Indonesian maids trafficked despite GCC travel ban, ambassador says
ABU DHABI // Indonesian maids are still being trafficked through the UAE, even after their country banned them from working in the GCC.
Their embassy is sheltering 150 maids – some of whom are teenagers – who faced problems such as disputes with their employers, physical assault, non-payment of wages, passports being held and unauthorised travel, said Husin Bagis, Indonesia’s newly appointed ambassador to the UAE.
A ban in place for more than 18 months has prevented Indonesian housemaids from working in the region after widespread reports of exploitation but there is still a risk of Indonesians being employed as maids after entering the country on visit visas.
The Indonesian mission found that traffickers used the UAE as a transit point before taking Indonesian maids on to other Arabian Gulf countries, Mr Bagis said. Fifteen of the maids being sheltered are about to return home.
He said the UAE was in talks with Indonesia to sign a deal to safeguard the maids’ rights, particularly by providing them with work permits issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, rather than the Ministry of Interior’s immigration regulations, in line with procedures for other expatriate workers.
This would bring them under rules set by the International Labour Organisation and entitle them to proper wages, health insurance, accommodation, holidays and air tickets, Mr Bagis said. He hoped the agreement would be signed within two months.
“The key issue is to get housemaids a labour card so that they feel their rights are better protected,” Mr Bagis said. “As an ambassador, it’s my duty to protect the rights of the Indonesian community in the UAE.”
About 100,000 Indonesians live in the UAE, and between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of those are domestic workers. The embassy had handled 451 cases for domestic help and 643 for maids this year, he said.
He said it was a major responsibility to accommodate such a large number of people at the embassy’s shelter, and provide for their lodging, food and health costs. The length of their stay depended on the kind of problems they faced.
The embassy tries to provide professional training to maids at the shelter to help develop their skills, in areas such as cosmetics, handicrafts, food preparation and domestic work.
“These maids are also trained for different kinds of skills at the safe house so that they can earn for their family when repatriated,” Mr Bagis said.
Lalan Purnama, an Indonesian who has lived in the UAE for 17 years, believed that maids might arrive with unrealistic expectations about work.
“I believe the problem is coming from both sides – maids and employers,” he said.
“Some maids are not mentally prepared to work hard and think life is easy here, while some employers harass them.
“Once they arrive and start working with families, they get demoralised and run away from their sponsors’ houses.”
They may also flee because of harassment or abuse from employers or their family, he said. He also blamed unscrupulous agents back home who manipulate travel documents and birth certificates.
“They fake their ages in both passports and birth certificates, bribing officials back home,” Mr Purnama said. “This is how they manage to bring the teenage girls to the Gulf countries.”