A BLANKET ban on bringing Indonesian housemaids to Bahrain could backfire by preventing those already here from leaving, activists have warned.
Authorities in Jakarta first imposed the ban on a temporary basis in February, but this was made permanent last week when Indonesia banned its citizens from working as domestic helpers in 21 countries including Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE. The move, which will take three months to come into effect, followed allegations of abuse and unfair treatment in the countries concerned and the beheading of a housemaid in Saudi Arabia in 2011, after she was convicted of stabbing her employer to death.
However, activists are concerned that the ban might only serve to drive the trade in Indonesian housemaids underground, as they remain popular in the region because they can often speak Arabic and are familiar with Islamic religious practices.
‘We hope it doesn’t go underground as we will have more undocumented maids in the country, which can be a problem,’ said Migrant Workers Protection Society chairwoman Marietta Dias.
‘What can happen is that they will come through other countries with a visit visa.’
Although no new applications for Indonesian housemaids are being accepted, the embassy in Juffair has confirmed that it will issue clearance documents for workers already in Bahrain to leave the country on holiday “for example” and return to their employers afterwards.
Despite this, Ms Dias is concerned that reluctant sponsors will not want to let their maids go on vacation for fear that they will be unable to return. ‘It is a possibility that they will not be permitted by their sponsors to go home on vacation,’ said Ms Dias. ‘We hope that sponsors don’t delay their departures.
‘But it can go the other way which is that the maids will not want to return home as they need to provide for their families and will not want to risk not being able to come back.’
An embassy spokesman told the GDN that families who want to send their maids on vacation ‘should immediately contact the embassy and fix an appointment’.
‘As part of our assessment, diplomats will speak to the housemaid and check if she is receiving her salary on time and if she is happy with the job,’ he said.
‘If they are satisfied a clearance document will be issued.’
This process will also help the embassy to build up a database of families who are currently employing Indonesian maids in Bahrain.
‘There is a transition period during which manpower agents and others who had applied to recruit new maids will be allowed to bring these workers to Bahrain and after that it is not possible,’ said the embassy spokesman. ‘Anyone trying to bring or recruit a housemaid after the three-month grace period will be considered as violating the trafficking laws in Indonesia and Bahrain, and could face jail.’
The spokesman said the new rules had been communicated to the Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) and Bahrain’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The GDN reported yesterday that Indonesian Ambassador Chilman Arisman had met LMRA chief executive Ausamah Al Absi to discuss the plight of his country’s expatriate community in Bahrain. Indonesia has the third highest number of housemaids in Bahrain, topping 13,644.