H.E. Prime Minister Samir al-Rifai
Prime Minister's Office
Amman - Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Re: Urgent Provision of Housing Needed for Sri Lankan Domestic Workers
Dear Prime Minister Samir al-Rifai,
Human Rights Watch writes to request that your government urgently ensures that 37 Sri Lankan women are free to leave Jordan, and in the meantime ensure they have access to adequate housing. The women came to Jordan as migrant domestic workers, have completed their two-year contracts, and at various points over the past two years, sought shelter at the Sri Lankan embassy because of problems with their employers, including nonpayment of wages and overwork.
A principle problem is their inability to return home, because employers or recruitment agents failed to apply for residency and work permits for them and they are therefore now required to pay fines before they can leave. Jordan applies penalties on a foreigner for each day he or she is in Jordan without a valid residency permit (Law of Residency and Foreigners' Affairs, article 34.a.), although the 2003 Unified Standard Contract for domestic workers in force in Jordan provides that employers are liable for those fines if they fail to apply for the permits, as is the case here (USC, art. 3). However, rather than hold the employers liable the authorities are requiring the Sri Lankan former workers to pay the fines and without payment, the Sri Lankans cannot return home. Ministry of Interior officials studying requests to exempt Sri Lankan nationals from the fines often take weeks or months before reaching a decision.
Employers and recruitment agents also confiscated and withheld the passports of many of the Sri Lankan workers and failed to procure return tickets, in violation of the Unified Standard Contract (USC arts. 3 and 10), the 2009 Migrant Domestic Worker Regulation by the Ministry of Labor (art. 4.a.) and the Jordanian Law of Passports (art. 18.b.). The former workers also appear to have no effective redress against this violation of the law.
The workers are unwilling to return to their embassy for a variety of reasons, including the embassy's policy not to allow them to leave the embassy premises.
Jordan is a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Covenant provides for the "the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing" (art. 11.1.). Jordan is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides that "everyone shall be free to leave any country" (art. 12.2.).
Without valid residency and work permits, the women are effectively stuck in Jordan without work and not able to pay the fines which increase each day. The women have no means to provide for their own housing, and they are unable to return home because of the fines imposed under Jordan's residency law. Jordan apparently has not promptly enforced provisions of the 2009 migrant domestic worker regulation and the passport law relating to the confiscation of passports. A Ministry of Labor committee has studied the workers' cases for months, but has not reached decisions in individual cases.
Human Rights Watch has not yet fully investigated other possible circumstances of the workers that might give rise to allegations that the women have been victims of human trafficking. Jordan's 2009 Law Against Human Trafficking affords potential trafficking victims shelter (art. 5.g. and 7.). Some of the women have pending civil cases in court for outstanding payment of salaries.
We urge you to immediately and unconditionally exempt all the women from any past and future overstaying fines until they can leave Jordan, and to speedily process and refer for independent adjudication any outstanding labor or criminal complaints the women may have. We urge you to immediately ensure that these women have access to adequate food, clothing, and housing until they can leave Jordan. The housing should be safe and private and protect the women's freedom of movement.
There are reportedly no criminal cases pending against the women. Provisions in Jordanian law against harboring persons without valid residency permits should not stand in the way of providing for the women's right to housing.
Middle East and North Africa Division
Minister of Public Works and Housing, H.E. Dr. Muhammad ‘Ubaidat
Minister of Labor, H.E. Samir Murad
Minister of Interior, H.E. Sa'd Surur
Commissioner-general of the National Center for Human Rights, Dr. Muhyieddine Touq