Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Deportation Center

I'm not sure about this but my friends tell that there's a lawyer who comes on the Arabic TV and talks about issues in Kuwait. And apparently he talked about the deportation center being some sort of 5 star hotel and "why should Kuwait treat these dishonest, bad people so well?"

Now I don't know if my friends were exaggerating but I do know that International authorities are shown a very nice looking place that is claimed to be the deportation center. Well I've seen the deportation center myself. Let me tell you about it...

It's tucked away by the UN roundabout. We only found it after - no joke - 3 full evenings of searching. The police of various districts would not tell us where it really was, sending us all the way to Jleeb, then to Salmiya, then to different areas of Shuwaikh and back again. When we finally found it we asked a couple of ppl there, "is this the deportation center?" No - they said and gave us other areas to go to.

Why lie to us? Well that question was answered when eventually we got permission to go inside. It was horrific. Women line the entire floor. They sleep on filthy matresses on a very wet floor. There is a feel of gloom and despair in the air. This doesn't look like anything built in Kuwait - it's like a third world prison or slum. Rooms full of young women, guarded by only men? Shouldn't conservative parties in Kuwait have something to say about this? We quickly communicated with some of the women in there to get stories. Often, concerned individuals on the outside had bought tickets for some ladies inside to fly home. The LAZY officials in charge had taken the tickets and then not bothered to arrange for the ladies to be taken to the airport. We heard of at least 3 girls that had had tickets BOUGHT for them to leave but they were still there. So in this so-called deportation center, there are women who have been here for months. One had even started taking off her clothes and walking around nude because she had mentally 'lost it'.

You might ask, are the officials really like that? When I walked in, these 'officials' sat with their bare feet up on desks, smoking, drinking their tea and talking to their friends. They paid little or no attention to the timid ppl that came for their help. Indians, Bengalis, Filipinos, Sri lankans, with their heads bowed in servant like respect waited in line for these men to pause in between some hilarious joke they were making. When the officials did pause it was only to yell and shout in anger at those waiting. I was no exception. They gestured at me as if I were a dog, not even looking at me but looking directly above my head. Immediately I felt something inside I had never felt before. A true sense of shame and inferiority. Forget my education, forget my qualifications - I was a hindi, nothing more. They yelled at me, called my dark African friend a 'Sudani' etc. and humiliated us while they laughed on and finally told us to go away. I felt worse than an animal.

Later when I had time to think, I realise that this is something that even sympathetic citizens can never understand. This level of inferiority and unworthiness can only be experienced by expats even those who have served and loved Kuwait to our utmost. Even I only experienced it for a month or so while visiting the deportation center, but many expats go through this daily as labourers, in construction, as drivers, when dealing with the police.

Driving home was surreal - almost like 'Alice of Wonderland' as we passed massive beautiful government buildings, exquisitely designed villas, malls constructed to look like some fantasy escape, shiny gleaming cars of every make model and colour weaving back and forth on the road and a smart new skyline. It didn't make sense to me. How can so much achieve so little?

Well anyways, I just went home and tried to get over the feeling that I was something dirty. It takes a while, trust me. As to the deportation center - it's still there. And if you still believe that there's a 5 star hotel out there, treating these ladies with dignity, please do visit the center yourself.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The woman's role in abuse part 2

I read recently that around 60% of people involved in the human trafficking industry are women. By this I don't mean the victims, I mean the culprits.

Oddly this seems to fit with what we are seeing in Kuwait. Many of the people involved in maid recruitment agencies are women. Most of the pimps who work in plain sight in Kuwait City are women. Many of those who abuse maids in the home are again women. Is it mere coincidence that Kuwait seems to agree with international figures?

See for me, as a male, it's hard to understand why a woman, who has probably already experienced gender inequality throughout her life (regardless of nationality) would then turn around and attack her fellow women. Yet this is what seems to be happening. If anybody has any clue as to why this might be, please do share your views.

So far I am running on what I believe to be partly true. Many of these 'pimps' and 'abusers' are just the victims of pimping and abuse, promoted to a higher level. Several international studies show that in the human trafficking industry many of the women in charge are those who were victims of trafficking themselves, risen through the ranks. For some reason going through a horrible situation seems to make people harder, not softer.

