Abuse of maids in Jordan continues, despite efforts to protect them

Despite moves to protect Filipino and Sri Lankan maids, basic human rights remain ignored in Jordan.

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AMMAN // Norhima Hayral from the Philippines sought refuge in a shelter for abused Asian housemaids in Jordan to escape from employers she says both beat and raped her.

"The recruitment agency took my passport the second I arrived in Amman's airport" six months ago, 27-year-old Hayral said at the shelter funded by Manila's Overseas Labour Office.

In October, the Philippines lifted a ban imposed in 2007 on its citizens working in Jordan after the two countries signed deals to protect them, including guaranteeing a minimum monthly salary of $400 (Dh1,468).

The ban had been imposed because of "the growing number of distressed Filipino workers" seeking help from Philippine diplomatic offices in Jordan, according to the labour office.

But despite the accords, abuse is still reported.

Hayral worked for an eight-member Jordanian family, "but the wife used to beat me all the time. I think she was jealous because I was much younger."

She said she could not handle the abuse and within three months began working secretly for others.

"One day I was asked to clean a house in a farm outside Amman. The owner started to touch me and when I resisted, he beat me.

"He threatened me with a knife, took me to a room and raped me," she said, bursting into tears.

Hayral said she could not contact the police because her status was illegal.

"Officials at the shelter are trying to get back my passport. I am waiting for the Philippines government to give me money. I just want to go home."

The Philippines ambassador in Jordan, Olivia V. Palala, said Manila wanted to protect these maids.

"We want to ensure that the maids get better treatment. We want to ensure their basic rights, as humans, are protected," Palala said.

"Until all of this comes into place I do not think we will see more maids coming in," she said, adding that there are already 30,000 workers from the Philippines in Jordan.

But the situation has still not improved.

"Violations continued even after the ban was lifted. You find domestic workers who are paid $150-$250 monthly and some are not paid at all," said Mario Antonio, who is in charge of the shelter that currently houses 75 maids.

"This year, we have received at this place more than 952 cases who were seeking our help — 596 were returned to the Philippines."

Maylene Magno, 20, who broke her leg when she fled her employers' home, said she was severely beaten after her Iraqi employers in Amman accused her of stealing 100 Jordanian dinars ($140).

"The landlady beat me and broke my arm after accusing me of stealing the money," Magno said.

"I ran away when the family was asleep, jumping from the second floor, which broke my leg. Luckily I have my passport and now I am waiting to go home."

Many Sri Lankan workers in Jordan, estimated to number 40,000, are also suffering.

"Around 100 domestic workers run away from their employers every month," said I.L.H. Jameel of the Sri Lankan embassy.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says many of the 70,000 Asian domestic workers in Jordan face the same abuses as migrant domestic workers elsewhere in the region.

These include beatings, passports confiscated, being confined to the house, insults, withholding of pay and long hours with no days off.

"The reasons these abuses persist is the weak enforcement of existing legal rights and omissions and provisions in the law that facilitate abuse," HRW said in a report late last year.

Jordan's labour ministry downplayed the problem, however.

Amman has approved some measures to protect domestic workers and punish violators, but problems persist.

"There is no specific body to tackle abuse complaints," said Linda Kalash of the local group Tamkeen for Legal Aid and Human Rights, citing "chaos in the entire process.

"All related laws should be reviewed and then enforced effectively."