Saudi Gazette reports on the situation with ‘runaway housemaids’ in Saudi Arabia, which it numbers as around 20,000. The article suggests that the principal reason for running away is abuse by employers. It also points out that by committing an illegal act (in Saudi Arabia) of leaving the sponsor who holds one’s travel papers and contract, a runaway enters the twilight world of illegality and becomes subject to more illegality. Because she lacks legal status, the runaway will be reluctant to make legitimate complaints to the police of abuse by others. Not a pretty picture.

Abuse against housemaids increases in the Kingdom
Joe Avancena Saudi Gazette

DAMMAM – The case of housemaids running away from their employers has reached an epidemic level now bursting social and economic problems that are draining the resources of the Kingdom, said Col. Yousef Al-Qahtani, spokesman of Dammam Police.

“Not a single day passes without a housemaid running away from her employer, marking a daily occurrence here in Eastern Province that has spawned social and economic implications,” Qahtani said.

“The situation is not much better anywhere in the Kingdom,” he said.

Saudi families spend money and hurdle difficulties to hire housemaid, he said.

It has become costly to recruit a housemaid from Southeast Asia with fees going up to SR10,000 for a maid who would run away once she is here.

And if a housemaid runs away from her employer, the employer loses all the money put into hiring her. The money usually includes the cost of the visa, recruitment fees, and plane ticket. It has now become a common practice for housemaids to abandon their jobs upon their arrival in the Kingdom, he said.

Saudi Gazette also reports that the national human rights organization is calling for major reform in the way foreign workers are recruited and hired: Human rights body seeks new sponsorship system

June:13:2008 - 08:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (62) | Permalink
62 Responses to “Runaway Maids in Saudi Arabia”
  1. 1
    Sparky Said:
    June:13:2008 - 09:35 

    Excuse me my maid ran away and we were extremely decent to her. I treated her very well! It comes down to cash…for many of them. I am forced to pay two maids to come and clean by the hour. I do not do that often. It is a vicious cycle. I heard many are being forced or tricked into prostitution. They are lured by others with the promise that they will have more freedome and money and end up locked up and abused.

    The increase in maid run aways is most likely maids who run away and DON’T GO TO THEIR EMBASSY. They are after more cash…bottom line.

    The ones who go to their embassies most likely have legitimate complaints but often times are shopping around.

  2. 2
    Sparky Said:
    June:13:2008 - 09:43 

    Article: “Abuse against housemaids has become lately as a common situation in the Kingdom, which eventually prompts housemaids to escape looking for a better work environment.”

    Me: Abuse is not the only reason or even a main reason for escaping. They are looking to make more money and it is a vicious cycle. For example, mine runs away and I am so desperate I will resort to maybe hiring one illegally (personally I haven’t because there is risk and it is illegal). I have used them by the hour a few times out of desperation but that only feeds the vicious cycle. I imagine 3 hours of work and I pay them 140 S.R. and on a monthly basis they take around 800. Gee wonder what the better deal is? In fact nowadays people are kissing their maids butts so they don’t run away.

    Article: Saudi authorities and foreign embassies are both challenged by this problem,” Al-Qahtani said.
    Some runaway housemaids resorted to prostitution and other illegal activities because they were unable to legally secure a new employer.

    Me: Some of them have been seduced or tricked into prostitution and some want the cash it brings in.

    I do not feel sorry for runaway maids who do not go to their embassy. It is a concious choice they make an adult and they have to face the consequences.

  3. 3
    Sparky Said:
    June:13:2008 - 09:51 

    Also, I had my maid finger print and sign a paper every month she received her salary and tried to always have it sent western union because often times maids resort to lying about their employers in many cases. I would give her cash too (when requested) but with western union there was a verifiable receipt.I am certainly not denying abuse exists but many take advantage of that truth for their own unethical gain.

  4. 4
    John Burgess Said:
    June:13:2008 - 09:59 

    You’re absolutely right that abuse by maids is also a problem in the Kingdom. Some see it as a way to riches, legally or not.

    I think, though, that abuse is more of a human rights problem than scamming the boss.

  5. 5
    Sparky Said:
    June:13:2008 - 14:04 

    John there are several instances of scamming the boss which includes thievery and accusations that they have not been paid when in fact they have been paid. That is why I keep a tight record.

    Also it is a business for some maids and drivers as they get paids if they can recruit maids to run away. Yes, some do come here with the intention of running away so I disagree that it is not a matter of scamming the boss. It is in many cases and these maids are coached on this prior to coming here.

    As far as human rights abuses on them well include them in the same category with Saudi women as well as foreign women as they all have little recourse when under the mercy of their sponsor which is their boss if they are a worker and fathers for unmarried Saudis and husbands for all other women.

  6. 6
    John Burgess Said:
    June:13:2008 - 14:39 

    Sparky: I don’t deny that there are crimes committed against employers by their domestic servants. I do argue, though, that the crimes of employers against employees is both categorically worse (human rights violations v. theft or fraud) and far more widespread.

    Neither is proper behavior, neither should be tolerated.

  7. 7
    Carol Said:
    June:13:2008 - 23:36 

    Runaway maids is a double edged sword. There are indeed those who leave due to abuse but frankly, one also needs to be clear on exactly what is abuse as well. Many maids who may have been told they are coming to work for a large family know this in advance and then they arrive and find they cannot handle it (in their minds) and run away. But of course there are others who come who may find themselves viewed and used more as slave labor or a sexual slave and you can’t blame those ones for running away.

    Many many though come for the opportunities and even before arriving have a network in place with others from their home country. For example, a family in Saudi can sponsor a maid. The sponsoring costs can range from 7000 – 9000 SAR. These fees are paid to an agency who engages a maid for the family. The fees cover visa application, processing fees and airline ticket for the maid as well as commission charged by the agency. Then each month the family will pay a monthly salary to the maid. And as Sparky pointed out, it is prudent to maintain a monthly record documenting that the maid has received her salary each month. Many reputable agencies require this as a standard procedure.

