DUBAI // A maid whose employer would undress in front of her has fled to the safety of a shelter after the agency that hired her refused to take any action.
The Filipina, 37, arrived in Dubai from Bacolod City in July last year to work as a maid for an Emirati family. She has a son aged 17 and an unemployed husband in the Philippines.
About two months into the job she requested that her agency transfer her to another employer.
"The staff said I should have a valid reason and give my employer a chance," the maid said. "But my employer and his father often undressed in front of us."
At 6.30am last Monday, she left the villa compound in Al Quoz with the help of the Dubai branch of Sangguniang Masang Pilipino International (Council of the Filipino Masses), a group dedicated to helping domestic workers.
"I didn't take any of my belongings except for a copy of my passport and some documents," she said.
"I tried to act as normal as possible and when I left the gate I ran towards the Oasis Centre."
She was met by a relative and a friend, and then took a taxi to the Filipino Workers' Resource Centre, a makeshift shelter run by Filipino welfare and labour officials.
"It's no longer healthy for her to be in that house with both the father and the son always naked in front of her," said the maid's sister-in-law, 42, who works at a consultancy in Dubai.
The maid had planned to escape in the early hours of last Sunday but Sangguniang Masang Pilipino wanted to take her statement first and coordinate with Filipino officials.
"I really pity her," said the relative, who accompanied her to the Philippine overseas labour office the next day.
"She looks thin and frail. We both decided that it would be best for her to return home."
Ibrahim Robel Beltran, an officer at Sangguniang Masang Pilipino, said the maid's situation had been "critical".
"She's been with her employer for six months," Mr Beltran said. "We can help other maids who are in the same situation and prevent something from happening inside that villa."
He said at least eight maids in Dubai and the Northern Emirates were still waiting to be rescued.
"There are ongoing investigations but without any solid information the group cannot conduct rescue operations," Mr Beltran said. "We need to observe local laws."
In September, the group rescued Caridad Cosmod, 32, a Filipino maid in Umm Al Qaiwain who claimed she had been beaten and burnt with an iron.
Ms Cosmod had been contracted to work for US$400 (Dh1,470) a month, the minimum allowed by Philippine law.
But when she arrived in the UAE she was told she would receive Dh700 a month.
Between last October and last month the group rescued four other women, including two maids who were referred to the Philippine overseas labour office in Abu Dhabi.
"They're now happy to be back in the Philippines," Mr Beltran said. "They decided on a settlement instead of going through the lengthy court proceedings."
He said his group did not encourage maids to abscond.
"We advise maids against running away without any valid reason," Mr Beltran said.
"They need to find ways to remedy the situation first. The final say whether or not to abscond rests with the maid."