Trafficked Nepali, Bangladeshi women trapped in Syria

Murali bhanjyang (Nepal)—Nepali villager Sunita Magar thought she was heading to a safe factory job in Kuwait, but only when she landed in Damascus did she realise “something had gone very wrong”.
Frequently beaten with a baton and given only one meal a day, Magar says she spent 13 months working as a maid for a Syrian household and pleading to be allowed to go home.
“I was just in shock, I couldn’t stop crying,” the single mother-of-two told AFP. Magar is among scores of poor Nepali and Bangladeshi women who travelled to the Middle East on the promise of a good job, only to be trafficked into Syria, wracked by five years of civil war.
Nepal’s top diplomat in the region said nationals from the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries, which, like Nepal and Bangladesh, have large migrant labour populations, stopped working in Syria because of the dangers involved. “Since then traffickers have been targeting Nepalis,” said Kaushal Kishor Ray, head of Nepal’s diplomatic mission based in Cairo.
“The numbers have gone up hugely in recent years, we estimate there must be around 500 Nepali women in Syria,” Ray told AFP. In nearby Bangladesh, Shahinoor Begum lies in a Dhaka hospital bed recovering from her seven-month ordeal after being trafficked into Syria as a sex slave.
“I was sold to a Syrian man who tortured me every day, sometimes along with his friends,” Begum, also a single mother-of-two, said.
“I begged for mercy, but they didn’t have any. Instead they used to beat me so badly that I broke my arms,” she told AFP.
Accompanied by labour agents, the 28-year-old and several other women left Bangladesh on the promise of working as maids in Jordan.
But they too were taken to Syria, where fighting between the regime and rebel forces has left more than 260,000 dead and displaced more than half the population.
Begum eventually developed kidney disease, prompting traffickers to contact her ageing mother to demand money for her safe return home.
Lieutenant Colonel Golam Sarwar said his team from Bangladesh’s elite Rapid Action Battalion are investigating her case and two others — although families of 43 other women have lodged similar complaints. “Bangladesh is apparently a soft target for the traffickers,” Sarwar told AFP.
Illiterate, trusting and desperate to dig herself out of poverty, Magar didn’t hesitate when a labour broker approached her with a promise of a well-paid job in Kuwait.
The 23-year-old says she didn’t realise she had been duped until the plane landed in Damascus. “I was always exhausted, always hungry, always afraid,” Magar said of working 20 hours a day for no pay and sleeping on her employer’s penthouse balcony.
At night, she listened to Nepali songs to try to drown out occasional sounds of gunfire and bombs and chase away thoughts of suicide.
When a massive earthquake hit Nepal last April, Magar stepped up pleas to her employers, who had confiscated her passport, to return home.—AFP

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