Despite stringent laws, several women are tricked into going abroad on ‘Khadama’ visas.

The horror of Indias slave trade No one stops agents trafficking women to Gulf countriesImage for representation
news Human Rights Friday, May 05, 2017 - 08:50

“I almost lost hope that I will ever see my mother again,” says Mohammad Wajid.

Luckily though, he did finally meet his mother, Haseena Begum on Tuesday. After months of torture and uncertainty, the 46-year-old returned home from Saudi Arabia, where she went last October in hope of a better life for herself and her family.

Haseena thought she had secured a job as a domestic worker with an employer who would pay her well. Except, when she reached Dammam, she realised that she was pretty much bought as a slave. Not only was she not paid, her employer constantly harassed her. When she tried to run away and approached the Saudi authorities, the employer allegedly got her back home under some ruse and tried to kill her by pushing her off the third floor of the building.

But as shocking as Haseena’s story is, she’s neither the first nor the last woman trapped by ‘agents’ who traffick women in the guise of getting them jobs as domestic workers.

In fact, cases like Haseena’s have been cropping up with alarming frequency in both the Telugu states, from where several women are sent on Khadama visas (Domestic Help visas) to the Gulf nations, and face harassment.

The visa restrictions in ECR countries

While the Indian government has introduced several stringent restrictions when it comes to emigrating to certain countries, on the ground, there are several loopholes.

In 2011, India announced guidelines for people who hold ECR (Emigration Check Required) passports for employment visas to several countries - including United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Malaysia, Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Syria, Lebanon, Thailand, and Iraq.

According to these guidelines, women workers bound for ECR countries should be at least 30 years old, and their recruitment should have been overseen by government authorities.  

“Their emigration for overseas employment is permitted only through government recruitment agencies or through Foreign Employers registered on e-Migrate system,” says Lissy Joseph of the National Workers Movement in Hyderabad.

In September 2015, the Indian government introduced a stipulation that women domestic workers would be allowed to go to countries in the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) only after employers filed a request form for a domestic worker from India, signed contracts guaranteeing workers’ security and rights, and deposited a surety of 2,500 USD in workers’ bank accounts.  

“There are 1500 registered recruitment agencies in India, with nearly 40 in Hyderabad. However, they are not allowed to recruit women candidates. All the women candidates seeking jobs should be recruited directly through government agencies,” explains Lissy.

However, the activist says, this move of the government has failed to resolve the problem, as agents and recruiters find illegal means through which Indian women can migrate.

The ‘visit visa’ loophole

“Andhra Pradesh has the highest number of people emigrating as domestic workers from India, with over two lakh women working as house helps in Gulf countries. To avoid depositing 2,500 USD as surety, the employers now contact local agents or private recruitment agencies who help send domestic workers,” she says.

One of the most common ways this is done is to send women workers to Gulf nations on visit visas, which do not require oversight by Indian authorities, explains Lissy.

Wajid says that a similar situation occurred with his mother. Haseena’s family had been going through a financial crisis before she left for Saudi Arabia.

“An autorickshaw driver told my mother about the agents who send women on Khadama (domestic help) visas to Saudi Arabia. We met them, and they explained that she will get 1,600 riyals a month there, along with food and medical expenses,” Wajid tells TNM.

However, after she left, they realised that she has been sent on a 90-day visit visa and not a work visa.  

Majlis Bachao Tehreek (MBT) leader Amjed Ullah Khan, who has been helping Hassena’s family bring her back, explains, “In countries where the rules are stricter, the agents make them apply for emigration checks via Dubai and UAE. After that, they are trafficked across the border to their real destinations.”

Local agents target poor people

“Mostly these agents are nearly impossible to identify, as they do not have any offices. They usually identify women from rural areas or from economically backward classes,” says Lissy.

In lieu of the surety deposits, employers cover the various expenses of bringing domestic workers till their destination, also paying out a large cut to recruiting agents. The agents, through contacts in the ECR countries, help the women clear their emigration checks.

“Most of these agents have contacts in immigration offices,” she says.

‘No follow-up by government’

Lissy says that such incidents are possible because of loopholes in the government approach, which does not follow up comprehensively on emigrants.

“For the past one year, I have seen over 48 such cases in Hyderabad. 80% of the time, women face such harassment. Most of the cases coming to light are from the Old City. Still the government does not take any strict action to regulate such activities,” says Amjed Ullah Khan.

He also alleges that several immigration officers take bribes from agents to clear visas. He also blamed the police for failing to arrest agents.

“Recruiting agents have to avail of a Registration Certificate (license) from the Office of the Protector General of Emigrants to do the business of Recruitment for Foreign Employment. Any recruitment for the purpose of exploitation amounts to the offense of trafficking. Police usually take bribes from recruiting agents and intentionally fail to register FIR under Section 370 of IPC,” said Advocate T Hubertson, Middle East Policy Advisor at Migrant Forum Asia.

People unaware of visa restrictions

Even after knowing the horrifying stories of harassment in Gulf countries, women of both the Telugu states still prefer continue to migrate even through illegal means.

One of the main reasons for this, Lissy says, is the economic crisis faced by people in both states because of unemployment.

“Moreover, people are unaware of the restrictions. Government has failed to regulate these sub agents or local agents. Government should spread more awareness about the procedure, or else people will continue to fall into these traps,” Lissy says.

Also, most of the registered recruiting agencies are located in metropolitan cities, and people in rural parts of the country have no access to them.

“People have no option but the trust the local agent, as there is no connectivity between the registered agencies and people living in rural areas. However, these local agents they take care of all the documents and visa clearance, so people who are unaware of the procedure fall into these traps,” she adds.

 

Read: 140 days a slave: Bengaluru woman trapped in Saudi had to beg her way back home

 

Show us some love and support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.