    Now the monthly salary varies depending on nationality of the housemaid. Sri Lankans, Indonesians, Kenyans, Philipinos all fall in the 550 – 750 SAR range per month. Yes; these are the salaries negotiated and approved through official agencies. Housemaids from Nigeria and Eritrea are now averaging 750 – 1300 SAR per month. Again, these are the Agency negotiated and approved fees. BUT…there is a huge housemaid shortage in the Kingdom. As a result, a housemaid who is either allowed to moonlight, has a sponsor who allows her to work independently (she will pay the sponsor a monthly fee for this priveledge) or a housemaid who will run away can then double or almost triple her salary with an average monthly salary starting at 1300 – 1800 SAR per month. So many housemaids, aware of these facts, will come to the Kingdom with the intent to leave their employer, join their friends who in many cases have an apartment they share and make double, triple the salary

    While one can legally obtain a Filipina housemaid through an Agency for 750 SAR per month, having a runaway Filipina placed with you through the Phillipine Embassy will be at 1500 SAR month. And the Phillipine Embassy will state that the going monthly rate for a housemaid from the Phillipines is 1500 SAR yet again the agencies contract and engage them at 750 SAR.

    Having a housemaid is indeed a great convenience given the lifestyle, types of homes and all that desert sand that gets into everything but at the same time, it can come with its own set of issues that a family needs to take into careful consideration.

    Unfortunately firms like “Maid for a Day” or “Maid Brigade” do not exist yet here in the Kingdom. I’m sure there are many who would welcome the chance to engage an insured and bonded housemaid either on a regular or semi-regular basis and not have the additional worries or changes required to have a live-in housemaid.

  8. 8
    olivetheoil Said:
    June:14:2008 - 02:13 

    This is what I find mystifying: why import maids at such expense? Are there not people available locally that can fulfill the function? Or is there a cultural taboo against Saudi women working in other households?

  9. 9
    American Bedu Said:
    June:14:2008 - 03:23 


    No, there are a severe shortage of maids who are in the Kingdom legally and can provide such services. Yes, a bias remains on Saudi women working in other households for a variety of reasons such as the type of work and the Saudi culture of preserving privacy and not exposing women to those unrelated (specifically in regards to unrelated males).

    I think if an agency could legally have teams of maids who could be outsourced to different homes it would be a great service but those days are not here yet. I do know of individuals who offer such services but 9 times out of 10 the housemaid is an illegal and there are number of risks involved in pursuing such options.

    I guess it is a matter of perspective in regards to funds required to legally sponsor a housemaid. I think 7000-9000 SAR (circa 1500-2500 US$) is reasonable to have a housemaid come on a two year contract and who lives in the home. After she has arrived, then the monthly salary is usually only around circa US$200 (as mandated by the agency).

    And in going through an agency there are recourses and options if in the event a particular housemaid does not work out.

  10. 10
    John Burgess Said:
    June:14:2008 - 08:40 

    Olive: On the subject of Saudi women working as maids, you might want to look at this post from last year.

    On the general arguments pro/con hiring domestics, use this link. The pages it pulls up deal with many of the issues. One issue not addressed recently (and thus not covered on this blog) is the danger and damage of having children raised by maids from different cultures who ‘dilute’ Saudi values and Arabic language skills.

  11. 11
    BT in SA Said:
    June:14:2008 - 11:55 

    I thought the headline was very misleading. Seventeen paragraphs of an article and not until the 15th paragraph was there any reference to abuse – just the hardship that Saudi’s are put through to get maids, etc., and how they run away, and how if you hire an illegal maid you will be investigated and prosecuted.

    There are articles of maids being abused and tortured every week in the papers [Arab News and Saudi Gazette]; last week one died at the hospital! Those are the reports we hear about – how many aren’t we hearing about and how many maids are abused or mistreated and don’t report it.

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on the matter. My opinion is that maids are paid slave labor wages to begin with – IF they get paid at all – and Sparky – you might be the exception, having your maid sign a paper saying she was paid and having the receipt, etc., but back to being paid – they negotiate the price – or someone does – and then they get here and either don’t get paid, or don’t get what they were told they were going to get paid. 750SR a month for someone to work, at a minimum, 40 hours a week is what – 4.32SR an hour – in U.S. dollars it is $1.16! Would YOU do the work of a maid for $1.16 an hour? I wouldn’t.

    I see the maid situation where I live. When I am out with my Kids walking in the morning – and sometimes we leave pretty early – 5:30, 6:00 – we pass a half dozen driveways where the maids are already out washing their “employer’s” cars. The neighbor behind us is out there every single day with her pail and sponge. I see her carrying trash out. Washing windows. Pushing the stroller with one child and holding the hand of the other in the afternoon. I see her hanging clothes on a make-shift line strung through the garage. She IS working a lot more than 40 hours a week. She IS always working. If she has a day off, it is very, very infrequently since I see her every single day. She NEVER smiles. And, although she may not be physically abused as far as being beaten, or what have you, she is being physically abused by having to work the hours that she is working.

    Regardless, I think abuse is much, much more common than some would be willing to admit. I think that many, many of the maids here are underpaid and overworked. The article barely touched on any of that, instead, telling how they all run away as soon as they get here.

    If they are going to run away – they have an obligation to go straight to their embassy or the police – so I am NOT defending the runaways who are just looking for more money. Certainly that is an issue and a problem. But for the article to state that anyone who hires an illegal maid will be investigated and punished – or however it was put – I call B.S. on that! I see the way traffic police handle matters in Khobar and Dammam. If you are an ex-pat you will be investigated and prosecuted for the slightest infraction – guilty on the spot. If you are a local – well, never mind, we’ll just kiss, kiss, kiss – you call your people – I’ll call mine – nice to see you – have a good day – IF THEY EVEN GET stopped at all!!!

  12. 12
    Saudi in US Said:
    June:14:2008 - 13:32 


    I tend to agree with your assessment. People in the gulf region treat having a maid almost as a birth right. This is coming with a big cost of human rights abuses. All of the issues are related to a supply that does not meet the demand because of the artificial low wages. This is primarily and issue of Demand exceeding reason for the issue I stated above. I think maids should be paid based on the market conditions, if the price gets high so be it as it may curb the demand side. The way to achieve this is by having all maids report to professional agencies that look after their work conditions and insure that they get the right wages. Having millions of people become sponsors is a nightmare as quality cannot be assured under these conditions.

  13. 13
    Sparky Said:
    June:14:2008 - 13:49 

    First concerning wage…they are clothed by me, they are taken to the hospital by me, and they are fed whatever I eat. They are given all the basic necessities and some of the luxuries as well. Believe me that is better deal than what they have in their country. My maid told me she didn’t have a floor in her house it was a makeshift one with a mud floor. She said at all costs, “PLEASE DO NOT SEND ME BACK”.

