You are here: Home / Updates / UK: Domestic workers abused in London -"She took the iron and pressed it on my hand"

UK: Domestic workers abused in London -"She took the iron and pressed it on my hand"

by IDWFED published Jan 11, 2016 12:00 AM
Contributors: Harriet Grant/The Guardian
Filipino workers suffer shocking abuse at the hands of wealthy Gulf employers staying in London, but fear of being deported prevents them reporting it.



Read the original article in full: Domestic workers abused in the UK: 'She took the iron and pressed it on my hand' | The Guardian


Marie* has been waiting to tell her story, tears rolling down her face. She is 24, and left home when she was only 17, lying about her age to get work in Qatar.

Marie says she also signed visa papers without knowing what they were, in Qatar. “I didn’t want to come here at all. I went to the British embassy and they asked me my age. I told them and they said, ‘Sign this.’ I was with the driver of my employer so he spoke to the staff. I had to sign without reading it.”

She pulls up her sleeve to show a burn mark. “I worked for an elderly woman. She calls me crazy, tells me I am a dog and a whore. One day she wanted me to iron clothes but, when I said I was waiting for the iron to heat up, she took it and pressed it on my hand.”

She eventually ran away because the abuse became so severe she feared for her life. But she is terrified of the police and isn’t yet ready to approach the authorities. She has been sleeping on friends’ floors for several months, relying on handouts to survive. This is her first visit to the Filipino church.

The president of the Filipino Domestic Workers’ Association, Phoebe Dimacali, uses the church service as a gathering point, hoping that women who are being abused will find their way to her through community networks.

“Filipinos look out for the church. There has been a service here for 10 years, so often they find us here.”

Since a law change denied these women the right to work if they leave their employer, Dimicali has stopped the rescue operations she used to carry out in Hyde Park, where she would slip messages to Filipino women as they looked after their employers’ children.

“Before the tied visa was implemented we used to go and talk to the other nannies in Hyde Park and persuade them to run away. Now, we don’t.

“If someone is really desperate and comes to us, we have to explain what will happen to them [if they flee from their employer]. We have to say that it will be very difficult, they will find it hard to get medical treatment, to use the NHS, it [will be] hard to find somewhere to stay because the landlord will want to see their papers. If they want to get help as a victim of trafficking then we can help them with that, but the system is complex. We don’t know how the Home Office make their decisions.”

Marie is one of nearly 17,000 people, mainly women, who come to Britain on an overseas domestic worker visa each year to work for foreign visitors to the UK. Two-thirds of these visa applications are made in Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where human rights abuses against domestic workers have become deeply entrenched under the kafala system.

Until 2012, overseas domestic workers had the right to change jobs and extend their work visa in the UK, but that changed when the coalition government introduced a visa tying them to their employer. A series of reports and parliamentary committees has criticised this “tied visa”, warning that it traps vulnerable women in abusive situations.

The Home Office argues that any victim of trafficking can enter the National Referral Mechanism, the official process for identifying and supporting victims of trafficking. But the women at the church fear this will only lead to them being deported back to the Philippines. The standard recovery time for people who are identified as trafficking victims in the UK is 45 days, although domestic workers can be given six months.

Source: Harriet Grant/The Guardian

Story Type: Story

blog comments powered by Disqus