Hundreds of thousands of migrant women work as maids in the Middle East. They are bound to their employer under a system known as Kafala. Often trapped and abused - this is their story.

[NOTE: Due to copyrights, the full film is no longer available to view online.]

It is nighttime in Nairobi on May 28th 2016, as flight MS849 arrives in Kenya. On board is a woman returning home from her job as a maid in Jordan. 35 year old Mary Kibwana, a mother of four, is in a wheelchair. 70 percent of her body has been burned. An ambulance picks her up and rushes her to Kenyatta National Hospital where her relatives gather, not knowing if she will survive.

Mary Kibwana upon her arrival in Kenya
Mary Kibwana upon her arrival in Kenya ()

They hear her recall a shocking series of events that unfolded in Jordan. What Mary experienced turns out to be beyond comprehension. Every year, thousands of women from  developing countries in Africa and Asia return from the Middle East with similar horrifying accounts: About finding what seems to be the job of a lifetime but then ending up trapped in modern slavery-like situations, about not getting paid for their hard work, and about severe beatings and sexual assault being normal occurrences.

These women have become trapped in the Kafala System- a set of laws governing migrant labour in the Middle East that binds labourers to their employers. Employers confiscate the passports of these workers and forbid them from leaving on their terms. If they try to escape due to ill treatment or abuse, they risk harsh punishment or even imprisonment. Woven into this system is a network of unscrupulous employment agents who intentionally put hundreds of thousands of women at risk of physical assault, harassment and extreme exploitation in return for personal gain.

Agent Maher Doumit –center- with newly arrived women from Ghana
Agent Maher Doumit –center- with newly arrived women from Ghana ()

The perpetrators of the abuse rarely, if ever, see the inside of a courtroom. They often hail from rich and powerful families in the Middle East, while their victims are usually poor and illiterate. It is an uneven battle, where most victims simply give up and try to forget the trauma they experienced. Not in the case of Mary Kibwana: The images of her burned body caused a national outcry in Kenya. Two weeks later, her brother-in-law got on a plane to Jordan and rallied activists and politicians to seek justice. This was one of the first cases that reveals the truth about an employment system that covers a lot of torture and humiliation.

Giving unprecedented access to one of the most frightening and brutal forms of forced labour in the modern world, “Maid in Hell” exposes the secretive inner workings of the Kafala System. By following employment agents who vividly describe the trade, as well as maids who struggle to find a way home after both traumatic and degrading experiences, we come to understand the horrific reality faced by thousands of women each day.

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Source: TRT World