‘The nationals of several African communities without embassies in Kuwait, including Cameroon, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Guinea, Gabon, Congo and many more, working as maids in various houses face problems with their sponsors or domestic recruitment offices, and resort to the Embassy of Central African Republic to lodge complaints and seek help”, said Legal and Foreign Affairs Attaché of the Embassy of Central African Republic in Kuwait Mohammed Saleh Khalil, as he discussed with the Arab Times the level of assistance he provides to African domestic workers that encounter problems in Kuwait, in addition to the challenges he himself faces in dealing with sponsors and runaway maids.
Question: Can you tell us your main job at the embassy?
Answer: I am the diplomatic attaché of foreign and legal affairs and protocols
Q: When was your embassy established in Kuwait and how long have you been working there?
A: The embassy has been in operation since Dec 14, 2010 based on a memorandum of understanding between the Central African Republic and the State of Kuwait, and my appointment began on June 13, 2013. It’s been more or less two and half years in Kuwait.
Q: How many Central Africans are currently living in Kuwait?
A: This is an important question, but sorry to say we have only one Central African national working as a company representative (Mandoub) for a hotel here, in addition to myself and few other Central African embassy staff.
Q: Why aren’t your nationals interested in securing jobs in this country?
A: In fact, Central Africans are not interested in traveling to Kuwait, because they feel they cannot obtain sustainable and appropriate jobs here. Nevertheless, I am working hard to bring some of them to study in Kuwait University on scholarship.
Q: In your opinion, could it be that your nationals are not interested in seeking jobs in Kuwait because they lack necessary skill to work here?
A: No, I don’t think so. Central Africans have the requisite skill needed to work in this country, but the embassy is to blame for not introducing appropriate procedures to facilitate their coming. My country, like all other African countries, needs sustainable jobs for their skilled and unskilled personnel.
Few months ago, I was approached by some manpower recruitment agencies in Kuwait to hire domestic workers such as drivers, baby-sitters and cleaners from my country, and I agreed on condition that the rights of the workers will be preserved. I requested the manpower agencies to pay the workers three months salary in advance and provide an open-ended airline ticket at the end of their service. Ironically, the recruiters vanished and never showed up because of the conditions I set for them.
Q: How do you describe the relationship between Kuwaiti government and your country?
A: The relationship between my country and the State of Kuwait is responsive and excellent, as both countries have signed agreements to foster good relationships and economic development. Prior agreements had led to the opening of Central African Embassy in Kuwait. The two countries have since worked together to promote socio-economic development, and Kuwaiti government continues to provide immense economic and humanitarian assistance to my country.
Q: There are African countries that have no embassies in Kuwait. How do you extend immediate help to their nationals?
A: Actually, there are lots of African communities from Cameroon, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Guinea, Gabon, Congo and others without embassies here in Kuwait, and those working as housemaids in particular face problems with their sponsors or recruitment offices, and resort to my embassy to lodge complaints against their sponsors and seek help.
First of all, I receive runaway housemaids on humanitarian basis. Secondly, I feel I have an obligation to the 56-member African Union and should represent Africa as one nation and one continent, and not as divided or separate countries. My embassy will do all it can to help both parties (sponsors and housemaids) to solve their problems in an amicable manner.
Most cases I receive involve Cameroonian domestic workers, so I contacted the Embassy of Cameroon in Saudi Arabia to notify the officials about the predicament of many Cameroonian housemaids in Kuwait. The embassy sent its officials to Kuwait right away and I guided them to a few Cameroonians to learn about the problems they are facing here. Eventually, I was officially mandated by the embassy to represent them in Kuwait.
Fortunately, we are introduced to the Domestic Shelter which has been established by the Kuwaiti government to host runaway housemaids, and the director of the shelter is very cooperative. There is an agreement to transfer any runaway housemaid I receive to the shelter, while we continue to work together to solve their problems.
Q: What kind of challenges do you face in this work?
