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9 coffee shop workers rescued from Hawally – Filipinas narrate stories of rape, torture

philipinesKUWAIT: The Philippine Embassy, together with personnel from the Ministry of Interior, recently rescued nine workers from a coffee shop in Hawally after receiving a tip-off from a Filipina worker who claimed to have been repeatedly abused by the shop’s owner. Speaking at a press conference yesterday on the premises of the embassy, Philippine Consul General Raul Dado disclosed that among the nine rescued workers, there were five from the Philippines, three from Nepal and one from Indonesia. Kuwaiti authorities turned over the five Filipinas to the Philippine Embassy, and the others were handed over to their respective missions’ representatives.

The owner of the coffee shop was arrested during the raid and has been detained pending further investigation. Later, presented before the local Filipino press, the five Filipinas shared their individual predicaments. Leslie (not her real name) was the most mistreated victim among the five Filipinas rescued. She was raped several times by the owner. “I suffered a lot. I wasn’t only raped, but also repeatedly abused physically and verbally by the owner,” said Leslie in between sobs. “If the owner arrived and I didn’t entertain him, he would summon me immediately to his office and beat me up over and over again. Sometimes he used sticks and shoes to beat me,” she lamented. “I sustained many bruises in my body but I could bear the pain because I wanted to live, believing that one day I will be able to leave the coffee shop anyway,” she told the media.

Leslie, 31, is a native of Albay (Bicol) and has four children. She came to Kuwait in 2011. “When he was abusing me, I even told him to just kill me instead, because I could no longer tolerate the pain. But behind all of it was a painful reality that I have kids who need me anyway,” she said. “So I endured the pain but was fervently praying to be rescued from this hell soon,” Leslie added. Asked why the five were not able to escape during those painful times, Gloria (real name withheld), another abused victim, said they were heavily guarded by some men - from their workplace through the place where they lived. “There were Arab men guarding our movements so closely that we could not escape easily. The moment we returned to our accommodation, they would lock the door from outside so we could no longer leave,” Gloria said. “We could not even get some food from the baqala (store).

But one managed to escape and she gave us the contact number of our embassy,” Gloria explained. Although she was not raped, Gloria admitted that she had suffered the same kind of beating and abuse as Leslie. “I was always at the scene when the owner mistreated my friend. I sympathized with her and I have been enduring physical abuse, too, because I always wanted to help Leslie,” she said. Another Filipina victim stated that she was also summoned one day by the owner, only to watch him rape one of her colleagues. “The owner wanted me to join them. But I refused. So he just told me to watch them,” she said. The five rescued Filipinas came from different recruitment agencies, but the manner in which they were recruited was the same. The Filipinas disclosed they were all taken from their recruitment agencies by a Kuwaiti ‘middleman’ named Abu Khaled. According to the Filipinas, Abu Khaled coordinates with the owners of recruitment agencies on domestic helpers willing to work at a coffee shop.If the agency says yes, Abu Khaled takes them from the agency to his safe house.

Then, he calls over some coffee shop owners to his safe house in order for them to select candidates for their shops. Abu Khaled sells ladies at a price of KD600 or above to the coffee shop owner, if they want. “Abu Khaled is the one supplying women to coffee shop workers in Hawally,” a rescued Filipina pointed out. Besides working at a coffee shop, there are other options too. If the girls wanted a “boyfriend”, Abu Khaled’s customer could pay him KD3,000 for the service. “I was offered the same, but I told them that I wanted a real job-so I landed a coffee shop job,” says another victim, who is only 21 years old. One of them said they were set a quota of KD45 per day.

If they failed to earn that amount, they would be beaten up or penalized - the owner would usually deduct some money from their small salary. “Most of the time I got only KD30 per month, because of many deductions. Originally, we were supposed to receive KD70. I agreed to work in the coffee shop because at first they said they’ll give us KD120, but in fact we got only KD70,” she said. The rescued workers said the coffee shops where they were employed would change hands overnight. “The owner of the coffee shop changes every now and then. In my one year at the coffee shop, I think they changed the owner four times. The last owner was the worst. He started only in November last year, but we suffered a lot. The previous one was almost the same, but the last owner was really sick,” Leslie said.

The rest of the girls also said they were mistreated and abused and needed help. “If anyone offers work at a coffee shop, please do not accept the offer. You will be abused, too, just like us. Better to stay in the house of your sponsor because you’ll be safer,” she warned. Consul Dado said the embassy was able to help and rescue Filipinos through its embassy hotline. “We got a very reliable and accurate information from one of the rescued victims. So, we coordinated with the authorities immediately. After securing the warrant, the police raided the building where they lived. The raid took place on May 30.

Two men were apprehended during the raid and nine workers, including five Filipinas, were rescued,” Dado noted. He said cases were already filed and a Kuwaiti lawyer had been appointed to defend the Filipinas. Dado also called on housemaids to refrain from taking jobs at coffee shops. “If you want a job, please go through the legal channel. They can protect you. But if you are there, please don’t hesitate to call our hotline number, 55952909. We want to protect every Filipino, whatever be their predicament,” Dado concluded. The press conference yesterday was also attended by Philippine Labor Attache to Kuwait and Welfare Officer Norlita Lugto. The two assured the rescued Filipinas that they will be taken care of and justice will be served.

By Ben Garcia, Kuwait Times Staff

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This article was published on 06/06/2013