Tortured, raped and penniless: migrant women return from the hell of Saudi Arabia
by Sumon Corraya

In the last three years about 5,000 migrant women have returned from the Saudi kingdom. Between 1991 and 2018, at least 700,000 Bangladeshi women sought employment abroad, including 250,000 in Arabia. An NGO, BRAC, helps women who escape reintegrate into society.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Thousands of Bangladeshi women who went to Saudi Arabia in search of fortune have gone home penniless after enduring torture and sexual abuse.

The numbers are staggering. According to Building Resources Across Communities (BRAC), an NGO that helps migrants escape from places of torture, about 5,000 have done so in the last three years.

Officially, at least nine million Bangladeshis work in 160 countries around the world. Those who are lucky enough to travel to the United States or Europe lead difficult but dignified lives. But those who go to the Middle East often find themselves in hell, especially female migrants.

Fatama Akter was one of them. She had to emigrate and leave her sick husband and children in Barisal (central-southern Bangladesh).

"I went to Saudi Arabia to work even though my husband did not want me to,” she told AsiaNews, “but he is sick and I wanted to earn some money for medical treatment and to send our children to school. "

After three months working for a heavy-handed employer she “had had enough. I couldn’t take it anymore. I got sick and he denied me medicines. Moreover, my workload was huge and if I dared to speak out, he would beat me."

Fatama managed to escape and return to Bangladesh. Like her, many other Bangladeshi women work as domestic help. All report incidents of physical and psychological torture and irregularities over wages.

“Three men regularly raped me. If I wouldn’t agree, they beat me,” said another migrant worker, Kobita Bagum. “One day I escaped and visited the local police station and this is how I returned to Bangladesh”.

In her view, the government should not allow women to go to Saudi Arabia to work “because that country is not safe for women”.

BRAC estimates that, between 1991 and 2018, about 700,000 Bangladeshi women went abroad seeking employment, 250,000 in Saudi Arabia alone.

Nurul Islam, Minister of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, does not accept the view that violence drove Bangladeshi women home.

For him, the latter do not come home as a result of persecution but rather because of food and language problems. What is more, “they did not seek help from the embassy or take legal action. They escaped and returned home”.