    Also, my maid was highly offended when I fingerprinted her and also when I asked her to change her signature because it didn’t match the one in her passport. Tough at least now when she is at the airport or with the authorities catch her she cannot claim I didn’t pay her the wages she was due. By the way, this has happened to people I know.

    Also, i have come to see that have a pretty good deal compared to what they get in their own corrupt countries.

    Are and do they get mistreated often? Yes. Is it wrong? Yes. Where should they go? Their embassy.

  14. 14
    John Burgess Said:
    June:14:2008 - 14:04 

    I believe there are moves afoot to require all hiring of foreign nationals to go through a single, centralized agency charged with ascertaining that salaries and working conditions are fair and being implemented.

    I do agree with Saudi in the US: it certainly appears that the majority of problems comes from abuse by employers, not from the maids. Thus, it’s the problem that needs to be addressed first.

    This is not to say that abuse by the employee doesn’t happen, isn’t widespread. Just that it’s not the critical issue.

    Up until WWII, it was fairly standard for middle-class Americans to have a domestic servant, at least on a part-time basis. The demand on manpower resulting from the war essentially did away with that standard. Afterward, it was only the wealthy–or those who considered themselves wealthy for status reasons–who could afford domestic servants.

    I realize that it will come as a shock to many, but doing one’s own housework is not a fatal condition, generally speaking. It’s not fun, it can be boring and tedious. But it doesn’t kill people. Perhaps having domestic servants in the KSA earn real wages will resolve a lot of the problems: fewer servants means fewer problems, originating from either side.

    I’ve employed servants in many of my assignments. In India, I had a number (5) that seemed ridiculous. But it wasn’t, given both the prevailing wages and the ways in which work was divided among them, largely for cultural reasons–my ‘major domo’, for instance, would cook, but he would not wash a car or mow a lawn. He wouldn’t do laundry, either: that kind of work belonged to a different caste or at least ethnic group.

    In the Middle East, one employee–usually female–was enough. She was always capable of multi-tasking to one extent or other. Rarely would servants leave a diplomatic employer as we all tended to pay top-end wages, were liberal with benefits, etc. More likely was to have a good worker hired away for a higher salary, when local labor laws permitted that.

    When last in Riyadh, I had a Moroccan woman who both kept the house and did most of the cooking. She was paid in Saudi Riyals, the equivalent of $1,300/mo., repatriation travel every two years, annual vacation, and a 13-mo. work-year to account for holiday bonuses. And she was worth every penny of that.

    In assignments like the UK, hiring domestic help was a laughable proposition. Local wage laws would have required a salary of around $5,000/mo.

  15. 15
    Saudi in US Said:
    June:14:2008 - 14:05 


    I am sure you are a very fair person and I will never question your sincerity. However, if you take this issue from a systematic prospective, you will realize there are market driven issues here. Markets are local, so the fact that a person is paid more in Saudi than in their country has no effect on the local market conditions. There is demand out there that exceeds the supply and that allows the maids to get paid better if they run. Hence, the alternative is either increase the supply or increase the wages based on the market. I prefer the later.

  16. 16
    Sparky Said:
    June:14:2008 - 14:16 

    I am all for increasing the wages. The thing that erks me is she never asked for an increase! Housework is bad :-) My mother gave me a wooden dall in raggedly clothes with braided hair that said, “Housework makes you ugly!” I have never liked housework while I have clean freaks in my family who get pleasure from scubbing wiping etc. I don’t so I guess that I am the genetic anomaly.

    Also, for BT the work that the maids do here is no different than what stay at home and even working mothers do everyday and they do not get a salary let alone a thank you many times.

    Are maids abused? Yes, I swear I know that and am not denying it but let us be honest and say not all are running away due to abuse.

    I have seen men asking them to carry heavy furniture around and had a fit and said, “Excuse me are you not men? Why are you asking females to break their backs carrying heavy objects.” Of course everybody was stunned and offended at my remark.

  17. 17
    Saudi in US Said:
    June:14:2008 - 16:40 

    My mother gave me a wooden dall in raggedly clothes with braided hair that said, “Housework makes you ugly!”

    Bad theory, all men are ugly by my definition and they do not do much housework :)

    I am glad you told those guys off. They should be ashamed for letting a maid do the heavy lifting and risking her being injured while they watch.

  18. 18
    olivetheoil Said:
    June:14:2008 - 17:01 

    I have clean freaks in my family who get pleasure from scubbing wiping etc.

    I admit I find it very soothing to clean. Plus I must try out any new cleaning product in the market:) It’s an addiction, I am afraid.

    Perhaps you should get a Roomba to help with cleaning? I hear they don’t abscond for better pay.

  19. 19
    BT in SA Said:
    June:14:2008 - 21:41 

    Sparky, I said in my first comment, that you were an exception to the rule – and that is not to say that a lot of employers don’t require fingerprints or signatures. I’ve made copies of ID badges of the men [houseboys] that work for me. I too, make the contractor sign a receipt, that the wages have been paid. I know how things work in that regard.

    Also, I am not discounting that live-ins get food, clothing, shelter, etc. All I am saying is that their wages are, for the most part, far too low for the hours and duties they are expected to fulfill, which may lead some to “run.”

    That their jobs are no different than stay at-home wives or mothers – well, in a way, they are – the wife/mom can say, okay, enough, I’m plopping my butt down on this couch – the maids can’t.

    Are conditions here for them better than where they’ve come from? Yes. Or they wouldn’t be here.

    Thoroughly, thoroughly agree that the runaway problem needs to be addressed. You runaway from your sponsor/employer – you should be running to one of two places – embassy or police. NOT to some apartment where maids are sheltered because they can make more money being illegal’s. Absolutely wrong.

    Will folks here, who hire illegal maids, be investigated and prosecuted? I won’t believe it until I see it. I just do not think so. The ones who abuse maids get investigated and NOTHING happens. If, in this country, you want to keep things in check by arresting people and punishing them for crime you have to do it fairly. And from what I’ve seen there seem to be two completely different sets of rules. One for ex-pats and one for locals. I strongly suspect if the employer’s of, for example, Nour Miyati, were punished – thrown in jail or lashed – or whatever punishment this country deems fit to mete out – that would have been a strong deterrent to others that if you abuse a maid you WILL be punished. Nour’s employees weren’t punished – Nour was! What’d she get for her ordeal – some ridiculous amount like 6000SR – along with losing fingers, teeth…? What happened to the employers? Absolutely nothing. “She changed her story. She lied.” I call B.S. on that. Nour was mistreated by her employers and then mistreated by authorities. What will happen to the employers of the maid who last week died at the hospital? Absolutely nothing.

