Sameera*, like many others struggling to make ends meet, thought it might be a good idea to go to the Gulf and earn some money. The Bengaluru resident had been working in the unorganised sector for a few months, when she decided to work as a domestic help in Abu Dhabi and got in touch with an agent.
She reached Abu Dhabi two months ago, but not long after, Sameera was yearning to come back home.
According to her friend, who remained in touch with her while she was employed as a domestic worker at her sponsor’s house, Sameera was constantly overworked, and hardly got a break.
And now, she is allegedly being held captive by the recruitment agency in Abu Dhabi, possibly for attempting to contact the Indian embassy so that she could get home.
Darshana, a lawyer working with Alternative Law Forum, has been in touch with Sameera throughout her ordeal.
“She would often tell me how she is being exploited by her sponsor and that she wants to come back home. On August 2, she got to know that her employer wasn’t happy with her work and wanted to send her back to the agency. Scared that she would be transferred to another employer, Sameera said that she just wanted to come back,” Darshana narrates.
Then, Darshana says she got in touch with the Indian Workers Resource Centre (IWRC) and they advised that Sameera should approach the Indian embassy. So the next day, Darshana arranged for Sameera to sneak out of the house while her employer was asleep, and for someone to drive her down to the embassy.
However, when Sameera reached the embassy, Darshana says she was turned away. “They were very insensitive and told her to come back after two days,” Darshana says.
While Darshana told Sameera to stay put as they arranged for an alternative accommodation for her, Sameera was very scared and went back to her sponsor’s house, as she didn’t know any place else. The sponsor apparently figured out that she had tried to run away, and on August 4, Sameera was allegedly picked up by officials from the recruitment agency.
“Since then, she is being kept in a building by the recruitment agency,” Darshana alleges. “She is under constant CCTV surveillance and while she is being given food, she cannot go out at all,” she adds.
Sameera is allegedly only one of the 10 other women from various nationalities being held in the building. Darshana says that they have been running from pillar to post to get her out of there, but there has been no solid response from anywhere, the Ministry of External Affairs included.
“The MEA keeps saying that they cannot go into the building and rescue Sameera. The only way they can help, they say, is if she comes out herself or if she calls the police. But she is too scared to do so. The country does not have the best record when it comes to police in cases of migrant workers… and Sameera knows that. Without the MEA’s intervention, I don’t know what we can do,” Darshana says.
On Tuesday evening, Sameera almost tasted freedom. Darshana and her friend have been coordinating with some volunteers who work on migrant workers’ cases in Abu Dhabi, in order to get access to Sameera. Krishna*, one such volunteer, managed to locate the building in which Sameera and the other women are allegedly being held captive.
According to a voicenote sent by Krishna, he attempted to meet Sameera in the building. Sameera was briefly able to come out but as they attempted to escape, some officials allegedly dragged Sameera back. “A bulky man and a woman in her 50s then started questioning me, asking me for my ID,” Krishna says in the voicenote.
Darshana and Danny*, another volunteer in touch with Sameera, both say that she is being held captive again. Darshana worries that Sameera may now be in danger because of two failed escape attempts – the first from the employer’s house and the second time on Tuesday evening.
"The agents will clamp down on her after she attempted to escape twice. We need the MEA to intervene,” she insists.
Update: Sameera was rescued on Tuesday night by the Abu Dhabi police and is presently at the police station. She is not accompanied by anyone from the Indian embassy. It is unclear if the other women who were being held captive with Sameera have also been rescued.