Modern Slavery or “Sponsorship” … Ugandan Worker Escapes ‘Rape of Her Sponsor’ in Iraq
Fiona, a young woman from Uganda, came to Baghdad to work as a domestic helper. Sadly, she ended up homeless on the streets due to abuses in the “Kafala” system..
Fiona, 19, started with energy and hope in the promotional video but eventually lost all hope, except to return to her family..
“The show goes on”! … The latest trend in the sponsorship system
Age manipulation for “selling”
“My name is Fiona, I am 18 years old. I came to Iraq to work as a domestic helper, and I am very happy to be allowed to work here.” The energy is clear on the face of the young woman who recorded the recruitment company trailer a year ago.
When you visit the company’s Facebook page, you’ll find pictures of workers from various nationalities with their personal information, open for sponsorship.
However, the term common to migrant employment agencies is “sale.”
This is how they are perceived by the sinister system: goods under “supply”, waiting for a sponsor to “buy” them, and then they become property stripped of their freedoms under the pretext of responsibility.
Perhaps this “responsibility” led the company “Bariq Al Bronze” to “openly” manipulate Fiona’s age!
In her translated post, about “Extending the Offer for the Holidays”, the company stated that she is 20 years old! (two years more than her actual age at the time).
“I want to go back to my country”… and my passport is being held by the recruitment company
Fiona, who left her family in Uganda to find work in Iraq, now only dreams of returning home, a year after being caught up in a sponsorship scheme..
“I’ve been sleeping on the streets for three months. Help me go back to my country!”
“I want to go back to my country. I don’t want anything else,” Fiona repeats, as tears wash her cheeks, which have been filled with street dust for three months, according to her.
I met Fiona after I left the Baghdad residency department. All she had was a pale face, eyes filled with tears and some of her belongings that she managed to escape with.
She noted that her passport was held at the Bariq Al Bronze Office.
She ran away from the rape of her sponsor
At first, when I asked her why she ran away from her sponsor’s house, she replied, “The lady doesn’t treat me well. She doesn’t pay me my wages.”
Many female workers dare not disclose any form of sexual assault.
Judgment and reproach in their environment make women and girls hesitant to talk about these “taboos”..
There was no way to help Fiona except by trying to reach out to local humanitarian organizations to secure a safe home for her to stay in while her case was pursued, hoping it may protect her from the consequences of homelessness or arrest.
The organizations we approached refused to take on this responsibility because they were worried about false claims of human trafficking.”
These organizations work within patriarchal and tribal societies and are always hindered by accusations of treason and pressure of the “foreign agenda”. As if no one knows how our country is a fertile land for violations.
“The owner of the house is a man. His girlfriend comes in the daytime, and at night he rapes me. He raped me multiple times.”
When I asked Fiona if she wanted to contact the employment agency, she collapsed, begging for “convincing him to get my passport back so I can go back to my family. If you send me back to the office, he may punish or beat me for running away. Or he could take me back to that house.”
“I don’t want to go back there.”
I asked her again about being beaten by the lady of the house, and she confirmed that this was not the case.
But the surprise was when she explained that “the owner of the house is a man, his girlfriend comes in the daytime, and at night he rapes me. He raped me multiple times.”
Security normalization with racist rhetoric against female workers
I couldn’t talk to her long afterward. She ended up being admitted to the deportation department within the residence department.
One soldier there told me that “she will be brought before a judge to take the necessary measures.”
“Why did you run away? I think you’re a thief!”
But what made me lose my mind was being stopped while trying to reassure her, noting with his fist that he knew “the most effective way to investigate such cases.” He asked, “Why did you run away? I think you’re a thief!”
We don’t interfere with the security forces, but when they use racist rhetoric against vulnerable groups, it’s only natural for these groups to feel less secure..
Fiona’s deportation won’t solve the problems of the kafala system.
I ended up handing her over, unable to offer any solution.
All solutions are inadequate unless the rapist receives his punishment, and all those responsible for violations committed against workers are held accountable.
Fiona’s return to her country today, and this is what she’s been asking for, may save one worker, but who can save thousands of workers from many abuses, such as non-payment of wages, forced confinement, withholding of personal documents, excessive working hours, and verbal, physical and sexual abuse?
Fiona’s case remains to rely on the judiciary to investigate the employing company “Bariq Al Bronze”, to triumph for her rights.
But is there any sliver of hope as long as foreign labor remains recruited under a modern system of slavery, called the kafala system?!