    If the runaways who do not go to the police* or embassy are rounded up – which they are – and deported – they will have ruined things for themselves – they should NOT be allowed to come back. Conversely, abusive employers need to be punished as well – and NOT allowed to have maids work for them if they abuse a maid. Are all employers bad and abusive? No. Just like all maids aren’t inclined to be runaways.

    *Police probably wouldn’t be the most helpful. Not with the way they differentiate between treatment of locals and ex-pats. This, too, needs to change.

  20. 20
    Solomon2 Said:
    June:14:2008 - 22:22 

    I see her every single day. She NEVER smiles. And, although she may not be physically abused as far as being beaten, or what have you, she is being physically abused by having to work the hours that she is working.

    Then why not report this abuse to the police yourself?

    The ones who abuse maids get investigated and NOTHING happens.

    Or have you already tried that?

  21. 21
    John Burgess Said:
    June:14:2008 - 23:36 

    SinUS: I almost completely agree.

    The place I might take exception is on comparing the living conditions between the home country and the KSA> The KSA life might be better in some regards, but it’s also far worse in others.

    Primarily, these women come to the KSA because they can make money there that they cannot at home. I’ve had Sri Lankans and Indians who leave their kids back home in order to earn enough to pay university tuition back home. But, as they’re not Muslim, they don’t exactly fit in to the Saudi routine.

    I suspect they’d be willing to trade off the satellite TV and air conditioning and housing for the ability to stay with their families… if they could afford to do so.

    Muslim Arab domestics have it a little easier, but comparing life in Jordan or Syria with life in the KSA? Nobody comes to the KSA because it’s just a swell place to live.

    For expats, particularly third-world expats, life in the KSA is pretty grim. No freedom. Penalized for socializing with others. Always on the look-out for the Commission. Seeing a boyfriend? Ha! Unable to get places, and damn few places that are fun enough to want to get there. Cannot even run to the Embassy freely, but must plan surreptitious means to get there.

    No, I wouldn’t agree that they have a ‘better’ life in the KSA. They only have a better-paid, but miserable life.

  22. 22
    American Bedu Said:
    June:15:2008 - 01:26 

    What needs to be taken into account is that these housemaids (and other laborers) would NOT be coming to KSA if they did not find the offered salary agreeable to them. Because we (and primarily as Westerners here) are accustomed to other standards in regards to wages and benefits, we generally find their salary and working conditions as unacceptable. I’m not saying in some cases they are not but trying to put things into a perspective. Westerners do have a tendency to “mirror-image” and wish to convey western views, perspectives and customs on many whether this fits or not.

    Yes, the housemaid situation can and does work both ways on the side of abuse — by the employer and the employee — and this is certainly an area which could benefit by tighter controls and regulations.

    Like John, as one who has traveled extensively, it would be easy to fill a book on the topic of domestic help and how it varies from country to country. For example, in Pakistan, the domestic helper inside the home is generally a man. And this man is indeed “one stop shopping.” He will cook, clean, do laundry, ironing, serve the meals as well as run errands. By comparison, the majority of housemaids engaged in the Kingdom will solely clean, do laundry, ironing and MAYBE help prepare a meal. They will rarely cook. They also usually make more per month than the domestic live in helper in Pakistan. I say this as again, it is a matter of perspective on what is culturally accepted for each country — who works, how much they are paid, what are the hours, the conditions, etc.

  23. 23
    BT in SA Said:
    June:15:2008 - 03:48 

    Solomon – Just curious what I should say: “I see her working all the time and she never smiles?” That is purely my opinion – maybe even when she is happy she doesn’t smile. I wave to her when she’s out in the morning and we walk by – she tilts her sponge to me – she doesn’t smile. If I see her in the afternoon when I’m out walking the Kids and she’s out – I wave – she sometimes waves or tilts her head. She doesn’t smile. For all I know she’s scared to death of me – that if I see her “smiling” I’ll report her or something. You know what – I don’t smile all the time I’m working – doing MY housework – either. I’m not saying that she IS being abused – I don’t see any indication of that other than what I consider to be abusive because she works so many hours. Is this abuse? I think American Bedu put it well “we … are accustomed to other standards.”

    Have I personally reported things? Yes. Abuse of maids? No. But when I was having problems with teenagers a while back, and called Security, did Security stop the teenagers I was reporting – NO – they stopped a little worker on his motorbike, instead! I am only stating what I personally have seen – and that is the double standard for ex-pats versus locals where I am in the Eastern Province where I have lived for almost six years. Is it like that all over KSA? I wouldn’t know but for what I read in the papers. Is it like this all over the Gulf? I have seen some of the same things happen in Bahrain. I’ve only spent a couple of days in Kuwait so I couldn’t say. Dubai? No. Not that I’ve seen, personally, in the two weeks I’ve spent there.

  24. 24
    Solomon2 Said:
    June:15:2008 - 07:51 

    what I should say: “I see her working all the time and she never smiles?”

    Even though you get close enough to her to see that she doesn’t have any bruises, you yourself pointed out that the hours she works constitute abuse. You may be the only person, outside of her employer, who can be a witness to that, so what can the police do otherwise? If you don’t report it, are you not enabling it? Slavery is illegal, even in Saudi Arabia.

  25. 25
    American Bedu Said:
    June:15:2008 - 08:32 


    I hate to be a naysayer here but what can she report… “the woman does not smile.” “she has to wash a car each morning.” To whom would she report that and how can that equate to abuse? And in regards to hours, sadly housemaids are expected to work what many of us perceive as excessive hours but one would probably get laughed at at minimum if attempting to say a housemaid appears to be overworked and working too long of hours.

    I’d also like to distinguish at the risk of getting slammed perhaps by some readers, but I believe there is a wide gap on how westerners treat their housemaids and how arabs treat their housemaids which again, I attribute to culture. Most westerners are raised in an “I can do it” environment whereas in the arab culture there were slaves until the 1960′s and then the paid domestic help who are expected to cater to even the most minimal of needs. And westerners are also accustomed to labor guidelines, minimum wage, set hours and/or overtime. This does not necessarily exist yet in the arab world. I’m not saying it is a losing battle but these are facts one has to contend with and can’t expect to have them change in a day.

