Middle East
Indonesian maids' protection urged
Growing calls within the country to stop sending migrant workers to Saudi Arabia after two cases of alleged torture.
Last Modified: 20 Nov 2010 08:45 GMT
Members of Migrant Care hold banners that read 'Saudi Arabia: Criminal on Humanity during a protest in Jakarta [AFP]

There are growing calls within Indonesia to stop sending migrant domestic workers to Saudi Arabia, following two cases of alleged torture by employers in the past week.

The Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara (NTB) has already announced a moratorium on local women travelling to work in Saudi Arabia after Sumiati binti Salan Mustapa, a 23-year-old woman from the region, was hospitalised in the Saudi city of Medina.

"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 urged the central government to defend Sumiati's rights and promised to provide her with compensation.

During her time working as a maid in Saudi Arabia, Sumiati's employers allegedly burned her, broke her middle finger and cut her lips with scissors.

Saudi statement

Abdulrahman al-Khayyat, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Indonesia, said on Thursday that the case of Sumiati was "a very rare case", according to The Jakarta Post newspaper.

But Anis Hidayah, the executive director of the Indonesia-based voluntary body Migrant Care, condemned al-Khayyat's statement as "deceitful", the daily reported.

His organisation has recorded 5,563 cases of alleged abuse of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia so far this year, including 1,090 allegations of physical abuse and 898 allegations of sexual abuse.

Sumiati, pictured, was allegedly cut with scissors and burned with an iron by her employers [AFP]

Amnesty International (AI), the London-based human-rights watchdog, said on Friday that 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" Malcolm Smart, AI's director for the Middle East and North Africa, said.

AI said Sumiati's treatment symbolised the plight of foreign workers in the region.

Earlier this week, New York-based group Human Rights Watch urged Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait to do more to protect domestic workers in their countries, saying a string of allegations point to a "broader pattern of abuse".

Indonesia has already demanded an investigation into reports that a maid was allegedly killed by her employer in Saudi Arabia and dumped in a bin - the second case of domestic worker abuse in the country to emerge this week.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's president, said on Friday that a team had been sent to the Saudi town of Abha to investigate reports of the murder of 36-year-old Kikim Komalasari binti Uko Marta.

Kikim was allegedly sexually and physically abused before her death.

Policy review

Muhaimin Iskandar, the Indonesian labour minister, said 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 on the need to give greater protection to the country's migrant workers in the Middle East - estimated to be 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 he was encouraged by the Saudi government's quick response, but said Indonesia was reviewing sending migrant workers to Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

"I'm hopeful the perpetrators will be punished according to law," he said.

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