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Bangladesh calls for worker return after sex abuse claim

DHAKA: Bangladesh called yesterday for a migrant worker to be repatriated from Saudi Arabia after her tearful video alleging sexual abuse highlighted the exploitation faced by poor Asians working abroad. Since 1991, some 300,000 Bangladeshi women have travelled to the Gulf nation to work, according to the ministry of expatriates’ welfare. Those workers account for the largest amount of wages sent home to Bangladesh.

In a Facebook video which was shared thousands of times and prompted protests in Dhaka against worker conditions, Sumi Akter alleged “merciless sexual assaults” by her Saudi employers. “I perhaps won’t live longer. Please save me. They locked me up for 15 days and barely gave me any food. They burned my hands with hot oil,” the 25-year-old Akter said.

The government in Dhaka yesterday called on the state-run manpower exporting agency to bring Akter back home “as soon as possible”. Her husband Sirajul Islam told AFP he had been “trying to get her back but couldn’t”. Government spokesman Atiqur Rahman said Dhaka would crack down on rogue recruitment firms amid allegations that they abused female workers and sold them to other brokers.

But Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen said Thursday his government would not ban women from going to Saudi Arabia for work. “Saudi Arabia admitted some people are being victimized. But that is happening for a few handfuls of people. The Saudi government isn’t making them victims,” he told reporters.

Akter’s video comes after the body of migrant worker Nazma Begum was repatriated in late October. The 42-year-old Begum called her son Rajib Hossain repeatedly before her death, asking to be rescued and alleging torture, he told AFP, adding that she died of an untreated illness. Both women said they were promised hospital janitor jobs but were tricked into being household maids.

Millions of Asians travel to the Gulf to work, according to Bangladesh’s government, and human rights groups say many suffer exploitation and abuses with no channels for redress. Bangladeshi migrant rights group Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program said last month that 61 percent of 110 women they interviewed who returned home, many from Saudi Arabia, claimed they were physically abused. Some 14 percent said they were sexually abused, the group added. Dhaka-based BRAC, one of the world’s largest charities, said this year alone, the bodies of 48 female workers were brought back from Saudi Arabia. – AFP

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