    Frankly, even my own spouse and I will have differences in regards to domestic staff. I believe domestic staff should have set hours and at least one full, complete day off. That’s not the norm in this culture.

    It is a complex issue from multiple angles.

  26. 26
    anonymous Said:
    June:15:2008 - 10:03 

    We recently hired a Filipino housemaid to clean, iron, help with children and generally be a “one stop shop” around the house.

    She receives: (as per the specifications from the Filipino embassy for house help)
    - one day off each week
    - 1500 SR per month
    - a plane ticket home every 2 years
    - health care
    - and decent humane treatment from my family

    She eagerly signed a simple contract without hesitation.

    Unfortunately she is afraid to ride in a taxi past the highways that lead out into the desert. As for human rights many Filipinos are regulary raped by males in and outside the house.

    I know that many families don’t pay their househelp for months at a time.

    One family I personally know considered their indonesian maid the personal sex chattel of the men in the house. She eventually got pregnant and they sent her home.

    Too bad.

  27. 27
    BT in SA Said:
    June:15:2008 - 11:00 

    Thank you, American Bedu! You are so right, insofar as: “I’d also like to distinguish at the risk of getting slammed perhaps by some readers, but I believe there is a wide gap on how westerners treat their housemaids and how arabs treat their housemaids which again, I attribute to culture.” Just going to a bank here in KSA is so different than in the US – how many tea boys work at the banks in the US? How many chairs do you see in FRONT of the teller line in the US? It is a completely different culture.

    Believe me, Solomon, if I saw the maid that lives behind us – who I get within ten or fifteen feet to in the mornings while I’m walking my two Kids – with a black eye, or bandages on her hands, or something other than her “not smiling” when I wave to her, I’d be the FIRST one to be calling Security here on our compound – which you do – instead of calling the police. Is the woman unhappy? Maybe. Perhaps even probably. Does that constitute abuse? Only if you reported to an agency like the ACLU. Is she overworked? Probably. Does that constitute abuse? In the US – if you weren’t being paid overtime, having a certain number of hours off, etc., yes, it would be a form of “something” [breaking some labor law] but not necessarily “abuse” per se. Here? No. American Bedu is right. “It is a complex issue from multiple angles.”

  28. 28
    AbuSinan Said:
    June:15:2008 - 11:24 

    I believe the system in the Kingdom is so awful, that the Saudi government really ought to just ban the import of foreign maids into the country.

    Until the people, as a whole, learn to respect these women and treat them as humans and equals, they should be forced to go without. No amount of laziness or “need” can justify the rampant system of abuse that exists.

    A country can rightly be judged on how it treats it weakest members. When you look at how domestic help are treated in Saudi, along with those with special needs, it is clear that the culture, the country, is indicted at all levels.

  29. 29
    Carol Said:
    June:15:2008 - 13:13 

    Not in any way making excuses but looking back at relatively recent history in some ways it is not a surprise that a housemaid is looked upon as chattel and personal property. Slavery was legal in KSA until the 1960′s. And also legal (believe it or not) was the right of the family who “owned” a female slave, to use her for sexual pleasure. In addition, according to the law, if that sexual slave became pregnant and had a child, then the child must be recognized and part of the family, and not a slave. Therefore it is not all that surprising to see the mindset which has been in place for centuries.

    Anonymous — marshallah, it sounds like your housemaid is very fortunate indeed. What you are providing while maybe sounding minimal to many, is considered the “standard” package for a Filipina and what the Phillipine embassy mandates. At the same time, the licensed legal agencies are still able to bring in Phillipine housemaids (and with coordination from the Phillipine government) to families for 750 – 850 SAR per month.

    It’s contradictory but so are many things in the Kingdom.

  30. 30
    John Burgess Said:
    June:15:2008 - 13:34 

    It’s contradictory but so are many things in the Kingdom.

    Now there’s an understatement for the ages!

  31. 31
    Sparky Said:
    June:15:2008 - 14:21 

    If you visit you will find a .pdf file witht the following information concerning working hours on page 11. Until the law changes we are stuck with it unless someone wants to change and luckily for these domestic helpers their embassies, although poor, are lobbying on their behalf a lot more than we can say for the developed countries’ embassies.

    Article (6):Incidental, seasonal and temporary workers shall be subject to the provisions on duties and disciplinary rules, the maximum working hours, daily and weekly rest intervals, overtime work, official holidays, safety rules, occupational health, work injuries and compensation therefore as well as whatever is decided by the Minister.

    Article (7):
    The following shall be exempted from the implementation of the provisions of this Law:

    (1) The employer’s family members, namely, the spouse, the ascendants and descendants who constitute the only workers of the firm.
    (2) Domestic helpers and the like.
    (3) Sea workers working on board of vessels with a load of less than five hundred tons.
    (4) Agricultural workers other than the categories stated in Article (5) of this Law.

  32. 32
    John Burgess Said:
    June:15:2008 - 14:27 

    Of course, if a law specifies a minimum condition, that doesn’t mean that employers cannot exceed it. While domestics are not limited by law to a specific workweek, an employer could certainly say, ’40-hr workweek, time-and-a-half paid for overtime’. That would, it seems to me, make it less likely for a maid to abscond.

    Of course, it would have the result of making a domestic worker more expensive, perhaps requiring the hiring of more than one. But that’s another issue.

  33. 33
    Sparky Said:
    June:15:2008 - 14:27 

    John, I have thought how sad it is for these maids leaving their children and families behind. However, I never cease to be amazed when I see example after example of maids who would rather use the credit on their cell phone to call their boyfriends rather than their own children! It is a different culture comparing how American mothers interact with their young compared to how our cultures interact with their young.

    In fact, I have made a point to make sure that the maid is calling her family and checking on them and what I find they mostly do is make them cry. Families rarely contact but only to tell a story of someone is in the hospital and needs money a.s.a.p. I am sure Carol knows what I mean because we are interacting personally with many people in this regard,

  34. 34
    Sparky Said:
    June:15:2008 - 14:31 

    John you brought up a good point concerning the fact that there aren’t many things to do in KSA so what to do with all that free time?

