Exploitation of Nepali migrant worker: Madhu's Story

By Madhu*

This is the second in a three-part series which shines light on some of the realities faced by Nepali migrant workers throughout the three stages of the migration process: their recruitment; time in-country; and their return home. You can read the first blog here.

“Madhu” went to Saudi Arabia to work in a beauty parlour, but was instead involuntarily confined to her employer’s house for more than two years. 

Read Amnesty International’s new report here: Turning people into profits: Abusive recruitment, trafficking and forced labour of Nepali migrant workers.

Nepali versions of these blogs are available here.

Being held captive for 2 years

I waved to my husband from the rooftop during the 26 months that I was confined to the house
"Madhu" , migrant worker who went to work in Saudi Arabia

My husband and I were from small villages, we met in Kathmandu and fell in love. We got married, started a family and were happy. We wanted our five children to have a good education, to have possibilities for their futures.

We decided to both go abroad – and managed to both get jobs in Saudi Arabia.

I was told I would be working in a beauty salon – which I was happy about: it is a good job. I ended up, however, working as the housemaid of the owner of the beauty parlour.

The owner was rich, and they had a very big house – it had 9 bathrooms alone. I spent a lot of time cleaning… washing… doing the laundry… cooking. I wasn’t allowed to cook myself any food – all I got to eat was whatever was left after the owner and his family had finished eating. Sometimes, this was not very much and I would feel very hungry.

A factory worker in Malaysia painted the following text onto the wall of his accommodation: “Prisoner of time, Slave of Circumstance”. Amnesty International research found that migrant workers are deceived about the nature of their jobs, their location of work, salaries, working hours, living conditions and the length of contracts. © Amnesty International

There was another maid in the house, a young Indonesian woman. When she got things wrong, the owner would shout at her and sometimes beat her. We each got paid SAR 500 (USD 133) a month, but when the Indonesian woman got into trouble, the owner would withhold her salary. I was constantly terrified this would happen to me, and so I tried to stay very quiet. The family could call me whenever they needed me, at whatever time, and I would have to respond to their demands. Often, I would only sleep for three hours a night. I did not have a single day off during my 26 months there.

I was also not allowed to leave the house, ever. They had taken away my passport when I had arrived and the doors to the house were normally locked.

The owner did let me use the phone, once a week and I would call my husband and my children. For a long time, neither my husband nor I actually knew where I was staying in Saudi Arabia – whether we were even in the same city. When I had arrived at the airport, I had been picked up at night and driven straight to the house. All I had seen of Saudi Arabia were the motorways lit by street-lamps. But the house had a rooftop, and during our phone calls I would go to the rooftop and describe what I saw around me. It took a few weeks, but through this, we managed to find each other. My husband was working as a driver and under the pretence of dropping off his product, he would detour to the house. Once a week, or so, we would wave at each other, me from the rooftop, him from the street. After 14 months, my husband returned to Nepal to take care of the children.

I had never seen my contract, and I did not know how long I was supposed to work for. After two years, I approached the family and asked whether I was allowed to return to Nepal. They were unwilling to let me go, but after two months, they agreed, and I finally flew home.

Find out more

Read Amnesty International’s new report here: Turning people into profits: Abusive recruitment, trafficking and forced labour of Nepali migrant workers.