Saturday, August 29, 2009

OFW Abuse for Living

Sean O’Driscoll meets a maid whose dream of making money in the UAE turned into a nightmare of physical and mental torture by her bossInside the Filipino Overseas Labour Office in Dubai, refugees are everywhere. They sit in the hallway eating dinner, they crowd the living room watching TV, some sit in the kitchen chatting. There are 60 of them living there, nearly all former maids who ran from their employers. Many have no passports, held by their employers in case they tried to run away, and many arrive here early in the morning, sobbing, with just the clothes on their back.
Among them, leaning to her side to avoid hurting her fractured ribs sits 25-year-old Nuan, referred to as “definitely our worst case” by office volunteer, Marbeth Valquez.
She limps into the room and sits down. There is barely a square inch of her hands, arms or legs that are not permanently scarred by blows from an electrical wire or scalding from a clothes iron.
Many of the giant scars on her arms are uneven and badly healed, evidence of chronic neglect after the blows were inflicted.
Nuan has a round face and big eyes that blink nervously through tears as she recalls her story.
She is from the Isabela province of the Philippines and hoped to make some money in the UAE.
An employment agency in Ajman found her work with a Lebanese man and his family.
His wife was strict but showed no tendency towards violence in the beginning. Nuan travelled with the family to Lebanon and later moved home with them to a sixth floor apartment in Ajman.
But once there, the wife locked the door and never let Nuan see the outside world again.
Last summer, the woman became pregnant and Nuan says she became progressively more violent.
She kicked and punched her, sometimes giving her black eyes. And, Nuan says, she would hurt her for even the slightest discrepancy in her daily schedule. She would tie her feet together, ignoring her pleas for mercy as she beat her all over the body with an electrical cord, ripping skin from Nuan’s arms as she tried to cover herself from the blows.
Nuan says she would bleed for days, all requests for bandages or painkillers turned down.
The beatings got worse when the woman gave birth, and her sister, who was living with the family while her husband was abroad, sometimes joined in the beatings.
They had insisted that Nuan wear a headscarf to protect her modesty, but Nuan says the sister ripped it off her and cut off her hair when she wasn’t happy with the cleaning.
Nuan says the husband would sometimes tell his wife not to beat her so hard but she ignored him and inflicted the worst punishments when her husband was away.
Crying every night, unable to contact her friends or family, Nuan says she became progressively more desperate as the violence got worse and worse. The beatings became a daily routine this month. The woman even used a hot iron on Nuan’s feet to burn the skin.
Nuan says the worst incident was on August 7, when the woman broke her ribs by beating her with the electrical chord. Nuan had already gone a day without food and was desperate to escape the torture.
“There is no food here today,” she would be told when she begged for even a scrap of bread. By August 9, after three days of hunger and unhealed broken ribs, she noticed the door was open in the morning.
Disoriented, with her head aching, she ran, terrified she would be caught. She rushed to a taxi and, once inside, explained that she had no money but asked him to take her to the job agency.
The taxi driver could see she was in serious trouble and took her there.
The agency’s manager brought her to hospital. She stayed there for 12 days as doctors treated her injuries.
The Philippine Consulate has said that police have since arrested the woman, and prosecutors are now considering other arrests.
As well as being traumatised, Nuan is also penniless - in the one year and seven months she worked for the family she says she never received a single penny from them.
She will stay at the Overseas Labour Office until she can give evidence against the wife and then hopes to return to the Philippines where she intends to set up a small business.
However, Nuan still needs money for further medical treatment.
“God knows what internal damage may have been done to her,” says the Philippines Counsul General.
“She is lucky to be alive.
“The doctors said she could have been killed with just a few more minutes of this type of beating. “A weaker person would have been killed,” he added.

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