- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2002

An African woman who took a job in Saudi Arabia to escape persecution at home ended up as a slave of a leading Saudi family, first in the kingdom and later in the United States, a legal-aid group says.
The woman, whose identity and nationality the group refuses to reveal, applied for the job of business officer in Saudi Arabia. But when she arrived in the kingdom in 1997, she was forced to work as a domestic slave of the family, according to the McLean-based Tahirih Justice Center, which is providing her with legal help in getting asylum in the United States.
The Saudi family robbed her of freedom, prevented her from leaving the house and forced her to work 15-hour days, the group says, adding that she also was repeatedly brutally abused and threatened.
When her employer came to the United States on a short visit in 1998, she brought the African woman along and continued to abuse her, said Irena Lieberman, director of legal services at the Tahirih center. However, the woman managed to escape and sought help in applying for U.S. asylum in 2000.
The Clinton administration created a new "T" immigrant visa in 2000 for victims of human trafficking, but the processing of applications under the new category began only recently, Ms. Lieberman said. The group has won asylum for more than 25 women under the new law since then, she added.
The group has helped more than 2,000 women settle in the United States since the creation of the center in 1997. The center is helping about 100 women, including the African woman, in the visa process, according to Ms. Lieberman.
The victims and their abusers come from several nations, including Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania. But Saudis are especially notorious for abuse of women, legal-aid groups say. At least one of the abusive employers was a diplomat, Ms. Lieberman said.
In December 2001, a Saudi princess studying English at a Florida university was charged with beating up her maid and stealing electronic equipment worth about $6,000.
Princess Buniah al-Saud, a 41-year-old niece of Saudi King Fahd, reportedly beat her maid, smashed her head against a wall and pushed her down a flight of stairs in their apartment. The princess, who returned to Saudi Arabia in February with a judge's permission, reportedly has settled the case with the maid.
In Saudi Arabia, women have limited resources, and their options are limited, Ms. Lieberman said. "There are no abuse shelters, no women's groups and everything is male-dominated."
And since leaving the house itself was difficult for female workers, "to think of escape would be extremely dangerous," she said.
The Center for Policy Studies, a Washington-based group, also has helped about 80 victims of domestic abuse in the past two years through a program called Break the Chain Campaign (formerly the Campaign for Migrant Domestic Workers Rights).
The victims helped by the campaign and their abusers come from a wide spectrum of countries, including one from England, but most of the cases involve people from Africa and the Middle East, said Lisa Johnson-Firth, legal director for the campaign.

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