Home / General / The Perils of Indonesian Domestic Workers Abroad

The Perils of Indonesian Domestic Workers Abroad



Indonesia is a very poor country. So their young women are recruited to work as domestic servants for the wealthy in Hong Kong and especially in the Arab world. The Saudis, UAE, and other wealthy Gulf states treat labor like garbage. The almost entirely foreign workforce has third class status, is often beaten and starved, and has little ability to resist regimes that simply don’t care if they live or die. It’s gotten so bad that Indonesia has now banned its citizens from work as maids in pretty much the entire Middle East and North Africa. Too many deaths. 40 Indonesian maids currently are facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, mostly for resisting sexual assault or physical violence.


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  • DrDick

    There is also a problem of foreign maids having their passports taken away and kept in virtual slavery. There is no protection from beatings and sexual assaults for them, either. There is a very similar situation in the Philippines and Malaysia.

    • Shakezula

      Passport theft/ransom is common in the U.S. and not limited to domestic workers. There’s currently a campaign in D.C. aimed at letting foreign [undocumented] workers that lists various forms of abuse, up to human trafficking that they should report.

      • Aimai

        It seems like passport theft ought to be easy to prevent by keeping a record of passports for foreign visitors/residents in a secure location as they enter the country. If you wanted to prevent it, that is.

        • Shakezula

          Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that information recorded when someone enters the country? However, the loss of the passport isn’t really the problem.

          The current problem is people who have their documentation stolen by their enslave – er employers either don’t know who to ask for help, how to ask for help and/or believe they’ll be punished in some way (jailed, thrown out of the country) if they do go to the authorities for help. And that’s assuming they’re able to get anywhere they can ask for help. Working construction on a site in the middle of BFE? Good luck! Employers lock you in the house while they goes to work? Good luck!

          • DrDick

            They do not just “believe” it, that is the actual reality.

      • DrDick

        It is standard procedure for many of those trafficked, both for sex workers and for other forced labor.

        • Brett

          Hell, I think it’s in the law in Dubai – employers are allowed to confiscate the passports of foreign guest workers until they finish their terms.

          • Aimai

            So its actually a feature of the system, not a bug. It is used as a means of control, its not an aberration. Why am I not surprised?

  • Aimai

    The position of immigrant women working as domestics is absolutely dire. In every country where it takes place. We really need some kind of international convention that protects the rights of women going for this kind of work: escrowed bank accounts for their pay? Duplicate passports held by their home embassies? Well-worker checks by the Embassy (funded by a tax on the employers?). Set aside money for home visits? Its paternalistic, yes, and laws like this can be used to prevent women from leaving their home countries as economic refugees but the reality is that these women (and the men: at least 13 Nepali men were executed in Iraq having been shipped there as workers by their Saudi employers) are extremely vulnerable.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      The Philippines has some protections for migrant workers built into its laws. Recruiters are supposed to post a bond in the Philippines that will then pay legal fees and repatriation costs of migrant workers who run into problems. I don’t know how well this is enforced. But, I did have a discussion about it with the Philippine Minister of Labor when he was visiting Bishkek.

  • Hussain Jabbar

    More Islamophobia from Erik Loomis. the Koran permits slavery, criticizing Muslims for keeping slaves is a form of cultural imperialism.

    • DrDick

      The Bible also permits slavery, Jennie, and was used extensively to justify that institution here. It is, however, illegal everywhere in the world.

  • I didn’t much like the Saudis when I was there.

    I got the distinct impression that they viewed us as little more than hired help.

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