To work in the Middle East, migrant domestic workers need a sponsor. They cannot do anything without the the system of sponsorship known as kafala

By Christina Okello (RFI) |

A video of an Ethiopian maid being filmed falling several stories by her employer in Kuwait while the latter stands and watches, has reignited debate about the working conditions of migrant workers, not least African, in the Middle East. Kuwaiti police have arrested the maid’s employer for failing to help her, but this hasn’t stemmed criticism.

The video of the woman dangling from the balcony of her employer’s flat went viral last week.

In it, the maid can be heard screaming “hold me, hold me”, just before her hand slips and she falls several floors.

The employer made no reaction as she continued filming.

Shocking as it may sound, Aida Awel, the Country Director for the International Labor Organization (ILO) for Ethiopia and Somalia, says this sort of practice is not new.

“This happens a lot in Gulf countries. There are a lot of migrants who basically lose their lives whether it’s through falling off a building or other means, which is not usually the natural cause of death,” she told RFI by phone on Monday.

Initially reported as having attempted to commit suicide, the Ethiopian maid said in another video released on Sunday she’d been trying to escape her Kuwaiti employer, because the latter was trying to kill her.

Migrant domestic workers, many of whom come from Ethiopia, are incredibly vulnerable to their employers partly because of a system of sponsorship known as kafala.

One death per week

“To work in the Middle East, migrant domestic workers need a sponsor,” explains Awel. “They can’t do anything without the kafala. So they end up becoming his or her property. If you look at the case of Lebanon, there’s been one death per week of migrants of all nationalities. So this unfortunately has become a common practice.”

One of the main challenges for these low-skilled workers is lack of awareness, they don’t always go prepared says Pedro De Vasconcelos, a senior technical specialist at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

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