Wednesday, March 29, 2006

More old news

Someone sent me this article from Reuters AlertNet about the recent plight of a number of Indian and Nepalese workers in Jordan. Lately, there's also been tons in the news about foreign workers in Dubai and their unbelievable living conditions and mistreatment.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands upon thousands of Sri Lankan, Egyptian and Filipino workers in Jordan and the rest of the Middle East who live an existence unimaginable to most of us here in the U.S. Sure, they're able to make more money in the Middle East than they would at home, but the racism and brutality they suffer is inhumane, to put it mildly.

Over the years, I got involved in a number of attempts with Geeva, my Sri Lankan maid, to help Sri Lankan workers living in Jordan who were trapped in awful situations. Geeva has become an ambassador, of sorts, to many Sri Lankans in trouble, and there was scarcely a week that went by without someone asking her to intervene to help someone out.

Sri Lankans are routinely jailed for being stopped on the streets without papers, trapped in the homes of their obnoxious employers or taken advantage of by employment agencies that confiscate all their earnings and prohibit them from leaving the country. Overcoming a system that in every aspect is hostile to the foreign worker always seemed impossible, but I had great luck the numerous times I called up offending employers or owners of the shoddy agencies that brought over Sri Lankan maids. My approach was to play the role of the bullying foreigner and threaten in no uncertain terms to report them to the authorities. In general, I think I scared the bejesus out of them. Not that the authorities would have given much of a crap anyway.

And then the Indian and Nepalese workers. Both Samer and I had a feeling there might be problems shortly after the Iraq War began and his office building was literally flooded overnight with Indian workers looking for work. A hiring agency, it seems, had opened up shop there and had been spreading the word of the riches to be had in Iraq. I've read over the last few years of Indian workers being killed in Iraq and often wondered if they had passed through the Al-Sayegh building on their way there.

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