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Sometime in early 2022, 20-year-old Lalrinzuali (name changed) stumbled upon an advertisement offering housemaid jobs in Dubai. Living in Mizoram’s capital city Aizawl, Lalrinzuali saw it as a “golden opportunity”.A beacon of hope for the jobless, the offer required no lofty educational qualifications, making Lalrinzuali, who had not passed high school, eligible to apply.Months later,...

Sometime in early 2022, 20-year-old Lalrinzuali (name changed) stumbled upon an advertisement offering housemaid jobs in Dubai. Living in Mizoram’s capital city Aizawl, Lalrinzuali saw it as a “golden opportunity”.

A beacon of hope for the jobless, the offer required no lofty educational qualifications, making Lalrinzuali, who had not passed high school, eligible to apply.

Months later, the young woman from Aizawl found herself in Dubai, a city both enchanting and alien. Unfamiliar with ways, language, and the journey in store, Lalrinzuali submitted her credentials, including her passport, to the recruitment agents, only to find herself in the limbo of statelessness.

Once in Dubai, all her hopes for a well-paid job began to crumble. Contrary to what had been promised, Lalrinzuali encountered constant abuse from her elderly employer. “I endured relentless beatings. When I raised my voice, I was reminded that I had ‘been sold’ and was left with no options or papers. The truth is, I was treated as a slave,” Lalrinzuali recounted during an interview on YouTube with her Dubai saviour.

Driven by the sheer desperation of her circumstances, Lalrinzuali made a daring escape from her oppressor’s clutches. Despite having nowhere to turn to, she pressed forward. “Escape became my sole choice. Living with my ‘employer’ was akin to living through hell. My plan was to reach out to Mizo families in Dubai for help,” she shared.

“It was a Saturday morning when my employer retired to her room for a nap. I seized the chance and slipped out through the main gate and headed to the Indian Embassy,” she recounted.

Unfortunately, luck was not on Lalrinzuali’s side that day as the Indian Embassy in Dubai remained closed on both Saturdays and Sundays. Consequently, she endured a gruelling weekend outside the embassy without food. Scared that her employers will get to her, she waited for the embassy to open on Monday. When Monday finally dawned, she entered the embassy, only to be met with the devastating news that her visa had already expired, leaving her in a dire predicament.

Help arrived in an unexpected form—an ‘angel’ in the guise of a Mizo woman who reached out to Lalrinzuali.

“Desperately, I left the embassy with nowhere to turn to. Returning to my agent was not an option. It was precisely at that moment when this kind-hearted Mizo couple came to my rescue. They had heard about my plight from someone else,” she recalled.

Lalrinzuali’s story mirrors that of countless Mizo girls facing mistreatment and sometimes, physical abuse, in the UAE.

Zela Ralte, a Mizo petroleum geologist based in Dubai, has found himself approached by numerous Mizo girls seeking aid.

“For the past three years, I’ve been grappling with this issue. The volume of distress calls has surged recently, casting a deeply troubling shadow,” Ralte said, his voice weighed down by the enormity of the situation.

On numerous occasions, Ralte had to traverse the city’s streets to rescue these stranded souls, who were unfamiliar with their surroundings. He then facilitated their transfer to the sanctuary of the Indian Embassy.

At the time of writing this piece, the Indian Embassy shelters six Mizo girls, awaiting repatriation—an endeavour that Ralte acknowledges has been made challenging by the lack of proper documentation.

“Late-night calls or calls during my work hours from distressed individuals have become a common occurrence,” Ralte shared.

The complexities escalated when he encountered individuals working outside Dubai's bounds, grappling with the problem of reaching the city.

“It was indeed a trial to locate them,” he said.

Most of these women who embarked on the journey to Dubai were uneducated and hailed from remote rural areas. The absence of awareness regarding the importance of proper documentation rendered them susceptible, a vulnerability that Ralte underscored.

In the midst of the tumult, Ralte also occasionally got calls from worried parents back in Mizoram who lost contact with their daughters.

The journey to the UAE often begins with the enticing promises of high wages and favourable working conditions spun by job recruiters in Mizoram. These promises offer a tantalizing escape from poverty, and the burden of medical care, and essentials for their families.

