Saudi Arabia's 'kafala' system wrongfully detains 41 Sri Lankans

Rebecca Pavey | Published: 12:42 PM Apr 16 2021
Local Saudi Arabia's 'kafala' system wrongfully detains 41 Sri Lankans

At least 41 Sri Lankan female migrant domestic workers have been arbitrarily detained at the Exit 18 Deportation Detention (Tarheel) Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia awaiting repatriation, Amnesty International (AI) revealed yesterday (15).

In a statement issued by AI, it was revealed that the women have been detained for periods ranging from eight to 18 months. 

"At least three women have young children detained with them, and at least one woman is known to be in urgent need of medical care which she is not receiving.", they said.

While the authorities have not disclosed the legal basis for the women’s detention, their plight is a stark illustration of how domestic workers remain caught up in the inherently abusive kafala system in place in Saudi Arabia.

Prison officials, as well as the Sri Lankan embassy officials in Riyadh, have repeatedly promised the women that they will be repatriated imminently, however they are still in detention as of April 2021.

"The Sri Lankan government has an obligation to protect the human rights of all of its migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and to work in a timely manner to ensure that these detained workers are released and safely returned to Sri Lanka. Migrant workers are one of the major contributors to the Sri Lankan economy, and the government must not turn its back when it’s most needed.", the statement explained.

Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at AI Lynn Maalouf further stated that recent labour reforms in Saudi Arabia excluded domestic workers, meaning that they still cannot leave the country without the permission of their employers, thus increasing their vulnerability to abuses of their rights, including forced labour and physical and sexual assault. 

It is to be noted, however, that migrant domestic workers make up for 30% of the country's 10 million migrant workers. 

Rebecca Pavey | Published: 12:42 PM Apr 16 2021

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