    Boredom or not enough work causes some maids to get restless and abscond. I had to look up that word :-)

  35. 35
    Carol Said:
    June:15:2008 - 15:47 

    Having a housemaid may indeed sound like a luxury to some but I believe with the Saudi culture, customs, traditions, lifestyle and climate, it is necessary. And if a large family is part of that equation, even more so. At the same time, it is not a “piece of cake” taking a housemaid in. She does become part of the family at the minimum in she is living in your home and having a day-to-day role. In this capacity, she will not only be well aware of your life and lifestyle but you will also become very familiar with her and her issues too. It’s like Sparky said, we do interact personally. We will be taking them to doctors, banks, probably assisting them in transferring funds back to their families, sometimes acting as family mediators. Yes; many come here with a “network” and do establish whole different ties over here. Be prepared for there will be the housemaid who may be married with children and has a boyfriend over here or back in the home country whom she’ll be calling. These things do happen. And another delicate issue is in some cases the housemaid is given the day off where she will spend time with her friends who are also in the Kingdom. Be careful if she turns up pregnant! This does happen and I have heard of cases where a housemaid will cry “rape” but in fact the act was consential and with a fellow Filipino.

    Personally I have preferred to work with housemaids from other than the Phillipines. I don’t know if it has just happened to be my bad luck but when I’ve had Filipina helpers they seem to come with too many external problems and expect me as the “Madame” to resolve them.

  36. 36
    Sparky Said:
    June:15:2008 - 16:17 

    Well said Carol.

    By the way, it too me a while getting used to being called a madame lol…Resisted it for the longest time until they started calling me Mama which wasn’t any better because that is for older women. Husband is called Sir not Monsieur “My Lord” although they in many ways think they are our Lord…

  37. 37
    Sparky Said:
    June:15:2008 - 16:18 

    Notice how none of us are talking about the Saudis increasing oil production. That is a way of sidetracking us a diversion. By the way there is a cool device to mix water with oil to increase its efficiency and it is legal.

  38. 38
    John Burgess Said:
    June:15:2008 - 17:16 

    I surely didn’t intend to divert attention from the oil production increase! I’m just not sure that the increase is of sufficient quantity to have a whole lot of effect on the market. I also don’t think that a shortage of supply is what’s really pushing the prices higher. Too many other factors are in play.

  39. 39
    Saudi in US Said:
    June:15:2008 - 17:54 

    I want to add a few things here:

    I disagree that housemaids are a necessity and part of the traditions. The explosion in the numbers only happened in the late 70′s, that is only 30 years ago, hardly a tradition. Up until then most people that had maids were well to do and able to afford them. I think that is an important aspect as it impacts both the quality of people we are bringing to work in the country and the quality of treatment they receive in country. Yes the homes got bigger, the families got bigger, etc. all of these are not necessities they are choices.

    As with any choice we make there are consequences. Part of the consequence is importing maids. However, we have made the cost of such service artificially low due to bad regulations. Let me expand on that:

    1) Cost of quality: when you are importing workers at $200-$300 a month, you are scraping the bottom of the barrel and yes you get what you pay for. I can accept the idea that there are bad apples out there under normal conditions, but the numbers support that this is a systematic issue. The low wages expose the system to bad quality and dishonest work force.

    2) Cost of bringing employers into the system that cannot deal with the total cost of a maid. The family may require 2 maids for the amount of work, but they do with one that can be treated like a slave. There are a multitude of issues to go into here like providing health care, living quarters, etc.

    3) Cost of education. I do not think there is a program out there that teaches sponsors how to be responsible. Sparky and others here are very educated and knowledgeable, but I am talking about the example of a will meaning 70 year old head of a household that does not know that a maid is being abused in his own house. The issues of knowledgeable abusers can be dealt with as part of enforcement.

    4) Cost of regulations. Our laws have not been developed enough to deal with this huge change in the number of domestic workers and all the different issues related to taking care of them or dealing with the crimes they may bring.

    5) Cost of enforcement of the rules: All the rules in the world won’t mean a thing if enforcement and training for the government agencies is not established. When you add 10% to the population of a country to include a group that has contractual issues and possible abuses and crimes, there is a large impact on government budgets (labor department, immigration, police, courts, etc.) This is assuming the government agencies want to do their job properly. The cost of these should be tacked on as taxes/fees to support the increase in such costs otherwise the consumer is receiving a goverment subsidy.

    6) Hidden social cost: many issues under this category, like increased prostitution, kids being raised by maids, rape, drug trafficking, etc.

    Yes the consumer only pays the low wages under today’s conditions, but what would be the cost of a maid be if we tacked on all the above. I think it will double at minimum. Especially if a quality metric is established for number 1 above. At $700-$900 a month cost what would be the number of maids in Saudi?

    I know not every issue can be looked at as an economical issue, but the case of economics has not been looked at enough that I think it is worth a discussion instead of the blame game. One of the roles of a government is to insure regulations are in place for markets that has potential for abuse and to insure fairness for citizens and residents of the country. Blaming this situation on the maids is not fair as they have no say in the matter. The country is called Saudi Arabia not the Philippines or any other name. Saudis are responsible for fixing this problem.

  40. 40
    Aafke Said:
    June:15:2008 - 18:12 

    It’s a shocking subject. Wasn’t there a couple in New York who imported these standarts, and abused and starved two indonesian house maids? Never found out what happened in the end, But comments were made that the fuss was excessive, as it was just a ”cultural” thing.

    So in former days a slave would actually have been a bit better of as an eventual child would belong to the family where as now she and the baby are just kicked out?

    I just don’t clean if I have to work too hard and am tired.
    You don’t want to visit me and have a dust-allergy. Better warn me two weeks in advance.
    But I wouldn’t want a maid around all the time either…
    But I do like a very clean tidy house…

  41. 41
    John Burgess Said:
    June:15:2008 - 19:40 

    Saudi in US: Before the advent of foreign maids, Saudi families did have the benefit of (unpaid) labor in the form of cousins, orphans of the family, unwed daughters, and the like. Even without going into multiple marriages, there were generally more women (yes, housework is traditionally women’s work) in a household than it could comfortably contain.

    I’d bet dollars to donuts that one of the reasons that traditional cooking is so labor intensive—all that chopping, mincing, kneading, etc.–is that it kept a lot of female hands busy for long hours every day!

    Too, the culture has changed. How many Saudi teenage girls, 50 years ago, had closets full of clothes, shoes, handbags, scarves, and a half-dozen different abayas? You see this even in the West where, looking at older homes, you find closets that would, at best, hold three or four changes of clothing. Now, it’s walk-in closets.

