What is the saddest thing you ever saw at an airport check in desk?

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Mudassir Ali
Jan 24, 2020 01:30 PM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Jan 24, 2020 01:30 PM

The Middle East is a huge market for domestic labour. House helpers are normally hired from mainly Asian and African countries with The Philipines, India, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda being the biggest contributors. I had heard several stories of employers abusing domestic helpers but had not witnessed anything.

I was at the check in counter on duty when a decent looking Arab woman approached me with a passport belonging to her helper. She politely asked me to check in the helper but I insisted on seeing the passport holder before I could check her in as was the airline’s policy. She became defensive, insisting that I had trust her as she was the rightful employer and therefore entitled to ‘see that my helper leaves the country’. That was a red flag and I insisted on seeing the helper. And the fortunate thing was that there was only one counter open for that particular destination to Kenya where the helper was ticketed to fly to. After a good five minutes of failed attempts to get the check in done with the helper being absent the lady realised I was not budging and decided to bring the helper to the counter.

What shocked me from the moment she appeared was how frail and disoriented this helper was. She looked like she had not eaten regularly for a long time and was rather too submissive to her employer, letting her do the talking even when I directed the security questions to her. Her bags were so dirty. Something about this helper was not well. So I tried to get her to talk. Being African myself I have learnt a few Swahili phrases and I was able to ask her what was wrong and on hearing me speak Swahili the helper immidiately broke down in tears. But because my understanding of Swahili is very basic I could not understand much of what she had to say. But what I understood from her tone and her sudden crying was that she was really in distress. There surely was a problem. What pushed me to raise the issue with the airport police was that the Arab employer tried to stop her from speaking when she continued to speak in Swahili to me.

And so I rang my supervisor who brought the Police. The Police were able to find out that the helper had not been paid for four months and that the employer intended to sending her back to her home country of Uganda without paying her those wages. She had also been kept locked in a dark room for several days at a time in the 9 months she was working for her employer. That was the most shocking thing I witnessed at a check in counter. It left me saddened. I won’t forget it.

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