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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

UAE domestic workers with expired visas tell their stories - in their own words

Five domestic workers tell how they came to be known as runaway maids

Women who have overstayed their visas seek amnesty at Al Shahama immigration centre in Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National
Women who have overstayed their visas seek amnesty at Al Shahama immigration centre in Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National

On August 1, a three-month amnesty for residents who have overstayed their visas began.

Among the thousands who have applied since the programme began, domestic workers have emerged as a particularly vulnerable group.

At a tent at an immigration centre in Shahama, they shared their stories with The National.

Tessie Placeros. Reem Mohammed / The National
Tessie Placeros. Reem Mohammed / The National

Tessie Placeros, 48, from the Philippines

We dream that this country will give us a good future and a good job because all the people working around us have a good attitude. I found employers in Dubai they are very good. I want to stay here.

I had a fixer man in Jabaliya. For three years he took my money every month to fix my status. But he just tricked me to take my money. Now he’s disappeared and I gave him Dh27,000.

The first family I worked with was very good. They are from France and Germany but they suddenly went home for good.

After that I had an employer who treated me very, very badly. I asked them to cancel my visa but they said it was already cancelled. So I was already illegal and I prepared to hide myself.

The man was OK, he was polite because he was educated but the woman was horrible. Oh my god, horrible.

She told me, “I want you to sleep with my baby.” I said “Madam, your son is [breastfeeding] you have to feed him every two hours. I have read books and I am a mother also’. She said, “No. I want what I want. I’m the mother”. I said, “Ok, fine but the son doesn’t want to sleep because he’s a baby, he needs time to digest the milk”. She said, “you are smarter than me? You are not smarter than me.”

We were always fighting about that.

I just preferred to hide myself and run away.

I found these European people in Palm Jumeirah and they called me to clean the house. I also sell food to Filipino people. So I survived for three years without a visa.

Whatever your life is here, you must be strong with it.

Maureen Malukwago. Reem Mohammed / The National
"Sarah". Reem Mohammed / The National

"Sarah", 25, from Uganda

I came to work because I have family. I also have children, aged five and seven. I didn’t know anything about the UAE. They just told us that there were jobs and I came with an agency. I had to pay one million Ugandan Shilling (Dh994).

I was in a small village in Al Ain. The mother was Egyptian. The man and children are really nice but the madam was terrible. She was the kind of person who could shout for nothing, who directs you for nothing.

I usually got Dh800 or Dh900 a month. I had no phone, they didn’t allow it.

If you don’t give [a domestic worker] a day off, when she wants to run, she will run. I can work from 5am until 10pm and this is no problem if I know that I can sleep at 10pm. But someone cannot just wake you up at 1am. I don’t know what happened to this madam because she is the kind of woman who cannot feel happy if she sees you sleeping.

I ran after one year. I was patient. I thought it would improve.

The madam took me back to the agent. I spent much time there and the madam did not come back. There, you sleep on the floor. I ran [from the agency]. I had relatives here.

The most important thing is respect. If you respect me as a human being, I will respect you as a boss because we are helping one another. I am helping you and you are paying me.

What I think is that maids should have freedom of speech. You can tell me what you want as a boss and I can tell you want I want as a human. We can discuss rather than you shouting at me like a child.

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Read more:

Visa amnesty: a new chapter begins for thousands of UAE residents

Draft law protecting domestic workers rights hailed by embassies

Prospective Gulf domestic workers offered advice from seasoned maids

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Maulida “Ina”. Reem Mohammed / The National
Maulida “Ina”. Reem Mohammed / The National

Maulida “Ina”, 30, from Indonesia

Nobody knows we are sad. A smile is hiding all.

Before I’m working in the mall in my country but my neighbour told me if you want to change your life you come to the UAE because they have a nice salary here, nice life here but when I came here it was all different.

Every month I must be working all the time. Six o’clock until 11 at night, like this. Then at the night time, the time to rest, and the child of my employer will knock at my door and say, ‘Ina, Ina, can you make food for my son?’ This continued every day.

I was working at my madams house and the parents house too. Just me.

I was working in my madam’s house just six months. After that I ran away. Because honestly, I had a problem there. The father of my boss was not good but I didn’t talk with my madam and my boss because I was so scared. You know, not all people believe housemaids like us. They believe their family, correct? This is why I ran away.

I was stressed, I wanted to go home. My boss told me, “you cannot go home because I paid too much for your company here and who can give back my money?” That’s why I decided it was better to run away. All the family was nice, I just didn’t like the father.

If you treat the housemaid well, they will never run away. But if you treat your housemaid like an animal of course they will run away.

After I ran away, I got a new employer who is very nice. Now I don’t want to go home. I’ve come here for the future of my daughter. I don’t want her to be like me, without education.

Jean Estrella, left. Reem Mohammed / The National
Jean Estrella, left. Reem Mohammed / The National

Jean Estrella, from the Philippines

I have seven siblings and I am the only one who is working. I am a breadwinner of the family and I am a single mother. So that’s why I came.

I didn’t know anything [about the UAE]. The houses are so big and you have to clean the whole house. In the Philippines [the employer] told me that I would just be an assistant. She said she just has two kids. When I got here she had six kids and I was really shocked. I don’t know why she told me that I am just an assistant.

She has [a] kid who is eight years old. She is really like her mom and her mom is always screaming and shouting at me, telling me I don’t know anything. My madam is [calling me] words like haiwana (animal), like that.

I was with that family for eight months. My madam told me to find another employer. I found a British family but my madam told me I had to finish my contract. I did not want that anymore because they treated me like that. And then I ran away.

This British family promised me that they would make my papers. Promise, promise, promise. At first it was good but suddenly they became like the madam. She told me the salary is Dh1,500 and every time she is giving our salary, I notice that she just gave Dh1,000.

For eight months, it was the same. Me and the cook ran away together.

Now I’m working in a house but my madame is very good. She is Syrian.

I am really hoping to stay.

Working as a domestic help, it’s not really easy. We need at least one day off. We are just people. Even machines get broken and damaged and we are just humans. We get tired.

Samrwif Fiseha. Reem Mohammed / The National
Samrwif Fiseha. Reem Mohammed / The National

Samrwif Fiseha, 25, from Ethiopia

It was nice, my family was a good one. But because I was young and it was hard, because I didn’t know how to work as a housemaid, I was confused a bit. I thought that when I came out [to the UAE] that I would not work as a housemaid but this was wrong. I was 20 years old. Now I am 25.

When I was with the first family for five months, they were fine but I was young and I could not handle it. This was my mistake. Later, I met some women who told me it was normal, so I accepted it. I missed home, I missed my family but I liked this family also. I knew she was good so I did not want to hurt her.

Later I called them and said sorry and she accepted that.

When I was young, I didn’t know how to work. The housemaid work, I thought would be easy. At first it was not easy but now that I have experience, it’s normal.

I learned in my life, that when you are young, you must stay with your family and study. So I would tell women, stay in your country, study. Study anything. After that you can come here.

I work with another family now. My family are good. They tell me what I have to do and if I finish my work, I rest. I know my job. I have a day off. I meet my friends. If I want to buy something, I will buy it. I go to the Corniche, the mall, sometimes I go to the cinema. Every day I will talk to my family. Because here I have nobody, no family and I worry about them. My mom calls me every day.