A: I face many challenges from all parties involved, including the sponsors, housemaids and recruitments offices. For example, some offices neither cooperate nor deal with us in a friendly manner. The offices refuse to accept any housemaid whose sponsor returns her due to one reason or the other, and kick them out when they ask for release. In most cases, the offices lie about the sponsor keeping the passports of the housemaid, and whenever we contact the sponsor, he/she will deny it. Therefore, retrieving the maid’s passport from the sponsor is a major challenge I face in this job. There are times when I refer the issue to the government shelter or CID if I am unable to collect the passport. The government authorities sometimes succeed in retrieving the passports but fail now and then, even though the law prohibits sponsors from keeping the passports of their housemaids.
Failure to retrieve passports from sponsors or recruitment offices puts the housemaids who have no representation in Kuwait into countless troubles, because it takes time, efforts and funds to process Travelers Certificates (TC) for them to leave the country.
The second challenge we face is with the housemaids detained in the police stations. Sometimes, their sponsors would take them directly from the police station to extradite them without paying their salaries or allowing them to take their luggage. I urge sponsors to desist from depriving their housemaids of salaries and luggage, even if they feel cheated by paying huge sums to the recruitment offices or agents, because the housemaids are also victims to agents in their countries who collect lots of money from them promising better jobs rather than housework. Furthermore, there should be an awareness campaign or counseling sessions for both sponsors and housemaids.
As for domestic workers, their countries need to educate and train them about the work and the culture before they set their foot here. Some housemaids are told they are coming to do housework, but eventually, they find it difficult to continue because they have no background knowledge about the work and the culture of the people.
Also, the sponsors need to be educated about the culture of their housemaids and abide by laws of domestic workers which stipulate salary, annual leave and other privileges for housemaids, and prohibits the subjection of housemaids to excessive work.
The Kuwaiti government, represented by its Labor Department or Domestic Workers Department must evaluate any sponsor hiring a housemaid, as some of them do not qualify financially and ethically to hire domestic workers. The government is urged to conduct background check to ascertain whether or not the sponsor is financially and mentally sound to take care of the housemaid.
Some sponsors would try to pay the recruitment offices just to hire housemaids, and decline to pay the housemaids monthly due to poor financial status and lack of principles. Some of them even suppose they bought the housemaid instead of hiring her, and continue to treat her like a slave. I believe many problems will be solved from both angles if the Kuwaiti government and the countries agree to establish counseling or awareness facilities for sponsors and their housemaids.
Q: What kind of problems do domestic workers face in their sponsors house and how do you deal with such issues?
A: The housemaids usually suffer in the hands of their sponsors wives who overburden them with work, day and night, non-stop. In a few cases, the maids have issues with the men that usually try to rape or take advantage of them when their wives are not in the house.
Non-payment of salary is another serious issue the housemaids face. For instance, the wife or children would come and borrow the money after the housemaid is paid and she signs for it. Later on, the sponsor will provide a paper with signature showing the housemaid has already received the salary if she complains about non-payment. However, the sponsor declines in fear of calamity when asked to swear to the Quran or Bible. We have also had cases where housemaids are burnt with hot water or hit with iron bar or stick or detained and starved, and many other forms of torture.
Q: How do you deal with such incidents or cases?
A: First of all, if a sponsor admits his offense, we ask him to compensate the victim and buy her a ticket to go back to her home country. However, if the sponsor lies or denies the offense, we refer him to Government’s Domestic Shelter for amicable solution, and if necessary, refer him to CID for interrogation.
We encounter yet another challenge when a sponsor files an absconding report against a runaway housemaid. In such cases, the housemaid in question will not only be arrested, but deported and barred from entering any GCC country to work. I recommend the police stations to exercise caution and not be in a haste to register complaints related to absconding housemaids without first verifying, as the housemaid may have sought refuge with the government shelter or the embassy.
Mohammed Saleh Khalil is a Central African national born in 1982 and currently serving as Legal and Foreign Affairs Attaché to the Embassy of the Central African Republic in Kuwait. He is also the Head of Protocols and in charge of Public Relations at the Embassy. He holds bachelor’s degree in Law and Sharia from the Faculty of Sharia of African International University in Sudan. He also holds a certificate in Foreign Relations.
Khalil served as an executive member of Human Rights for Central African League from 2006 and 2010 and as Chairman of Internal and Awareness Relations for Central African Muslim Union between 2003 and 2005. He speaks fluent French, English and Arabic.
By Abubakar A. Ibrahim
Arab Times Staff