Expressing discontent about “the rising phenomenon” of domestic workers who abscond from their sponsors during holiday trips abroad, some Qatar residents have urged their peers to avoid traveling with house help, Al Raya reports.
In an article published last week, the Arabic daily quoted a number of Qataris who discussed the growing problem of “runaway help” during the summer holiday season.
According to Al Raya, this is what usually happens: The sponsoring family typically issues visas for one or more of their female domestic helpers to go with them on vacation, usually to take care of children.
Once abroad, the help “escapes” – sometimes with the aid of a relative who already lives in that foreign country, or with someone, typically a man, she newly meets there.
The domestic worker may then reach out to her embassy and claim that she has been mistreated or abused, which can put Qatari citizens abroad in legal trouble.
Speaking to Al Raya, one resident said that he believed domestic workers used “the opportunity to travel to London or Paris to escape, looking for more freedom and a better paying job.”
Another person quoted in the piece said that “for an Asian maid who works in Qatar or any other GCC for eight hours a day and no more than QR1500,” escaping in London can mean finding a job that generates a higher income.
He added that the women may also find London attractive because “different nationalities and cultures coexist in the British society.”
While Qatar government officials have previously confirmed that the number of absconding domestic workers rises during Ramadan due to the increased workload, the summer holiday trend has been harder to support.
Human rights advocates who spoke to Doha News said that they were not aware of an uptick in domestic helpers leaving their sponsors during the summer.
Aakash Jayaprakash, who has worked on migration and human rights issues in Qatar for eight years, also expressed skepticism.
Though he acknowledged that he heard of such cases, Jayaprakash said he found it difficult to “speculate how frequent or commonly this occurs without any sound data or evidence.”
He added that context is important in this regard:
“If there has been a dramatic rise in the numbers of domestic workers in the country over the past five years, then it is only natural to see a correlating number of them seeking to leave their sponsors.”
Amnesty International researcher James Lynch said he also could not confirm any such trend. Instead, he expressed concerns about the language used by media in Qatar when reporting on workers.
Speaking to Doha News, he said:
“The very fact that women who leave employment relationships, whether in Europe or the Gulf, are described as “escaping” or “absconding” – language usually reserved for convicted criminals – is deeply troubling. People in other, less marginalized, professions are generally able to leave their employers without being stigmatized in this way.”
For families concerned about losing their domestic help, the men all suggested taking steps to firstly improve employee wages and work conditions. Lynch said:
“If employers of domestic workers want to ensure that they retain the services of their employees, by far their best option is to pay them a decent wage – on time – and to respect their labor rights, including by not expecting them to work excessive hours, seven days a week.”
Jayaprakash also suggested that contracts between sponsors and their domestic helpers be improved, so that the employees can take annual vacations, perhaps going back to their home countries while the sponsor and his family are away on vacation.
He concluded that the best solution for everyone is if “relationships between the employer and employee were based on trust, rather than fear and suspicion.”