When Dalia Amin left her Gendaria house in the capital for Saudi Arabia on July 10 last year, her eyes were on a better, secure life for her two-year-old son, her husband as well as for herself.
A little over a year later, she returned home with a broken back and leg as well as harrowing tales of physical and mental torture.
“The torture was so extreme that I shudder even at the thought of it. They [her employers] beat me with sticks and hangers. If I protested, the intensity would only increase,” Dalia, 22, told The Daily Star by phone yesterday.
She is just one of the many victims of such torture.
Like her, 109 other Bangladeshi female migrants returned from a safe home in Riyadh on Monday in two Emirates flights. The Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh arranged their repatriation. Another 310 female migrants are now waiting to come back from the same safe home.
But not everyone came back alive. One of the two flights carried the body of Moina, who died by suicide, according to her death certificate.
Between January and July this year, at least 800 female migrant workers have returned from Saudi Arabia after being tortured, according to the Brac Migration Programme.
Besides, dead bodies of 87 women migrant workers arrived from the Middle East in the last eight months. Between 2016 and June this year, bodies of 311 women migrants were sent from the Middle East, mostly from Saudi Arabia, Brac data show.
All the returnees had left their homes and loved ones for a distant land, determined to earn money for their families back home. Instead, they were tortured and abused, and then came back with shocking tales.
As for Dalia, she was not only tortured, she was also “sold” several times.
Desperate to support her husband, who works at a workshop, Dalia flew to the Gulf nation spending around Tk 60,000, which she borrowed from friends and relatives.
“Despite his meagre income, at first my husband did not agree with my plan to go there. Later I convinced him, saying I would be able to support the family and build a better future for our child,” Dalia said.
As per her contract with the local recruiting agency, Concorde Apex, she was supposed to get Saudi Riyal 1,000 (about Tk 22,500) every month. But first employer in Al Kharj, where she worked for five months, gave her only 800 riyal a month. That too was irregular.
“They used to beat me almost regularly. They did not give me food properly. I fell sick,” she said.
The house owner then “sold” her to an office. She worked there for around a week before being sent to a new house.
“Though I was sick, I was beaten up here as well. They gave me only a little food. Sometimes I starved. I had to work despite my illness,” Dalia said.
After about four months, her new employer sent her to another office, where she worked for only four days. There she found another Bangladeshi woman, Munni.
“On the fourth day, two Saudi men attempted to rape us. It was time for morning prayers. We then jumped off the window of the first floor of the building. I got my vertebra and leg broken and was lying on the road.”
After a while, some devotees from the mosque opposite the building rescued them and took them to a hospital. Dalia took treatment for two months. She was sent to the Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh on May 13. The embassy shifted her to the safe home, where she stayed for three months before being sent back home.
She said she saw four to five pregnant woman at the safe home, although The Daily Star could not independently verify this.
“All my dreams are shattered now. My child wants to sit on my lap, but my broken back and leg won’t allow it,” she said.
Contacted, Golam Moshi, Bangladesh ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said, “Due to the hajj, we couldn’t send back any migrant workers in the last two months. So, we have sent them together now. More would be sent back soon.”
Asked about the torture, he said although torture was evident, the severity was sometimes exaggerated.
“The problem is Bangladeshi workers can’t cope with the new environment while the house owners are not happy with their performance,” he said.
Language is another big barrier, said Golam Moshi.
“They [women workers] must be sent after proper training and orientation. The agencies are cheating innocent women and proper steps should be taken against them. We have written to the foreign ministry and the expatriate welfare ministry several times in this regard.”
Asked about the government’s liability, he said, “We are responsible… We can’t avoid our responsibility. This is very unfortunate.”
Shariful Hasan, head of Brac Migration Programme, said, “If the ambassador mentioned that there are problems on both sides -- employers as well as workers -- the whole system should be reviewed to decide whether our women should be sent or not.”
He also suggested that the government explored alternative destinations.
“We need to bring the recruiting process under a framework,” he said.
Salim Reza, additional secretary and director general of the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, said that as the number of woman migrant workers increased, incidents of torture have also shot up.
“We want no incident of torture. We are working to find out the reasons behind this by studying all the individual cases.”
Asked about the findings in previous cases, he said without elaborating: “There are multiple reasons. We are working on it.”
About the role of the agencies, he said, “We are slapping fines on the agencies and filing cases against them.”