by Farah Gomaa
Doha News talks to two housemaids who have been stranded in Doha since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Mishi Tengo is a 29-year-old housemaid who has lived in Doha for more than two years, working for a family who sponsors her. A mother of twins, who recently turned eight years old, Mishi intended to fly back to her home country — Kenya — to reunite with her family when her contract ended four months ago.
However, on March 25, Kenya suspended all incoming and outgoing international passenger flights in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19. Mishi has been stuck in Doha since then.
“The pandemic has changed all my plans and put them on hold and I’m not really sure what the future holds,” says Mishi.
Along with her own children and husband, Mishi also provides financially for her siblings. She says she strives to keep her family “safe and supported” at all times. Since the pandemic started, this has meant at least three phone calls a day to ensure they don’t leave the house and are taking proper precautions against the virus.
“This disease kills me slowly because I constantly think what if the kids catch it and I am not there to protect them,” says Mishi.
Many other domestic workers in Qatar have faced the similar problem of not being able to travel home after their contracts end. This leaves them with no choice but to extend their stay with their employers and hope for some extra work. But in households where families no longer need their maids or can’t afford to keep them, workers have been stranded with no income and nowhere to go. In instances like this, authorities have provided accommodation and food for people at centres where they can stay until they’re able to return their country of origin.
Doha News spoke to one 52-year-old nanny from the Philippines, who prefers to stay anonymous. After losing their jobs, the family she worked for made plans to return to their own home country. However, the nanny was unable to fly home to the Philippines — where inbound flights have also been stopped — putting her at risk of being stranded in Doha with no income if she cannot leave Qatar before the employer’s flight.
“I’m scared because COVID is our enemy, you never know if you’re safe,” she said.
Her employers reached out on social media, asking other expats on a Facebook group for help and advice to get their former employee safely home.
“It is too awful. We are contacting my husband’s company to help us find a solution
[…] she’s desperate to go,” said her employer.
A month after the nanny’s flight tickets got cancelled three times, the Embassy of the Philippines in Qatar, along with other organisations the family reached out to, were finally able to provide her with a flight back home. She safely arrived a few weeks ago and was tested for COVID-19 upon landing.
Nearly all of the manpower companies that recruit housemaids in Doha are presently shut down, having been out of service for the past four months. They are also unable to interfere in the maids’ cases since many automatically go under their employer’s sponsorship three months after their arrival to Doha. That means it becomes the family’s responsibility to provide a living for them and a flight home.
One manpower company, who did not wish to be named, said they believe opportunities will open up for more for nannies to go back to their home countries soon. They also said they believe the process will get smoother since the numbers of COVID-19 cases are decreasing day by day.
Jisu kim has contributed to the reporting of this article.
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