearing the stories of abuse, Nahar refused to go, only to be met by Taijel’s threats that she would have to pay Tk2 lakh in compensation.
Unable to pay, Nahar went to Saudi Arabia, only to be met with abuse a week after her arrival.
“Of the five members in my employer’s house, three were male. The men regularly beat me up, starved me and raped me several times,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
After six months of abuse, Nahar fled and took shelter at a police station. The police demanded Tk1.5 lakh to send her back home.
Nahar told her husband about the demand, who gathered the money and gave it to Taijel.
Although the police received the money, they did not help her.
Later, she contacted Brac Migration Programme, who returned her to her family.
Although the horror-filled days of abuse are behind her, Nahar still bears the physical – and mental – scars. “I cannot sleep at night. I have nightmares where I see the faces of my abusers,” a tearful Nahar said.
“People should not send our women to Saudi Arabia for work. The government should take immediate steps to bring back our women from Saudi Arabia and save their lives,” she added.
Fake names have been used to protect the women’s privacy