    Aafke: There have been recent cases in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. The ‘offending nationalities’ have been American, Indian, and Arab. I guess the root of it is that there are just some mean people out there–in both the American and British senses of ‘mean’. Some people do, as a matter of habit, perhaps even as a matter of pride or self-worth, find they must abuse other, weaker human beings.

    As a male, I have a different standard of ‘cleanliness’ than most women. I understand female standards, but find that they’re too fussy for me. But I can pull it together if guests are expected. But I also expect that the guests are visiting me, not my place. If the intent is otherwise, then I can certainly shine the place up and just leave them the keys!

  42. 42
    Saudi in US Said:
    June:15:2008 - 20:13 


    I agree that the culture changed just like any other place, but tradition requires much longer time. My point on this topic is that other adjustments can be made to deal with the change. Americans are 2 times as rich as Saudis according the GDP (PPP) numbers. Yet you do not have close to as many living maids in the US. The difference being that the total cost is taking effect in the US.

    Regarding the point that Saudi women are being liberated somehow from house work. I agree with that, but at the cost of the liberty of a foreign worker and losing our humanity. I would rather have a different change. Instead of over reliance on maids, how about living in a home that is not clean to the point of excessiveness. Or what about the novel idea of a husband helping his wife in housework. How about teenagers not being as lazy as they are today and help with shores. Many Saudis do it by the way. Given the right conditions that may become more common.

    I would not go as far as saying housemaids should not be allowed in Saudi. I am for including all the costs in the price and let the market forces drive better behavior.

  43. 43
    John Burgess Said:
    June:15:2008 - 22:00 

    I agree on all points. Don’t ban them, but price their labor honestly and maybe even compassionately. Islam is about doing good works. Treating a domestic employee just a bit better than what’s absolutely required would be an act of merit. Treating one less than what’s required is both criminal and a sin.

  44. 44
    Sparky Said:
    June:16:2008 - 01:23 

    Very well said both John and Saudi in the U.S.

    Saudi in the U.S. you certainly compel my logic and John you stir my compassion and by the way I will steal your phrase that guests should be visiting me not my place otherwise I will leave them the keys.

    Concerning the cooking here in K.S.A. it is very labor instensive and more time consuming than any other cuisine I have been familiar with and I see the reason now and agree with your assessment…

  45. 45
    Sparky Said:
    June:16:2008 - 01:27 

    Olivetheoil…you are clean obsessed! Haven’t heard of a Roomba but I do have a Rainbow which is my “habeebi”.

    Aafke I don’t have allergies but I will sneeze a lot if your home is dusty :-) and like John said I would be visiting you and not your home.

  46. 46
    Solomon2 Said:
    June:16:2008 - 19:16 

    Is she overworked? Probably. Does that constitute abuse?…Here? No. American Bedu is right. “It is a complex issue from multiple angles.”

    I do not know what the standard of “abuse” is within the KSA, as in whether it is defined in the law or not. If it is subjective – defined by custom, that is – then the authorities should respond if enough citizens protest. Every complaint should help improve matters a little bit more, even though you may not see results in your specific case.

  47. 47
    BT in SA Said:
    June:16:2008 - 23:28 

    Yet, another maid with problems… Two broken legs she got when she jumped out of a window to try to “runaway.” Here:

    And from today’s Saudi Gazette, an article on the “rights situation,” here, in Saudi – the very last paragraph:

    “Q: What do you say on criticism that domestic help receives a low salary?
    A: We only criticize salaries in rare cases but we have focused on the number of working hours. As an example, a housemaid does not have given working hours and does not receive a weekly day-off.”

    The article is here:

  48. 48
    Saudi in US Said:
    June:17:2008 - 00:49 

    The numbers in the first article even if exaggerated by double are horrible.

    “About 83 percent of Indonesian housemaids complain of unpaid salaries, nine percent are subjected to sex abuse and physical maltreatment, and eight percent have other problems with their employers,”

    If these types of numbers do not move the authority to make major changes, I do not know what will wake them up from their long slumber.

  49. 49
    anonymous Said:
    June:17:2008 - 08:06 

    I’d say abuse starts as violating the explicit expectations that the woman had from the maid made with her employer.

    People who pay less than the embassy who sets policy for their citizens who are domestic helpers abuse. I know there are many “going rates” and many people will take them to find a job, but that is not what the embassy has determined is reasonable.

    Yes, I too believe in the free market, but if a person takes advantage of the realization of many maids (whether they be Filipino, Bengali or Indonesian) to pay them the market rate as opposed to what their governments believe is acceptable for economic, human rights and market reasons, I say deep shame on them.

    I was sitting and talking with a Saudi guy who has started a “very profitable” business of importing domestic help. He described how he goes to employ maids from Sri Lanka. Apparently the Sri Lankan embassy set the wage for a sri lankan housemaid at at least 650 SR. Before many were working for less. He goes to them and offers them 500 SR per month if they will agree to work for him. They sign the false agreementfor 650 because it is better than nothing. He farms them out for 500 in Saudi. He cashes in while the maids continue to live in conditions that the Sri lankan govt is trying to help them out of.

    I wanted to slap him.

  50. 50
    Michel Said:
    June:17:2008 - 08:20 


    I felt the same a few years ago; a Sri Lankan maid that I knew told me about her ordeal as her sponsor exploited her (low wages, blackmail, sexual harassment); I wanted to go and kill him; why didn’t I do it ???

  51. 51
    anonymous Said:
    June:17:2008 - 08:21 


    cash is just one of the reasons they run away. Some like to say that is the primary reason, but as the press becomes freer, the stories that have been passed around for years are validated.

    That is just one, and not the most important. A maid who runs away is facing jail if she gets caught, maybe here situation was worse than being in jail.

  52. 52
    American Bedu Said:
    June:17:2008 - 08:21 


    I do not disagree with what you say but wish to highlight that the respective embassy may suggest one rate but then governmental offices back in the home country of the maid will approve a different and lower rate. So who is wrong and to blame? The embassy or the Home Office? Both are official and from the Government.

    And in part, the housemaids who are agreeing to work for a lesser salary are also at fault. Those offers should be reported to the Sri Lankan government who hopefully would enforce the regulations.

    As so many of these comments illustrate, it is not a clear, cut and dried issue. There are many aspects to factor in and many fixes which need to be made.