And when I think about it, I guess it is the same for us men. We drag each other down in spite of the fact that we should be more understanding because of our own horrible experiences. For some reason with us humans, man or woman, we tend to repeat our own histories. Even with something like parenting we can sometimes carry on the mistakes of our own parents.

So how are we to handle our own bad experiences in a way that does not cause them to multiply in the lives of others around us?


Hey guys sorry about that. I just realized that none of your comments were showing up. Now it has been fixed. Again my deepest apologies.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The woman's role in abuse

I have heard many complaints about how domestic helpers are not as innocent as we think they are - or that they abuse the children they are supposed to take care of, steal etc. etc.

Firstly, no one is so naive to think that ANY group is made up of completely innocent people. But you have to ask the question - if domestic helpers are also doing bad things in Kuwait, why is this happening? How come a few go completely nuts in a house that apparently treats them well?

Recently we came across a case of an Indonesian girl who was sold to a person who then sold her to his friend ... and this guy forced her to 'sleep' with 3-5 guys every day. Isn't it against the law for a maid under one kafeel, to work in more than one house, or to sell her off? But still these ladies go from house to house, working - sometimes because they want to, often because they are forced to. Can you guarantee that the girl who works in your house has not had a terrible experience in her long string of employment here, that has affected her mentally?

Here's an eye opener from religious leaders in Kuwait I have talked to... Ever since this whole so-called financial crisis, there have been more complaints in Kuwait about husbands beating their wives - MANY more. The number of maid abuse incidents has also increased. And in about 80 percent of cases we've seen, it is the mama of the house that beats the maid. Now i'm not drawing any fast conclusions but - maybe we need to think about that for a bit.

It's not always true, but often in societies, the abused becomes the abuser. The majority of sexual deviants and child molesters have at one time been sexually assaulted themselves as children. Violence works in this repetitive way also.

If the abuse of wives is not stopped, the abuse of maids will not stop, and if the abuse of maids is not stopped, the abuse of whoever the maid can abuse will not stop either. In the most horrible way, Kuwait should consider itself fortunate that these girls mostly choose suicide over murder.

So society may end up looking something like this: Domestic helpers commit suicide en mass, or alternatively, begin the abuse of those under their care. That sounds kind of familiar to me.

Now whatever you think of these ladies, no one wants a society like that. But by a community being passive and indifferent - that is what we are determining for ourselves. Kuwait of the next generation will either move closer towards this, or further away.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Didja vote?

So how'd everyone's voting go? I am completely out of the loop as far as this whole thing is concerned. So who's winning?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It's here

Mena is a domestic helper who came to Kuwait to support her young children back home. At her employer's home, the 'baba' throttled her, and the 'mama' poured hot water on her. Mena called her agency repeatedly, but they refused to do anything about it. Later, when Mena was cleaning the window, the 'mama' decided that she had had enough of Mena and pushed her out of the fourth floor window. Mena broke a lot of bones on impact.

Naturally, due the present state of the law, after Mena's recovery, she went to jail. These cases always really trouble me because we must be one of the few places in the world where people go to jail because no one has figured out where else to put them. She still hasn't been sent home. Her kids are still waiting for her...

Whenever I hear something like this, I can't help but think:

"How horrible the employers are! They must be uneducated, they must live in the really 'out there' areas. If they were more educated, or more cultured, they would treat people well. There is only a small part of society that would tolerate such abuse."

I don't think that anymore

I used to give private tuition to a family's two children, in a very rich part of town. The man and woman of the house had been educated in the States, spoke perfect English and were in leadership of companies that you would almost certainly recognise. We did things that regular people do - like talk about music, exchange tips on child rearing, discuss politics, exchange DVDs.
But every week, I noticed that the two helpers they had, an Ethiopian and a Filipino, looked sad and almost never smiled. I tried to be nice but even casual conversation seemed to scare them and they always rushed back into the kitchen. I found out later that these ladies were kept under house arrest, never had a day off, were paid below normal wages and were treated very badly ... all in a modern, forward thinking person's house.

