KATHMANDU: Fifteen Nepali women have been stranded in Saudi Arabia after getting beaten up by their employers. They are taking shelter in a half-way house run by a Saudi charity since last week and hoping they return to Nepal soon.
Saudi Arabia is a major destination of Nepali blue-collar workers in the Gulf. It is a working destination of around 5,00,000 Nepalis but half of them are illegal migrants.
Nearly 20-25,000 Nepali women are believed to be working there and most of them are illegal because Nepal government has banned women from working there due to overwhelming sexual harassment and unsafe environment.
Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE)’s ‘not to encourage women’ policy prohibits women from going to Gulf countries — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Kuwait. “We cannot give permits to women if they don’t have guardians in Gulf countries,” said DoFE director general Mohan Krishna Sapkota. Even so, around 30-40 Nepali women are flying to Gulf countries via India daily.
The women stranded in Riyadh of Saudi Arabia are illegal migrants. “They don’t have documents,” said Nepal’s ambassador to Saudia Arabia, Hamid Ansari. Dealing with such cases is difficult due to lack of documents, he added. The 15 women are awaiting Saudi police investigation results in their cases.
“Before they came to our embassy, we did not know that these girls were in Saudi Arabia,” Ansari said. The embassy is working with Saudi police to solve their cases and send them home. Saudi Arabia, home to 25 million people, has a six-million migrant population while four million are undocumented.
Women from the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka are also stranded in Riyadh and Jeddah, gateways to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Around 1,000 Asian men and women are living in miserable conditions under the flyover of the Red Sea port. All have been cheated by their employers or outsourcing agencies.
“We want the Saudi police to arrest and deport us,” said Tira Chandrakarya, a Sri Lankan woman worker, adding, “But they don’t arrest us.” Saudi employers or outsourcing agencies take the papers of migrant workers on arrival and refuse to return these if the workers want to quit the job. Without travel papers or an official exit permit, they cannot leave.