Some female domestic workers in the UAE have good and responsible employers and satisfactory working conditions. They receive their wages in full and on time, and are able to send money home to their families. But in many cases, employers in the UAE and recruiting agents abuse the women who become migrant domestic workers.

Most said their employers confiscated their passports. Some accused their employers of having physically abused them and confined them to the homes. Many said their employers failed to pay the full wages owed to them, forced them to work excessively long hours without breaks or days off, or denied them adequate food, living conditions, or medical treatment. Some workers were employed in circumstances that amounted to forced labour or trafficking.

Lalremruati (name changed) bears witness to this truth. Her experience as a domestic worker in the UAE shattered the illusion of a better life abroad. “I was deprived of days off, sleep was a luxury, and my salary remained unpaid,” she lamented.

Moved by the distressing plight of Mizo domestic workers in Arab countries, Tetei Fanai, a spokesperson for Mizoram unit of the BJP, has emerged as a beacon of hope. She has ensured the safe repatriation of Lalremruati and several others back to Aizawl during the last few weeks.

Based on the first-hand accounts of the victims, Fanai has filed an FIR against eight job recruiting agents in Aizawl.

“To my surprise, I have found out that there exist more than 40 such agents, all operating under the category of ‘domestic labour agents’. Their domestic licence prohibits them from facilitating the overseas employment of workers,” she said.

Fanai’s disappointment was palpable as she observed that labour agents in Aizawl are still sending job seekers to these countries, even in the face of the distressing circumstances that have come to light.

“I’ve been informed that the CID has initiated an investigation into these agents. One would expect that they should have been halted by now,” she said with a sense of urgency in her voice.

Speaking further, Fanai revealed a disconcerting truth—the issue had spread beyond the borders of the UAE, with housemaids being “transferred” to countries such as Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.

“The unfortunate reality is that those dispatched beyond the UAE’s borders are often unaware of their new location. Many believe they are still in Dubai. In their desperate attempts to seek assistance, they are sometimes met with unsettling responses from their agents, who instruct them to 'sell their flesh’,” Fanai disclosed.

These housemaids, typically aged between 20 and 30 years, find themselves caught in the crosshairs of exploitation and adversity.

Talking about the reasons young women choose to go offshore, Fanai underscored the allure of Arab countries for job seekers from Mizoram. These nations, unlike their Western counterparts, have less stringent regulations and ease of access, coupled with appealing salary packages.

Aizawl Superintendent of Police Rex Vanchhawng said the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit is investigating into the matter while the Crime Branch also conducts independent probe.

A high-ranking police official, who did not want to be named, said they have occasionally issued warnings to the public against the promise of lucrative jobs abroad as it invites the risk of running into the jaws of human traffickers, but the job seekers appear to ignore the warnings.

The last police statement in this regard, issued in July 2022, appealed to the public that travelling and working in foreign countries without proper documentation and paperwork is illegal; and is considered a serious violation of law, creating serious complications in the processes of their deportation back to India. The statement appealed the public to be mindful of agencies that offer fraudulent placements and employments, as such offers could even lead to human trafficking.

According to social activist Vanramchhuangi, also known as Ruatfela Nu, the state is grappling with an alarming unemployment rate, leaving job seekers with little choice but to brave the associated risks.

Talking about recent incident, she said, “A few weeks back, a group of fresh recruits fled from a pre-placement training and reached out to me. They said they were aware of the potential hazards but went anyway as it was the high salaries that compelled them.”

However, it’s important to note that not all housemaids in Dubai face abuse. Helen, a single mother from Mizoram in her late 30s, said that the spent in Dubai made her life better.

Helen arrived in Dubai in April 2020 and returned to Mizoram in June this year after her two-year contract ended. She is currently planning to return to Dubai, having successfully completed the necessary paperwork.

“While the work can be demanding, that’s precisely why we’re employed. My previous employers were genuinely kind and generous, and I believe most Dubai residents are,” she told The Federal.

Housemaids in Dubai typically earn between 1000-1200 UAE Dirhams, equivalent to Rs 20,000-Rs 25,000. It is this wage difference that forces women to seek jobs outside of India, thousands of miles away from home.

“In Mizoram, earning even Rs 500 per day through manual labour is a significant challenge. Thus, I view housemaid work in Dubai as a valuable opportunity,” she shared.

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