'Domestic work is work; it is not slavery," says Ellene Sana of the Centre for Migrant Advocacy -Philippines. "Migrants are human beings, they are not machines." These may sound like simple concepts. But for too many of the region's foreign housemaids, these self-evident truths are far from guaranteed. Images of abused domestic staff in the region are painful reminders that allegations of mistreatment are not altogether baseless. For reasons that are hard to explain, domestic workers face abuse all over the world, but that is no excuse to do nothing.
What makes these injustices all the more sad is the lack of protections provided to this predominantly female workforce. The UAE is no exception. Too often, based on the complaints of many, agreements between employers and domestic staff are not kept, for example.
But changes appear to be taking place. On Wednesday, an Indonesian housemaid appeared in a Medina court to challenge her former employer of abuse, evidence that allegations do carry weight.
And as The National reported yesterday, UAE immigration officials are working to ensure housemaids who feel they have been wronged are able to return home more quickly, which has not always been so simple. A new policy launched last month requires all housemaids reported missing by their sponsors to be transferred to a deportation centre at Al Wathba prison. In this way, immigration officials can co-ordinate with maids' former employers and arrange for their orderly return to home countries. In addition, says Hannan Hadi, head of the consular section at the Indonesian embassy, the initiative ensures that "workers with cancelled visas" don't stay in the country "working here illegally"
This is a laudable goal. Illegal workers can put an undue burden on services and infrastructure. The trouble is that most domestic workers don't leave their posts for a change of scenery. They are fleeing work environments which they, and most reasonable observers, deem unsatisfactory or unhealthy. Many complain of not being paid, being overworked or being provided insufficient food as the impetus for their flight.
The UAE is right to help streamline a process meant to make life easier for those in need of help. But providing mistreated members of this important workforce with a way out is only part of the solution. Uncovering and addressing the reasons why they flee in the first place, offering better protections in the aftermath, is just as important.