They called her "stupid" They forced her to work impossible
hours, giving foot massages until 2 am then rising at six to make breakfast.
And for half a year, the Arab family that hired Lisa, a Filipina maid, paid
Even more common are complaints
of nonpayment of wages
"I couldn't take it anymore," said the 26-year-old, a tidy woman
in flip-flops who sought refuge last week in the Philippine Consulate in Dubai,
United Arab Emirates . "I ran away."
Lisa, who asked that her last name not be used, is one of more than 60 Filipina
housemaids living in a makeshift shelter at the consulate, taking refuge from
beatings, sexual harassment and unpaid wages.
Filipinas have been flooding into this fast-growing city to take maid's jobs
paying as little as US$160 a month.
But the influx has led to a doubling of those seeking shelter in recent weeks,
with as many as five runaways a day fleeing to the consulate, labour attache
Vicente Cabe said on Wednesday.
Lisa, like the others here, seeks counselling, help in getting back pay and
a plane ticket home. It could have been worse. Some runaway maids show up with
bruises or claim sexual assault. When they do, consular officials call police.
Already in the Emirates this year, three men have been jailed on allegations
of raping Filipina maids. With so many reports of abuse, Indonesia recently
banned unskilled women from working in the Gulf as house maids.
Philippine Consul-General Generoso Calonge said he wanted his government would
do the same.
"We wish there were fewer, or none at all," Calonge said. "Some
of these women come here without a clue." Cabe estimated there are some 36,000
maids among more than 200,000 Filipinos working in the expatriate-dominated Emirates.
The maids work for local Arabs as well as European and Asian families. Nearly
2 million Filipinos live and work in the Arab countries on the Gulf, he said.
The increase in abuse cases stems from two sources: the burgeoning number of
maids arriving in Dubai, one of the world's fastest growing cities, and the
awareness that the consulate is a place to run, Calonge said.
The consulate is working with Dubai authorities to quickly return the women
to the Philippines. Dozens of runaways are stuck at the consulate -with 25 sleeping
in one room- until Cabe or other diplomats are able to persuade employers to
pay back wages and buy them tickets home.
On Wednesday, two dozen of the women could be seen lunching together in a sweltering
garage. "We can't let the number keep growing," Cabe said.
Abuse of maids and other low-paid migrant workers has long been a problem in
wealthy Gulf countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab
Emirates where foreigners dominate the work force.
Human rights groups
Last year, Human Rights Watch found Asian workers in Saudi Arabia faced systematic
abuse, with some in conditions the organization said were close to slavery.
"It's in the culture here," said Fatima Caminan, a social worker
at the Philippine Consulate. "They see domestic workers as the lowest rung
In Kuwait, three policemen were sentenced in May to as many as 10 years in
jail for raping a Filipina maid who had fled her employer.
Even more common are the complaints of nonpayment from low-paid labourers from
the Indian subcontinent, the linchpin of the development that has quickly modernized
Many workers, mainly from Asia, face exploitation in the Gulf
In April in Kuwait, some 700 Bangladeshi workers overpowered guards and ransacked
their embassy to protest unpaid salaries.
In Dubai in February, 1500 workers from Pakistan, Nepal and India blocked a
highway to draw attention to their plight: they had not been paid in more than
Protests are common among construction workers here, many of whom live in crowded
camps on the edge of the desert while they build the five-star hotels that line
Dubai's glittering skyline.
Runaway maids, too, have become a staple of local news reports. Sri Lanka,
Indonesia and Nepal are making it tougher for women to work in the Gulf because
their embassies are overwhelmed by reports of abuse.
Cabe said the Philippine government has begun discouraging maids and other
unskilled workers from migrating here. "Ninety percent of our problems
involves people in the unskilled category, mainly maids," he said.