Little did Sumi Akter know the extent of misery awaiting her when she left for Saudi Arabia to work as a domestic help. She was tortured, kept confined for days, and sold by her employer.
Her eyes welled up with tears when she was narrating to reporters her experience in the Middle Eastern country.
“I used to be beaten brutally for trivial reasons. At one point, I fell sick. Then my employer sold me to another person,” she said yesterday.
Sumi, 25, returned home around four months after she had left for Saudi Arabia. Recently, a video footage, where she is seen pleading with the government to bring her back, has gone viral.
She landed at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport around 7:15am yesterday in a Saudia flight, and went to her parent’s home in Panchagarh’s Boda upazila under the arrangement of the Wage Earners Welfare Board.
There, she shared her story with the reporters at the UNO office around 5:00pm.
Being a girl of an impoverished family, Sumi could study up to class VIII. She worked at a readymade garment factory in Gazipur for two years.
After six months, she got married to Nurul Haque, and later decided to go abroad hoping to bring solvency to her family.
On May 30 this year, she went to the Saudi capital Riyadh. An agency named “Ruposhi Bangla Overseas” sent her there, she said.
During the time at her employer’s house in Riyadh, Sumi was often beaten. She was given only Tk 15,000 as a month’s wage.
Eventually, she fell sick due to excessive workload and torture. As she was unable to work anymore, the employer sold her to another person in Najran city for 22,000 Saudi riyals, said Sumi.
Her new employer was also tough on her, she alleged. Not only the beating continued but also confinement was added to worsen her situation.
She was once confined in a room for 14 days at a stretch, she said. At one stage, she requested her employer to give her a cell phone so that she could at least talk to her husband.
When she was given the phone, she made a video call to Nurul and cried out for help.
In the video, Sumi sought the prime minister’s intervention in rescuing her.
Nurul uploaded the footage on social media which went viral. “I came to Saudi Arabia through a ‘Ruposhi Bangla Overseas’ office. They brought me saying good things. But they behaved inhumanly…they tortured me,” she said in the clip.
Nurul then filed a general diary (GD) with the capital’s Paltan Police Station. Later, with the assistance of Brac Migration Programme, he filed an application to the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment for bringing his wife back.
Being informed, a team of Bangladesh mission in the KSA, with the help of local police, rescued Sumi from her employer’s home in Najran on November 4, said Aminul Islam, labour counsellor at the Bangladesh Consulate General in Jeddah.
“Her employer demanded the 22,000 riyals that he had spent for ‘buying’ her,” said Aminul, adding that the issue was “settled” at a labour court there.
They took Sumi to a safe home in Jeddah prior to her departure from the country, he said.
Shariful Hasan, programme head of the Brac Migration Programme, said Saudi employers usually impose restrictions on using cell phones by female migrant workers in the name of privacy.
Also, the workers’ passports are also taken away by their employers, he said, adding that the situation did not change despite right defenders’ continuous protest against it.