News agencies have been increasingly reporting on the human trafficking in Syria involving poor, often illiterate women from rural areas in Bangladesh and Nepal being sent to work as practically indentured domestic servants—and sometimes as sex slaves.
“They are innocent, uneducated women who come from the villages. They do not know anything about Syria and what is happening there,” Commander Khadaker Golam Sarowar of the Bangladeshi police told Reuters.
During the past twelve months Commander Sarowar says his unit has investigated 45 different cases of women who have been beaten, tortured or raped in Syria.
“They are sold a tale of prosperity, they think they are going to Jordan or Lebanon to have a better life,” he said.
There is a nefarious practice used to ensnare these women. It is called the Kafala, or “sponsorship” system and it is the primary method used to facilitating the movement of migrant workers from Southeast Asia and parts of Africa to work in the Middle East.
Kafala has been used by thousands of women seeking work in Jordan, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, and other countries with a demand for cheap labor. While many women initially sign up by the laborers are required to pay high recruitment fees - upwards of $5,000 but rarely less than $3,000. This means that while they sign contracts of their own volition they are offered little choice over the actual employment they wind up doing and they end up in underpaid, exploitative jobs as domestic workers—or in some cases, sex workers. Then to pay back the recruitment fees, they stay to pay back their debts, and try to make a profit against all odds.
“Most workers pay huge recruitment fees, as many as a few thousand dollars, in their home country in order to obtain jobs in the Gulf,” says Priyanka Motaparthy, the author of "Understanding Kafala: An Archaic Law at Cross Purposes With Modern Development."
“With family members depending on them to send money, to feed them and pay expenses, but more urgently, make debt payments lest a money lender take their home from them, migrants are under huge pressure to pay back these debts," the author who is also an independent human rights activist, added.
There has been a uptick in the number of recruits since many foreign domestic workers who worked in Syria before the war returned home or left with their employers once the Civil War erupted.
Most of the recent, newer workers are in Assad regime controlled areas in Damascus, but this has not insulated them from the effects of the violence caused by a war. many did not even know was occurring before signing a contract of employment.
“I didn’t realize there was a war going on,” said Gyanu Reshmi Magar, a 25-year-old Nepalese woman who was trafficked from Kathmandu to Damascus. She told the Guardian in an interview earlier this year. that It was only when she started hearing loud noises throughout the city — which her employers reassured her were army training — that she began to research the country, and found out about the war through the Internet.
“The agent told me it was like America,” she continued underscoring a shop-worn and deceptive lie commonly used by recruiters for the Kafala.
Even when the women seek to escape, it is often very difficult because many entered Syria illegally and as undocumented workers their plight is harder to address by aid organizations and even their own embassies.
"I felt like a slave with no rights," said Magar, emphasizing what has become another sad commentary on the rights of women in places where human rights and gender inequality is,for all practical purposes, non-existent.