DUBAI // Some help is on hand for Filipina maids and nannies who find themselves trapped by abusive employers.
A Filipino organisation is dedicated to helping domestic workers and tracking down Filipinos involved in human trafficking and illegal recruitment activities.
The Dubai chapter of Sangguniang Masang Pilipino International ("Council of the Filipino Masses") aims, according to Ibrahim Robel Beltran, a 40-year-old hotel security manager who joined the group when it was set up in October, to "provide security and ensure peace and order in the UAE's Filipino community".
"We conduct rescue operations and also look into human trafficking cases involving Filipinos," said the former policeman, who moved to Dubai two years ago.
Its 57 members - among them safety officers, security personnel, engineers, nurses, office workers and housemaids - have so far helped more than 20 women, including Caridad, a 38-year-old housemaid in Umm al Qaiwain who has not been paid or had a day off since she started work three years ago. Caridad is still with her employer, but is planning to flee.
The Filipina housemaid claims she is beaten regularly by her Emirati employer. On one occasion, she was burnt with a hot iron. "She sent us photos of her bruises using her mobile phone," Mr Beltran said.
Her employer's home is located in a remote area and it is not easy for her to find a taxi in which to flee. However, when she manages to do so, the group will fetch her from Dubai and take her to the labour office. "We're now doing our own surveillance on the recruitment agency in Sharjah that hired her."
Once rescued, the maids stay at a shelter, the Filipino Workers Resource Centre, managed by officials at the Philippine overseas labour office in Al Qusais.
The group works closely with the labour attache in Dubai, Amilbahar Amilasan. "We can't go to an employer's house to fetch the maid," said Mr Amilasan. "If she can call us, we try to document her complaint and find ways to help her by contacting the recruitment agency."
Mr Beltran's group is also investigating a Filipina suspected of harbouring runaway housemaids in Sharjah. "The women work as cleaners but they are not being paid," he said, adding that they were not allowed to leave their accommodation - and cannot complain to the authorities because they are in the country illegally.
The group also provides training on gun-handling, martial arts and arresting procedures to its members, who can use these skills when they return to the Philippines.
The group's Dubai chapter - there are others in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain - was founded by Roy Silvano, 43, a building maintenance supervisor. Mr Silvano said many of his troubled compatriots blamed the Filipino consulate for not doing enough to help them. "But many come here on visit visas," Mr Silvano said. "They're unaware of the UAE's laws and culture and face problems here and end up in jail."