By Bilkis Irani and Nabban Haque
August 21, 2017
Majeda (not her real name) went to Saudi Arabia in search of employment and a better life for her family. However, upon arrival, she found the dream had turned into a nightmare.
“I was told I would be working at a house in Al-Qassim with a large family,” Majeda said. “But when I got there, they were unlike any family that I had ever seen.”
Surrounded by scantily clad women and witnessing acts that “no brother and sister would perform,” Majeda soon realised that she had become a victim of human trafficking. Her view was only enforced when her new employers confiscated her phone.
Her harrowing tale began, though it did not seem so at the time, when Majeda was approached regarding employment in Saudi Arabia by two representatives of government-sanctioned manpower recruiting agency Aviate International in May this year.
The two in question were Rima and Hathkata Mohammed Ahmed, who share a flat in Gulshan 2.
Rima told Majeda that, even though the programme on offer was free, she would have better chances for employment if she paid some money. Excited by the opportunity to improve the standard of living for herself and her electrician husband, Majeda duly paid Tk80,000.
She left Bangladesh for Saudi Arabia on June 23. After losing her phone to her employers at the “house,” the situation only got worse. Majeda found herself repeatedly being accosted by men and facing attempted rape. As she resisted the attempts, her employers beat and tortured her.
Out of desperation, Majeda decided she needed to find a way to contact her husband, lest he be unaware of her plight. This was by no means easy, as asking to make a phone call only meant a further beating in that house.
After nearly a month, she finally succeeded. Claiming she wanted to speak to her son, Majeda managed to get a hold of a phone and called her husband, recounting her terrible ordeal.
Her husband Ashraf (also not his real name) rushed to the office of Aviate International in Dhaka’s Bijoy Nagar to see if they knew anything of his wife, but was only told that she was fine by those at the office. They did not allow him to make a phone call.
In the following days, Ashraf went to the office of Aviate International on numerous occasions but always received the same answer. Furthermore, he started receiving threatening phone calls that demanded he ask no questions.
Meanwhile, Majeda was moved from the “house” where she was working to an office. There, she was imprisoned with 30 other women from various countries in a tin shed on the roof. Over the 12 days that she was confined to the shed, Majeda and the women were mercilessly tortured and beaten with the intention of driving a single message into their minds: “Do what you are told to at the houses.”
According to Majeda, her tormentor in chief was a man by the name of Abdur Turki, reportedly the proprietor of Al Mahatta recruiting agency.
Subsequently, Majeda was sent to another “house,” in Tabuk, where she was beaten so badly that, on the 15th day, Majeda had to be admitted to a Saudi hospital with internal bleeding. Men from the office where she was held took her there and brought her back after treatment.
However, Majeda managed to call her husband once more while at the hospital, imploring him to get her home as soon as possible.
After this second phone call and with Aviate International showing no signs that they would take action, Ashraf decided to try a new avenue to get news of his wife. He contacted a friend who had also gone to Saudi Arabia through Aviate and asked him to look for Majeda.
This friend managed to discern the location of the hospital by pleading to officials at the office where Majeda was kept captive, and met her at the hospital before they managed to take her away. He also took a picture of the injured Majeda and sent it to her husband. The friend subsequently received threats from the Saudi office for this very act.
Spurred on by and armed with this image of his wife clearly in suffering, Ashraf returned to Aviate International and confronted Rima.
Rima, however, said that Majeda was on a two year contract and it would require Tk3 lakhs to get her back.
Unable to gather such a large amount of money on short notice and growing more concerned for Majeda’s wellbeing with every passing day, Ashraf began approaching law enforcement agencies for support.
He filed a general diary (GD) with Ramna police station on August 8.
“Ramna SI Ataur went to Aviate office after this, and demanded that arrangements be made for Majeda’s return within 3 days,” Ashraf said.
When there was no action in this regard from Aviate, Ashraf filed another GD on August 10, this time with Gulshan police station, and went to the RAB-1 headquarters in Uttara. He also contacted human rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK).
On August 17, RAB contacted Aviate International and issued the ultimatum that there would be serious consequences should Majeda not be returned within three hours. That very day, Majeda was back in Bangladesh and saw her husband once more.
When contacted, Aviate International owner Mohammed Nurul Amin said that Rumi and Hathkata Mohammed were not employees of Aviate International, but rather helped them locate and recruit manpower.
He added that he was unaware if they took money from prospective applicants for overseas employment, saying that they may do.
Nurul Amin further said that Abdur Turki was the proprietor of Al Mahatta recruiting agency and is a good man. He denied having any knowledge of the other women kept on the roof of Al Mahatta, assuring that he would find out if there were more among them who travelled through Aviate and that he would help them return.
Majeda, however, was unconcerned through which agencies the captive women had ended up in that nightmare.
“Dilruba, Nilufa, Beauty, Golapi, Ayesha, Jasmine, Nazma … all these women are still trapped there,” she said.
“The Ain o Salish Kendra has urged me to speak out despite my fears and despite the threats my husband and I have received. We must save them.”