  53. 53
    Solomon2 Said:
    June:17:2008 - 11:50 

    “in part, the housemaids who are agreeing to work for a lesser salary are also at fault.”

    Maid: Hello, I’m here to pick up my paycheck of $750.

    Sponsor: Here’s $500.

    Maid: But I’m supposed to be paid $750! I need to support my family at home!

    Sponsor: It is either $500 or nothing. You can take the money and send it home so your family can buy food, or they can starve while you spend a few weeks looking for employment elsewhere – but I’m not giving you back your papers. Think now, who will help you here in Saudi Arabia? What is your choice?

    Yeah, the maids are at fault because they want to keep themselves and their families alive. Pooh on them!

  54. 54
    Sparky Said:
    June:17:2008 - 12:38 

    You know what Solomon2 we or people who bring them here to work cannot be blamed for their situation in their country that forces or drives them to want to come here and work DESPITE all the horror stories and abuse I am sure that are most likely aware of. WE DID NOT CREATE THE condition that brings them here.

    However the sponsor is responsible for fufilling their end of the agreement whatever that may be as stated in the agreement and acting decent and humane way and with respect towards the maid. I do not believe that is exploitation…? I have heard of many good stories of maids doing very well and being able to feed their families because they were working here or else they would starve. Also, there are stories of maids taking action against employers like killing them and do not think they are all innocent in this sex abuse thing.

    SOme of them like a little bang here and there on the side while they are working here with the sir or whoever else and they keep it on the down low so who ends up suffering because of this? An aquaintance of mine told me of a lady she knows whose maid said to her, “There is not one space in your home where me and your sir have not done it.” That was a willing partner…I would say. They sometimes try to seduce the sir believe me have seen it with my own eyes…

  55. 55
    Sparky Said:
    June:17:2008 - 13:20 

    Might I add that if any maid said that above statement to me she would be getting an _ss whoppin like she never or ever would experience again that is if she survives! \She would be doing herself a mighty big favor by escaping running jumping whatever.

    Then when I was done with her target number 2 would be in site…for a similar treatment.

    Sometimes like I have said, “Some things are best left unsaid.”

  56. 56
    Solomon2 Said:
    June:17:2008 - 14:56 

    WE DID NOT CREATE THE condition that brings them here…However the sponsor is responsible for fufilling their end of the agreement whatever that may be as stated in the agreement and acting decent and humane way and with respect towards the maid. I do not believe that is exploitation…?

    That depends. If it is entirely the option of the sponsor whether or not to fulfill contractual obligations – that is, if neither society nor the State can not effectively coerce him to follow the contract if he doesn’t want to – then the door is open to exploitation, for there is no way for the maid to appeal if something goes wrong, correct?

    there are stories of maids taking action against employers like killing them and do not think they are all innocent in this sex abuse thing.

    It sounds like what Southerners used to whisper about their slaves before the civil war. Are you afraid your domestics will discover their own Prophet? You already fear them as sexual competitors.

  57. 57
    Sparky Said:
    June:17:2008 - 15:51 

    Solomon2 you said, “There is not way for the maid to appeal if something goes wrong.”

    Answer: There are mediators who will come from the agency she was brought from (even ones in the home country have offices here) and if all doesn’t go well or there is an issue that cannot be resolved she goes back with the mediator. The mediator is someone from her own nationality. She can also go directly to her embassy.

    Solomon2 said: Are you afraid your demoestics will discover their own Prophet?

    Answer: I don’t know what you mean by that at all.

    Solomon2 said: You already fear them as sexual competitors.

    Me: Yes, but sexual predators might be a more suitable term. Imagine another male living in your house… It is actually a very awkward setup at times and one has to weigh the benefits versus the drawbacks. If the women is modest there is nothing to fear but I can sniff out a woman on the prowl.

    Comparison of domestic maids to slaves is far fetched! Very far fetched. In fact, many go back to their country and then come back again year after year after year…that is hardly a comparison to slaves.

  58. 58
    Solomon2 Said:
    June:17:2008 - 16:22 

    Mediation may exist, but have you heard of a case where it was effective? If so, I hope all foreign domestics are informed of how to initiate the mediation process.

    I don’t know what you mean -

    Click on the link, Sparky. The “Prophet” of nineteenth-century slaves in Virginia was Nat Turner, who led a rebellion to “kill all whites”, and as such is “considered by many to be a heroic figure of black resistance to oppression.”

    Comparison of domestic maids to slaves is far fetched! Very far fetched. In fact, many go back to their country and then come back again year after year -

    “Slave” is perhaps too strong a word, but “voluntary servitude” seems too weak. Perhaps “peon” is a better word. When I was in Switzerland a quarter-century ago the maitre d’hotel was a Rumanian national who was loaned out by the Communist Ceaucescu regime on an annual basis. He told us he had no freedom to change jobs, and effectively no rights because if his sponsor (the hotel owner) complained to the Romanian Embassy he would be forced to leave and never be permitted to come back to Switzerland. By the standards of his countrymen, he was a well-to-do but unhappy man, but he felt very much like a slave.

    Imagine another male living in your house -

    It’s not the same. The more my wife sees of other men, the more she appreciates me! (After I pick up dinner, wash the dishes, and take out the garbage of course!) :)

  59. 59
    Sparky Said:
    June:18:2008 - 01:07 

    Well Solomon if every man were like you, there would be no need for housemaids :-)

  60. 60
    Sparky Said:
    June:18:2008 - 06:42 

    “Filipinos get new tax reprieve”

    I am happy for them :-) Perhaps less will need to come to Saudi to work as housemaids!

  61. 61
    Kim Matthews Said:
    November:22:2010 - 06:34 

    well in my opinion, why does one person need a sponsor to visit a country? it’s really un-ethical… why does one don’t have the freedom to go in or out of saudi arabia? I just wish that one day, they wake up to the reality of equality and anti-slavery, and revise those pointless rules that they have…

  62. 62
    John Burgess Said:
    November:22:2010 - 10:30 

    Different countries means different rules. Saudi Arabia, which was essentially closed to foreigners for a long time (excluding Haj, of course), simply has different rules. China’s rules aren’t a lot different, nor were those of the former USSR. Albania, during the bad old days, and Burma now were/are almost impossible to visit. In the KSA, it’s workers who need sponsors for the most part. Ordinary tourists don’t, though there’s little ‘ordinary’ tourism at present.

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