Kuwaiti diplomat accused of trafficking Pinay DH agrees to settlement

A KUWAITI  diplomat accused of trafficking a Filipina domestic worker has agreed to a settlement.

Following a settlement with a Kuwaiti diplomat accused of trafficking, the survivor, Filipina domestic worker Deadema (Dema) Ramos, spoke out at a press conference Thursday about her experience in New York.

In the wake of this settlement, Damayan, a grassroots organization for the rights of low-wage Filipino migrant workers, the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project, and the National Employment Law Project (NELP) called on the Philippine Consulate to enact stronger anti-trafficking reforms.

Dema spoke about her harrowing experience in 2009, when she arrived in New York City with her employer, a Kuwaiti diplomat at the UN mission. Upon arriving, the diplomat confiscated her passport and all but confined her to the house.

Dema was forced into often backbreaking work seven days a week, 20 hours a day, for as little as $500 a month, most of which was sent to the Philippines to support Dema’s own five children.

The diplomat made Dema sign documents she was not allowed to read, restricted her movements and kept her hostage through fear and manipulation.

“I want people to realize that this is really happening here in America to domestic workers,” said Dema Ramos. “To those who are being abused and who don’t know the laws and rights here, we should know about organizations like Damayan. We should know that we can defend our rights and shouldn’t be abused. I’m speaking because of the other domestic workers who should know that we should fight for our rights.”

Trafficked domestic workers experience some of the most inhumane forms of labor exploitation, yet some traffickers are the same diplomats who claim to uphold human and labor rights.

The most recent data from the Government Accountability Office found 42 documented cases of abuse of domestic workers by diplomats between 2000-2007, and the US State Department’s 2011 and 2012 Trafficking in Persons Reports cited well over a dozen allegations in the reporting period, including civil lawsuits and criminal investigations of diplomats. These numbers are widely believed to be under reported, because of the isolation of domestic workers and the difficulty in reporting the crime.

Nearly a year after arriving in NYC with her employer, Dema met a Filipina who gave her the phone number of Damayan, a grassroots organization for the rights of low-wage Filipino migrant workers. Damayan helped Dema escape, and two years later she is one of Damayan’s most active organizers.

With the representation of attorneys from the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, Dema sent a demand letter to the Kuwaiti diplomat, threatening to file suit if he did not pay Dema the wages she was owed.  The diplomat recently agreed to a settlement. Dema applied for immigration status as a trafficking victim and was approved.

“This legal settlement is proof that trafficking victims can win justice, even when the trafficker is a diplomat,” said Nicole Hallett, Staff Attorney at the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project. “Diplomats can no longer hide behind diplomatic immunity to abuse their workers.”

Dema’s story highlights a growing trend. Roughly 4,300 Filipinos leave their country everyday; 90% of them are women, and 70% of these women become domestic workers in countries like the US. There are over 200,000 domestic workers in NYC, 15% of whom are Filipino. Many, like Dema, are trafficked, meaning they are brought to the country through fraud, force, or coercion of other kinds.  Damayan is helping to bring these women out of the shadows with a campaign demanding protection for workers and accountability for traffickers.

The Philippine Consulate in NY has been largely unresponsive to complaints of trafficking by their citizens, but the Philippines’ recent ratification of the International Labor Organization’s first ever domestic workers’ convention offers a chance for the Philippines to improve their records on this issue.

At Thursday’s press conference, Damayan and the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center read from a letter, co-authored by the National Employment Law Project, to the Philippine Consulate urging them to enact certain policy recommendations, including a dedicated anti-trafficking task force.

“As a top source country for trafficking, specifically of women domestic workers, the Philippines has a special responsibility to protect its workers and address this problem,” said Leah Obias, Campaigns Coordinator and Case Manager at Damayan.

“The Philippine consulate in New York needs to implement relevant provisions locally and support the trafficked workers and the organizing work that is the frontline solution to the problem of modern-day slavery,” she said.

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