The kafala system, which exists in different forms in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon, legally binds migrant domestic workers to their employers. Described as "modern-day slavery" by rights groups, the system denies workers basic rights and, even worse, subjects many of them to abuse and torture.
Recently, one such case of abuse prompted the Dubai Court of First Instance to put two people on trial. The individuals were accused of "causing the death of a maid who was locked up in an apartment," according to Gulf News.
The victim, whose age and nationality have not been made public, was reportedly locked up in an apartment in a building situated in Al Muraqqabat area, a residential area in Eastern Dubai. She ultimately jumped from the third floor, which resulted in deadly injuries to her head.
A medical report explained that the victim died from severe head injuries and internal bleeding. Dubai Public Prosecution has charged two individuals with their involvement in the abuse of the migrant domestic worker. These include a 64-year-old Syrian man and a 40-year-old Egyptian woman.
Both defendants denied the charges being held against them. The Syrian defendant claimed the victim had been working for his company at the time of the incident. He also claimed the victim was supposedly working for another employer and that he had no idea she had been working for them again.
"I wasn't at the office at the time of the incident," he said, according to Gulf News.
During the investigation, an employee at the company told prosecutors that the female defendant was the one who locked the door with the maid inside.
The trial is set to take place next month.
Conditions for migrant domestic workers in Arab countries
The kafala system has long been criticized by human rights organizations. Under it, domestic workers are often treated like slaves, denied their most basic rights (such as the ability to travel or change jobs), and subjected to abuse and racism. Some workers are even "sold" online.
Employers in the Arab world often confiscate workers' passports, although this is technically illegal in most countries. Workers are also routinely forced to work extremely long hours with little, if any, days off. On top of it all, the workers have few legal protections. Suicide rates among migrant domestic workers in various Arab countries are alarming. And still, workers are subject to inhumane working conditions and no one is doing anything about that.