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Catholic groups warn people about unscrupulous employment agencies who prey on the poor, promising good jobs abroad but not delivering. Some people have sold their homes to pay agents," says Father Roy.Even when agents are honest and employers are kind, it can cause trouble for a Sri Lankan family when the wife goes away for a year.
Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS Raising awareness among vulnerable populations is key."I was ironing and one of the little girl's dresses got burned," says Daya*, a Sri Lankan woman working as a live-in maid for a wealthy family in Kuwait.Daya knew "Madam"--the wife of the house and her employer--would be furious.Some wives become jealous and beat the maid; other wives may encourage their maids to "agree" to husbands' demands so the wives do not have to.Chandrangani, a Sri Lankan maid who was beaten so badly that she returned to her homeland in a wheelchair, remembers maids she saw at her embassy in Kuwait."She would inspect the house, and if she was not happy, she would beat me," Daya remembers.
'The Four Walls Were Like a Prison' Daya's story is not an isolated case.
She washed and cooked; she cleaned clothes and floors; she looked after the kids while Madam went to her computer job. So far, nothing was that different from what many maids like her experience in the Middle East.
But when Madam starting locking the cupboards and refrigerator, Daya worried. They were throwing away food and I was hungry," she says.
"Some were pregnant--some from the employer, some from the family's driver." Protecting Domestic Workers Catholic Relief Services' partner Caritas is fighting to keep maids safe from abuse.
Reaching out to some of the 200,000 Sri Lankans who go abroad to work every year, Caritas Sri Lanka and local Catholic groups make sure people know the risks of migration.
On the phone with them, Indrani's Madam would say she had a Filipino maid, not a Sri Lankan.