How many female migrant workers need to be tortured before we speak up?
Kulsum is not the first female Bangladeshi migrant worker to be tortured and killed in their host country. According to the Expatriate Welfare Desk at the airport, from 2016 to 2019, the bodies of 410 female migrant workers were returned to Bangladesh, with the highest number coming from Saudi Arabia (153), followed by Jordan (64) and Lebanon (52). What is the price of their lives? Data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) suggests that out of the USD 16 billion of remittances sent home by migrant workers in the fiscal year 2019-2020, the highest portion came from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (USD 3.5 billion).
In 2014, the Indonesian government paid USD 2.1 million in “blood money” to save Indonesian maid Satinah binti Jumadi Ahmad in Saudi Arabia, who was on death row for murdering her employer. According to Indonesian rights group Migrant Care, Satinah had been regularly abused by her employer, and had finally snapped and retaliated in self-defence. In 2018, the authorities of this Gulf state were strongly condemned by Indonesian officials for executing domestic worker Tuti Tursilawati without even informing her family or the consular staff. Migrant Care alleged that Tuti had murdered her employer while defending herself from being raped. While these stories of abuse are eerily similar to the ones recounted by Bangladeshi workers who have returned from the KSA, there is a marked difference their country of origin vocally and publicly condemned the country for violating the rights of these women, even going as far as paying two million dollars to save one of them. Can female migrant workers from Bangladesh expect the same treatment from our authorities?