I stopped teaching their children because it seemed obscene that for four hours work, I was making more money than these ladies were in a month. At the end of the day, I am a foreigner too. If my mother had come in on a maid's visa, could I expect this man and woman with whom I laughed, to treat her any better?

Ever since then I have heard modern, forward thinking people tell me that they think domestic helpers are insane for jumping from windows. That they believe these ppl are offered a better life than they are back home and should be grateful. These are university educated, intelligent people. And yet, isn't it far more intelligent to ask the question - WHY are they jumping from windows?

The abuse isn't in the far out areas of Kuwait, it is not just among the 'less educated'. It's right here. It's in areas like Salwa, Jabriya, Shaab, Mishref, Qortoba, Nuzha or Hawally, Salmiya, Sharq ... it's here in our neighbourhoods. It's here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Good news - finally

If you've read the papers recently, then you know that Kuwait is cracking down big time on the human trafficking situation here. I just glanced at the headlines and it said that hundreds of companies and the ppl behind them have been discovered - bringing labourers into Kuwait under false premises.

This is fantastic news. But I must admit, the numbers scare me a bit. Geographically, and population wise, we're such a small country. I didn't think we had the space or manpower for so many 'slave trading' companies. The paper gave an estimate of more than 300 found. That makes it possible for thousands of lives to be ruined every year -- both workers and their families.

So I thank God for the efforts of all those in authority who are taking care of this problem. Because as we begin development and progress, we need to bear in mind that a country's image to the world is not just defined by its high rise buildings, and colourful skyline. Especially if the skyline is built on the backs of slaves.

Being modern and progressive means that our thinking also changes. Otherwise we would be nothing more than mindless, stone-age barbarians, who have discovered that fancy clothing and nice cars make us look more civilised than we are.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I've talked with people who work with abused domestic helpers in their embassies and I was able to get a rough estimate on the numbers we are dealing with:

400 maids at the Ethiopian embassy (embassy already full and now turning away runaways)
400 maids at the Indonesian Embassy
100 - 300 maids at the Philippines Embassy (it fluctuates pretty often)
300 at the Sri Lankan embassy.
I also know that Indian embassy officials dragged out a crying and pleading Indian woman from the embassy in plain sight of everyone, who was claiming abuse, and telling her that was not the place for her to go.

These numbers are obviously not accurate down to the last person - they are rough estimates. And I can tell you that these ladies are not all happy and healthy. Having personally been to the Philippines embassy myself, I was devastated to see women lined up from corner to corner in a basement room, taking up every available space.

A human being is not a number. Every single person deserves to be treated as a special, unique individual. But even when dealing with numbers, please remember that these are only runaways that make it to the embassy. There are more like these in the hospitals, in their employer's homes, in the jails and deportation centre, hiding out illegally somewhere in Kuwait, forced into prostitution and of course - in the morgue.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

An Indonesian lady leaves home to come to Kuwait to become a domestic helper so that she can also add to the earnings of her husband and support her child. Here, she is drugged by her employer, and raped. When the girl later escapes through a window, sustaining terrible injuries, she is able (unlike many others) to file a case against him and get him arrested.

The Indonesian girl is sent to hospital to recover, where she tells visitors about the rape in gory detail, almost in a playful manner - and how badly it hurt. She refers to herself in the third person, as if the whole thing happened to someone else, and seems to laugh a lot more than all the other domestic helpers in her ward. She explains that she is no longer Muslim because she has 'slept' with another man, and how can she go back to her family like that?

JUST when she begins to slowly regain her sanity, her employer (who has already been released) comes to the hospital and threatens her. The helper is discharged, still not fully healed, and taken to jail.

Why is a victim of rape made to go through the horrors of her old employer having the freedom to taunt her, as well as having nowhere to go but jail? Right now this poor lady is lost in the system. We simply cannot find her.

Hundreds and hundreds of women go through this. They are legally only able to be in the home of their sponsors, in the hospital, at the agency or in jail. To put it in real terms, guess what rape victim - if you're a domestic helper wanting to go home - you'll have to go to prison first.