Still from video discussed in this article.

By Sidahmed Tfeil and Madeleine Bair

The relationship between employers and foreign staff in Saudi Arabia is fraught with allegations of abuse and exploitation, but rarely does the world get to peek into the reality. In late October, a video that emerged on several websites opened the curtain onto what life may be like for many of the country’s estimated 9 million immigrant laborers. The footage, apparently taken in a private residence, depicts a man dressed in traditional Saudi clothing physically assaulting a man who wears an orange jumpsuit and appears to have a swollen eye. The abuser accuses the worker of having spoken to his wife, while he flogs him with a whip, pulls his hair, and kicks him. The filmer appears to take part in the abuse as well, spitting on the victim and hurling insults his way, while the victim pleads for the assault to stop.

Human Rights Violations

The video corroborates a well-documented pattern of physical abuse of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, which is one reason it caused such a stir. The National Society for Human Rights, a government-funded organization, responded to the video immediately, stating that such abuse is punishable by law. But rarely are perpetrators punished, because migrant workers depend on their employers for legal status and thus are afraid to report abusive conditions. Human Rights Watch, however, has documented labor abuse ranging from non-payment of wages, sexual abuse, food deprivation, and physical confinement. Domestic workers are more vulnerable than others, as they are excluded from a 2005 labor law, denying them, in the words of HRW, “protections afforded to other workers such as a day off once a week, limits on working hours, and access to labor courts.” Three years ago, the beheading of a young Sri Lankan domestic worker accused of murdering her employer’s child drew attention to the large number of foreign maids on death row and living in “slave-like conditions.”

Challenges to Verification

There is no reason yet to believe the video above is inauthentic. However, because it was recorded in a private residence and by a perpetrator who likely wants to remain anonymous, it is difficult to confirm where or when it was taken. No one yet has come forward to report the case or identify any of the individuals in the video, and because of that, one Saudi government official has questioned its authenticity.  But as human rights groups have pointed out, because of a system that leaves migrant workers legally dependent on their employer, victims are unlikely to report their abuse.

More Videos

Despite the challenges to verify this video, the abuse it documents is corroborated by a growing body of online video exposing abuse of immigrant employees. Over the past five years, similar videos have emerged, often drawing media attention to the issue for a short time. The Human Rights Channel compiled several of those videos in this YouTube playlist. Many of them have been copied and uploaded to YouTube or other video sites several times, but these are the earliest versions we could find of each video. While most videos depict one man abusing another, this video appears to show several immigrants rounded up and held on the ground with their arms bound by a group of Saudi civilians. The video circulated early this year after the government began a campaign to crackdown on undocumented workers and their employees.

One thought on “Corporal Abuse of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia

  1. I am writing this on behalf of my mother who is currently in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia working as a domestic Helper for a certain Saeed Masoud Al Ghamdi. Many times my mother would send me messages regarding the physical and mental treatment she was receiving from her employer. Aside from being maltreated she was forced to work 19 hours a day and provided with only a meal per day. In her contract with the agency here in the Philippines which is World Class Icon Corporation located at Suite 705-707 and 710-A Ermita Center Building, 1350 Roxas Blvd., Ermita, Manila she will be working with 3 individuals only but upon arrival in her employers house she was forced to served 11 individuals, which is a clear violation of her employment contract. Her personal belongings were also taken by her employer and left her only with 3 pair of shorts and underwear; they also took her 3GP phone and replaced an old model of mobile phone so she could not use her Skype account to show us of her real condition. She also send me message that her employer would usually strikes her head on the wall and burn her with cigarette butts. I have already reported this matter to OWWA on July 13, 2016 but upon verification she has no records with OWWA, so the personnel advised me to go to POEA to inquire about her records in the records section but she also has no record that is why I was wondering because she obtained an OEC from POEA and yet no records. So, I went to Repatriation Section of POEA on July 14, 2016 to file a complaint for my mother to be repatriated, they gave me form to fill up so they can make an endorsement letter to be submitted to OWWA so they can make a report for my mother to be repatriated and was advised to make a follow up on my complaint after 7 working days, but after 7 working days they told me that they need to secure first a certificate from her agency to be able to make an endorsement letter and follow up after 5 working days. After 5 working days I made a follow up on 29 of July 2016 and was told that the endorsement letter were already in their evaluator for signature and was instructed to come back on 5 August 2016. I have also filed a complaint in the office of Usec. Jesus I. Yabes in the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs in DFA but was instructed to come back after 14 working days, time is running out for my mother who is being maltreated by her employer and this morning August 3, 2016 I was informed that she was brought to a Medical Clinic for the processing of her Residence Permit but she was forced to use a different passport other than her which can caused some problem regarding her status of employment. My concern is how long our Government related agencies take the appropriate action regarding this matter.

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