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Saudi donation frees jailed Sri Lanka maids

Generous act is ray of hope in intricate situation

Gulf News

Manama: A Saudi national has offered to pay 22,000 Saudi riyals (Dh21,539) to rescue two Sri Lankan domestic helpers from prison and leave Saudi Arabia.

The two helpers had absconded from the home of their employer, headed to their embassy in the Saudi capital Riyadh and insisted on not returning to work for their employer, local Arabic daily Al Riyadh reported on Wednesday.

The case was eventually taken by the employer to the Riyadh police and the two helpers, who were not identified, were told to honour the contract they had signed when they were hired to work in the kingdom.

The failure to resume work meant for each of the helper paying 11,000 riyals in compensation for travel from Sri Lanka to Saudi Arabia as well as paper work expenses.

With neither of the two helpers able to pay the amount or willing to go back to work for the employer, they were sent to a woman’s prison in the capital.

According to the daily, a Saudi man who heard about the plight of the two helpers volunteered to pay the amount required to have the pair released from prison and allow them to fly home.

The gesture by the Saudi man who was not named was a ray of hope in a social situation that has been often mired in political and rights controversy.

In February, the Sri Lankan government suspended the sending of helpers to work in Saudi Arabia to protest the execution in January of Sri Lankan domestic worker Rizana Nafeek in the Kingdom for reportedly smothering a four-month-old baby in her care following an argument with his mother.

Riyadh rejected claims that the helper was a minor and supported its argument with her passport details.

Those who protested the execution said that the helper was 17 at the time of crime and that the recruitment agency had altered her birth date to allow her to work in the Gulf.

Under the controversial sponsorship system that has prevailed in the Gulf for decades, foreign workers are tied to their employers who have almost complete control over their ability to enter or leave the country or to switch jobs.

Several employers challenge the official rules and confiscate the passports of their workers and employees to prevent any attempts to abscond or leave.

According to reports, around 500,000 Sri Lankans work in Saudi Arabia, mainly as domestic helpers.