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Uganda: HTS-UNION Ugandan Migrant Domestic Workers Suffer through COVID-19 in the Middle East

by IDWFED published May 06, 2020 04:26 PM


Uganda -

The Uganda Hotels, Food, Tourism, Supermarkets and Allied Workers Union, HTS-Union, has members working in countries of the Middle East. They shared with us several stories of migrant domestic workers who reached out to them for help.

A worker, in Saudi Arabia, contacted the union via WhatsApp, in a trembling voice, to report the atrocities she is facing during COVID-19. Horrified, she said that she was called to the sitting room where the entire family of the employer was gathered. They told her, that from that day on, she was no longer entitled to any meals or rest-time. She must work until midnight or more, as she will be ordered. The family warned her that she had no choice but to comply with their orders since Uganda closed its boarders due to COVID-19 and will not receive the citizens back. On the 11th April, she reached out to HTS-Union again, saying that her mobile phone was disconnected from Wi-Fi and she is using her personal airtime to communicate. By then, she spent 4 days without a meal; she was only allowed to drink tea and eat bread, because the employers forbade her from accessing the kitchen, touching the utensil, and having food, by saying she might contaminate them with COVID-19. Her contract ends in June 2020, and as she might not be able to return to her country, she said she will kill herself, asking the union to pass on her regrets to her family back home and her twins. She wants to take her own life because she does not want to give her employers the satisfaction of killing her. To keep in touch with the worker, the union loaded airtime on her Ugandan mobile number, to enable them to access her as she was disconnected off Wi-Fi.

The situation is also horrifying for some workers in the United Arab Emirates. A migrant domestic worker based there reported that her employers returned her to the recruitment claiming that she would contaminate them with COVID-19. “The situation here is awfully bad. I have no space to sleep, not enough food, and I am very worried that I may catch the virus here,” she reported. In the recruitment agency, she shares the space with other domestic workers who have been returned, like her; their medical situation is unclear. “So, if you don’t hear from me soon, I may have caught the disease,” she continued. The union is not able to maintain constant contact with the worker, as her phone is confiscated, and the access point to contact her is through the agent.

In the United Arab Emirates, as well, another migrant domestic worker is facing discrimination. “Whenever I go to the kitchen to get food, everyone leaves out of fear that I will contaminate them.” The worker, however, does not reciprocate the fear because she has been misinformed: “The whole family is wearing face masks, but I don’t have one, she said. COVID-19 is a disease for white people and not Africans so I will not catch it.” The union staff explained that it is not how the virus works and gave the worker information on how to protect herself. The worker asked her employer to send her March salary to her family, the employer refused because Dubai is under lockdown: “I cried and could not sleep because my family depends on me alone, so I don’t know what to do,” she continued.

These are only few samples of what domestic workers, locked out of their countries, are experiencing under COVID-19.