A group of Sri Lankan migrant workers returning from Saudi Arabia
Religious and civil rights groups are mounting urgent appeals and campaigns as fears grow over the fate of a young Sri Lankan migrant worker condemned to death in Saudi Arabia.
It is hoped they and the Sri Lankan government will persuade King Abdullah to grant clemency and a pardon Rizana Nafeek, a young girl who was found guilty in October for allegedly killing the four-month-old son of her Saudi employer in 2005.
Nafeek, who is from Mutur on Sri Lanka’s east coast, says the baby accidently choked while she was feeding him, the parents say it was pre-mediated murder. Nafeek had only just arrived in the country and was just 17-years old when the alleged crime took place.
Her death sentence was suspended when she filed her appeal. It will remain so until confirmed by the king, who is to review her case very soon.
The king has three choices: Pardon and release her, reconfirm her death sentence or not make a decision.
The Sri Lankan government has promised to do all it can to save the young girl's life and says it’s negotiating with the dead child’s family and the Saudi government.
“However, despite Colombo’s assurances there does not appear to be any progress regarding her release,” said The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) based in Hong Kong.
“The delay in releasing Nafeek is alarming. She has been in jail for over five years and calls for her release have come from around the world. In Sri Lanka also there had been nationwide demands for her release. However, the Sri Lankan government appears only to be making public statements,” the AHRC said.
The commission has called upon the Sri Lankan government to take a greater interest and do more to secure her release.
Where the life of an innocent young woman is concerned only paying lip service to the cries of the public will not suffice, it said.
Caritas and other Church-run institutions have launched petitions across the country. Some mosques in Batticaloa, Galle and Colombo recently held prayer services calling for her release. Those who attended the services also signed petitions to be delivered to King Abdullah.
Nafeek’s case highlights some of the risks migrant workers take when working in the Middle East, especially young women going to work as maids.
Many experience problems such as non-payment of wages, overwork, food deprivation and forced confinement not to mention physical, psychological and sexual abuse.
“The state must impose some restrictions on foreign employment agencies who supply maids who are inexperienced, can’t speak the language, and don’t understand the culture and laws in Middle East countries,” said Ruwani Fernando who worked 10 years in Saudi Arabia.
“We hope the government will formulate a joint strategy to prevent repeats of painful episodes like these,” Fernando said.