For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya

Saudi maids ‘harassed’ for talking to BBC

Sri Lankan housemaids say hundreds of them in a transit villa in the Sri Lankan embassy in Saudi Arabia had been harassed by embassy officials after complaining of their plight to the BBC.

Priyantha Shiromalee, one of the former detainees at the Olaya camp told BBC Sandeshaya that the officials took steps to return many of the detainees after their story was published.

“Usually they take about three months to send us back to Sri Lanka but after the report they even sent those who only spent 10-12 days in the camp,” she said.

The housemaids, most of whom have fled their masters in Saudi Arabia as a result of physical and sexual abuse, a worker in Olaya Security camp in the capital Riyadh earlier told BBC Sandeshaya.

Workers are sent to the camp by Sri Lanka embassy officials after keeping them in the transit villa for few days. The housemaids are then kept in the camp until Saudi police conduct investigations and permit them to leave.

‘Forced’ to sign letters

“Some were physically abused, beaten, not given food for a long time. Some were not paid for years and there are pregnant women who have been sexually abused,” the detained worker said.

They made the women to carry rubbish around the building as punishment. Go tell the BBC. The officials told us

Priyantha Shiromalee

The worker accused the Saudi police who guard the premises of taking bribes to hand over some of the women to Saudi ‘Babas’ (masters).

Priyantha Shiromalee, who was sent to Sri Lanka by the authorities after the revelation, added that the housemaids were forced by the authorities to sign letters saying the conditions in the camp were satisfactory.

“I told them not to do that. Some of them wrote letters out of fear but many refused, and were called names and harassed by the authorities.”

The officials in the embassy villa punished us for speaking to the BBC. “They made the women to carry rubbish around the building as punishment. Go tell the BBC. The officials told us,” says Shiromalee.

She said the she plans to lodge a formal complaint with the foreign ministry over the situation on Wednesday.

Sandeshaya made repeated attempts to get a response from the Sri Lanka Embassy in Riyadh and the visiting head of the Foreign Employment Bureau, but no one was available to comment.

September 2010
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