Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sitting in the Office...

I am sitting in the office, surfing the web for international conventions on the rights of migrant workers. I look up, and see a small, frail domestic worker (I believe she is from Indonesia), showing one of the attorneys who work in our office her bruises and injuries from a recent beating she received from her employer. She just removed her hat; the attorney is taking pictures of cuts she has on her head. She unbuttoned her over shirt, and now they are taking pictures of her beaten shoulders, her cut cheek, and other bruises on her face. She turns and looks at me while they are taking pictures of her injured ear. Her face is swollen both from the beating and crying. She tells the attorney that 'Mama beats her every day.' She has been here for 8 months.  Her hair is cut very short... Even though it is considered shameful for a woman to cut her long hair in Indonesian culture, Jordanian employers often force their domestic workers to cut their hair against their will. This woman's passport was taken and held by her employer. This is a common occurrence among domestic workers; the employers hold control over them when they seize their worker's passport. The worker cannot travel without it. This tiny woman looks like a broken doll. The attorney tells her not to be afraid. The worker begins miming what her employers have done to her. She grabs a water glass and pretends to smash with over her head. She pretends to fall, and then mimes being kicked while she is down. She tells the attorney she is not paid her salary. She keeps pointing to different objects, and mimes being hit over and over again, on her head, her shoulder, kicked over and over again, on her ribs and legs.... She says that 'Mama' beats her with cords around her waist....

Earlier this morning, I went with my fellow American volunteers to a neighborhood on the outskirts of Amman to interview more Egyptian Migrant workers. I became angrier and angrier throughout the morning because Jordanians kept coming up to our street interviews, interrupting the Egyptian workers, and threatening them. One Jordanian man even took a video of the Egyptians we were talking with and told us he was going to turn the video in to the Muhabarat (secret police). He told us that he was angry because Jordan is 'hosting these workers. They should not be saying these bad things about my country.' He apparently assumed that since Jordan was giving them work opportunities, they should not criticize the terrible treatment they receive during their employment. We had one Egyptian worker tell all the others not to tell us anything, to only say good things. He was clearly scared. He went up to a male American volunteer towards the end of our discussion with the group of Egyptians and began to cry. "I received a diploma," he told my other researcher. "I am highly educated, and I am here begging in the streets for jobs. The conditions here are so bad that it would be better to die than to have to work in them. But the conditions here are still better than in Egypt."

I feel like many people (no matter if they are American, Jordanian, or from any other nationality) often forget that migrant workers are the back bone of society. Because they generally tend to perform the menial jobs in society that no one else wants to do, they fade into the background; they are not considered as human beings, but rather as inanimate objects that perform necessary functions for the more valuable human beings. Many Jordanians treat migrant workers as they would treat the plate they eat from, or the chair they sit on. This approach to Migrant workers likewise desensitizes Jordanians; if a plate breaks, an owner shrugs and buys a new one. If a Migrant worker is injured on the job, the employer shrugs and picks up a new one. Many Jordanians likewise expect that migrant workers act like a plate or a chair; to be silent, complacent, and simply perform the function they are meant to perform. Migrant workers should not complain! We are giving them jobs!

What many do not realize is that the treatment an employer needs to afford a Migrant worker is no where near the same as the treatment an owner gives a chair he sits on. Unlike a plate or a chair, a Migrant worker has a life filled with experience, a family he/she needs to support; a Migrant worker has opinions, has beliefs, has faith. Migrant workers, no matter where they are from or what work they perform, are people.  We need to start listening to what migrant workers have to say. We need to make sure they have a voice.

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