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Inside Story

The plight of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia

A global outcry has followed the beheading of a young Sri Lankan housemaid accused of killing a child in her care.
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2013 07:39

The beheading of a young Sri Lankan domestic worker in Saudi Arabia continues to stir anger in her home country and beyond.

"The kafala system [sponsorship system] ties the employer to the employee and this system is also the cause of the many abuses that the maid workers suffer here in the Middle East .... What happened to Nafeek is also the consequence of a system that should be ended as soon as possible."

- Caroline Nanzer, the project manager at Caritas migrant center in Lebanon

The case is also drawing widespread criticism despite repeated appeals to the Saudi government from Sri Lanka as well as rights groups.

Sri Lanka has recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia after the execution of Rizana Nafeek over the death of an infant in her care in 2005.

Rizana Nafeek was beheaded in the town of Dawadmy, near the capital Riyadh, on Wednesday morning after being sentenced to death in 2007.

She was accused by her Saudi employer of killing his infant daughter while she was bottle-feeding her.

The case once again highlights the plight of thousands of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.

Human rights groups say access to adequate translation and legal assistance is limited or non-existent, and they raised concerns about the fairness of Nafeek's trial.

"Because of what seems to be the economic attractions people still choose to go out and of course the majority of stories that come back do not discourage them."

- Rajiva Wijesinha, a member of the Sri Lankan parliament

So, what is being done to address the plight of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia? Who is to blame for their situation? And what will it take to improve the conditions for domestic workers in Saudi Arabia?

Inside Story, with presenter Hazem Sika, discusses with guests: Nisha Varia, a senior researcher in the women's rights division of Human Rights Watch, who has worked on domestic workers rights and has published numerous reports on migrant workers across Asia and the Middle East; Caroline Nanzer, the project manager at Caritas migrant center in Lebanon; and Rajiva Wijesinha, a member of the Sri Lankan parliament and presidential advisor, who was also the former head of the Sri Lankan peace secretariat and the secretariat to the ministry of human rights.

"Every government really has to take responsibility for what it can do to better protect these workers who are at high risk of abuse. There is a new convention adopted in 2011 on domestic workers - neither Saudi Arabia, nor Sri Lanka has adopted it. They should take action to do that. What I hope is that people can - while mourning the case of Rizana Nafeek and her tragic fate - really look at the broader situation of domestic workers and the many reforms that have to take place in recruitment, in training, in labour laws, in immigration sponsorship laws to really make sure that tragedies like this don't happen again."

Nisha Varia, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch


EXECUTIONS IN SAUDI ARABIA:

  • Seventy-six executions were carried out in Saudi Arabia last year
  • That is the third highest number of executions worldwide
  • Only three countries execute individuals for crimes committed involving minors: Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Iran 

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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