Two years of drudgery; The experience of a labour migrant

BY: Rosemary N.K. Ardayfio
Barikisu Yusif
Barikisu Yusif

She was the occupant of seat Number 46E, next to mine, on flight number EK787 from Dubai to Accra. Throughout the eight-hour-and-five-minute flight, she did not speak to anyone, not even those immediately around her. She neither ate any food nor took in any drink, politely signalling her refusal to the crew anytime an offer was made.

When the pilot announced that the flight had started its descent, she raised her two hands slightly up and with tears in her eyes murmured a few words. She then picked up her immigration form, which had been distributed to the passengers before the flight took off, and asked me to help her fill in her details. 

So we started.  “What is your name,” I asked. 

“Barikisu Yusif,” she responded,

As we went on, I realised she could not provide a lot of the information needed.

“How did you fill this form before leaving Ghana? I asked again.

“The one who made the arrangements for us to come to Saudi Arabia filled it for us,” she answered.

Then she explained that she was recruited, together with five other young women and two men, by an agency and that they had been working in Saudi Arabia for the last two years.

She and the other young women were contracted as domestic workers and the men as drivers for a two-year period.

Shattered dream

Barikisu recounted that when the opportunity came  to travel, she was excited. She imagine a life of luxury; an end to poverty.

The reality dawned on her when she arrived in Dubai. Per the contract, the families they had been assigned to were to pick them up from the airport. “Mine did not show up for three days, so I stayed at the airport all that while.”

Her job involved cooking and cleaning for long hours. For all that, she earned an equivalent of GH¢700 a month.

 “My mistress was very heavy-handed with me. She became upset whenever I had no job to do. She would ask me to polish some metals that were in the house. This job took long hours to complete and I always ended up very tired. As far as she was concerned, she was paying for my services so I should always be working,” Barikisu said.

“Worse of all, I had to live on a foreign diet that was too difficult to adjust to,” she added.

No phone calls

Furthermore, she was denied the use of a phone so was unable to communicate with anyone. The only time she was allowed to go outside was when she had errands to run.

“I even had to change my way of dressing. I was forced to start putting on long gowns which covered every part of my body. I also covered the whole of my face except my eyes, Nobody saw my face except my mistress and her husband.”

”Today is the happiest day in my life. I am happy that I am going home, but I am also scared. I have not been in touch with my family for two years so I do not know if my parents are still alive. I am particularly worried about my mother and thinking about it brings tears to my eyes,” she stated mournfully.

Soon after, her face lights up. “But if I get home and she is alive and well, my first request will be for her to prepare me banku and okra soup. That’s my favourite food and I have not eaten it for two years.”

Drudgery

At this point in the conversion, we were off the plane and heading for the Arrival Hall. Another young lady joined us and started a conversation with Barikisu.

Were you also contracted to work in Saudi Arabia? I asked her.

“Work! Did you say work?” she blurted. “This was two years of drudgery. All you did was to serve others. Even when you cook for them, you only eat the leftovers because you are not allowed to eat any of the food until they have had their fill.”

“They treat you so unhumanly. As for me, my mistress tried to persuade me to stay on after my two-year contract, promising to increase my wages to the tune of GH¢1,200, but I refused. All I wanted was to come back home.”

She explained that she had completed JHS so she intends to use the money she has accumulate to further her education.

New recruits

“Even as we are returning home, others have been recruited and are preparing to leave for Saudi Arabia. Just like us, they think their lives will be better. It is a tough life. It is slavery. The recruiting agencies must be truthful and let people know that,” said Barikisu 

Labour migration

 The Assistant Director of Immigration at the Ghana Immigration service (GIS), Dr Prosper P. D. Asima,  also expressed concern about the ongoing unregulated recruitment for labour purposes in Saudi Arabia.

Labour migration, he says, is a good way to create jobs as some countries need labour which can be provided by people from other countries who need jobs. 

“But it should be a win-win situation for the receiving country, the sending country and the migrant too,” he added. 

This implies that it should be a partnership between governments so that it can be properly regulated to ensure that the migrants are treated well.

Regulation, he expanded, would include registration of the migrants by their missions in the receiving countries, which will then pursue their interests and ensure they are well treated.

Dr Asima noted that countries such as The Philippines and Mexico were engaged in labour migration without problems, and Ghana could learn from them.

According to him, the national migration policy proposes the setting up of a National Commission on Migration which will, among other things, be responsible for the bilateral and multilateral agreements to ensure labour migrants are not maltreated.

The commission, he indicated, would be set up as soon as implementation of the policy, which has already been approved by government, starts.

Dr Asima emphasised that multisectoral action, involving the Ghana Immigration Service, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Labour Ministry and other stakeholders, is needed to properly regulate labour migration.