Bangladeshi female workers who returned from Saudi Arabia with psychological disorder and physical disability now emerge as family burden
Bangladeshi female migrant workers are returning early from placements in Saudi Arabia after suffering physical and mental torture at the hands of their employers, the head of the BRAC Migration Program has said.
Shariful Hasan said of the 500 female workers who have returned from immigration camps in Riyadh since May, eight women had become psychologically imbalanced and five were found to be physically challenged as a result of their ordeals.
“Every single returnee has her individual story of being physically and psychologically tortured,” Shariful told the Dhaka Tribune.
“Some of them have suffered horrible sexual violence, which led to mental illness and trauma, along with physical disabilities. They have now become a burden on their families and are unable to lead a normal life.”
Since the government has no database about the returnees, Shariful could not say exactly why each of the women had returned.
However, BRAC does know that over 5,000 Bangladeshi women who worked as domestic help in the kingdom have returned home over the past three years, and that of these, over 1,000 returned this year after suffering abuse.
Families arrange treatment for victims
The Dhaka Tribune recently learned that 21 women returned from Saudi Arabia had received treatment for mental illness at the National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital (NIMH) in Dhaka.
Among them is 24-year-old Jhinuk (pseudonym), who decided to go abroad to raise money for her family after she was abandoned by her husband.
Her mother, Mazeda Khatun, said Jhinuk returned home suffering from a severe psychological disorder after spending 14 months in Saudi Arabia.
“When she came back without completing her two-year contract, I could not even recognize her; she was acting insane,” Mazeda said.
““I sent my daughter to Saudi Arabia as it is a holy land. Before going, she was physically fit (but) they tortured my daughter brutally (and) that drove her nuts.”
Visiting the hospital, the Dhaka Tribune observed the victim’s behavioural inconsistencies. She was speaking alone in the Arabic language and beating her mother often.
When Mazeda was talking to this correspondent, the victim became furious and told her mother: “Do not ever defame the country of the Prophet. Insulting his country means insulting him.”
Dr Farzana Rahman, associate professor of NIMH, said she had noticed symptoms in Jhinuk’s behaviour that are evident among women who experience extreme physical violation.
“She often becomes violent and moves away from reality,” she said. “Most of these women have faced severe physical, mental and sexual harassment.”
The Dhaka Tribune encountered five other women who had returned from Saudi Arabia with physical disabilities. These victims are living in a distressed condition without any support from the government, leaving their family helpless.
Tamima from Narayanganj, is one of these women. With the support of a local middleman in Dhaka, she went to Saudi Arabia in April, leaving her two-year old son to her mother.
However, from her third day at work at the home of a wealthy family in Riyadh, Tamima started facing maltreatment.
“My employer proposed sexual intercourse soon after I went there,” she said. “His wife also supported him. She used to keep me locked in their bedroom. Other male members of the house also attempted to seduce me.”
As Tamima did not fulfill their wish, they got furious and started torturing her both physically and mentally. One day, she fled the house and sought help at a local police station, but they only handed her back to the employer.
“A few days later, my employer asked me to dust the rooftop,” Tamima continued. “I could not even think what was going to happen to me. Suddenly, he embraced me from behind and tried to seduce me.
“Since I resisted, he started using abusive language. He said he bought me for 15,000 Saudi Riyal. Then he pushed me down from the rooftop, leaving my leg broken.”
Tamima again fled the house and went to the police station, only to be returned to her employer once a case had been filed.
“They took me home and again started beating me on my broken leg,” she said. “They kept away my ornaments and valuables. Later they sent me to an immigration camp in Riyadh in a single cloth.”
When Tamima’s condition deteriorated, she was admitted to a local hospital, where she underwent surgery. A month later, she returned home empty-handed to Bangladesh.
“The middleman took Tk30,000 for sending Tamima abroad,” her mother said. “After her return, we took Tk10,000 as loan for her medical treatment.”
The poverty-stricken family is now struggling to bear the medical expenses of Tamima, finding no help from the government.
‘Not all complaints true’
Government officials have claimed the allegations of abuse and torture levelled against employers in Saudi Arabia are fabricated, and that most of the Bangladeshi migrant workers are happy in Saudi Arabia.
Namita Halder, secretary at the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, said the aggrieved women had returned home after failing to adjust to the foreign culture and environment of their placement countries.
“Not all complaints are authentic; indeed a few unexpected incidents took place but most workers are doing well,” she said.
“Saudi people eat bread but our girls prefer rice. The Saudi weather is also unfriendly to Bangladeshi people.”
No rehabilitation program yet
Ministry officials said they are yet to arrange any rehabilitation for victims such as Jhinuk or Tamima.
“Currently there is no rehabilitation program for those men and women who returned home after being cheated or harassed,” Md Aminul Islam, additional secretary (admin and finance) of the ministry, said.
“This issue is new for the government (so) we are observing the situation closely.
“Already, we, along with other government and non-governmental organizations, have held a number of workshops and seminars in this regard (and) I hope the situation will improve soon.”