Vikram* left India with the promise of a good job in Kurdistan so that he could support his family; he had worked abroad before and was eager to apply his skills as an engineer in this new context. He worked six days per week for 12 hours a day – it was hard work, but he was happy to be able to support his family back in India. After ten months working for a large company, the management accused him of “stirring up trouble” and began making threats to him and others. Vikram became concerned for himself and fellow workers; he tried to stand up for his rights, requesting that management take a fair approach and investigate rather than making broad accusations. The manager responded by suspending Vikram and other employees from work, and denying them pay for the previous month’s work.
Suspension from work meant that the men were unable to earn their salaries which were critical to the support of their families back home; the unproven accusations resulted in severe consequences. The manager did not stop there; she confined them to a room, and they were not allowed to leave the premises. After some time, most of the men were allowed back to work – but not Vikram and one other colleague. While the manager eventually allowed them out of the room, their movement was restricted, and she had confiscated their passports and residency documents.
For months Vikram and his colleague tried to negotiate a solution with the manager but to no avail; he pleaded, apologized, and asked for mercy, even though he had done nothing wrong. He begged to either be allowed to return to work or to be sent home to India. The managers remained belligerent, refusing to allow Vikram to work or return home. She told him, in writing, that she would keep him until his contract expired, another two years, without pay, as punishment.
Vikram was fearful and distraught, knowing that his family relied on his salary; he began looking for other options. Vikram came across SEED’s website and sent an email to ask for help. After collecting information and confirming Vikram’s status as a victim of trafficking, SEED set forth a plan to help Vikram and his colleague. First, we moved the men to a safe shelter, with their safety being the highest priority, and began providing emotional and legal and case management services, and ensured the men’s basic needs were met, utilizing the support of multiple donors.
Once in a safe place, SEED attempted to negotiate with their employer to assert their rights to their pay and safe return home. SEED argued for their human and economic rights under their employment contract, under the Iraqi Labor Law, and under the new Anti-Trafficking Law passed in July 2019, to be respected. SEED also sought to resolve the issue by appealing to the employer’s human compassion, economic interests, etc. However, after numerous letters and meetings with the employer, there was no resolution.
SEED coordinated with local authorities including the Kurdistan Regional Government’s law enforcement agency responsible for assisting victims of trafficking, and the Indian Consulate General to support Vikram and his colleague to achieve their ultimate goal – to return home to their families in India.
Ultimately, SEED was able to help Vikram and his colleague achieve this goal and more. Not only did SEED and its partners secure the documents necessary for their travel home and payment for flights back to India by the company they once worked for, SEED was also able to get them payment for their unpaid labor and the back pay owed for the months they were denied work.
After the seven month ordeal, Vikram and his colleague returned home to his family and contacted SEED to say: “We are both good and our family are very happy too. We are very thankful to you.” It was encouraging to see the collaboration with the KRG to protect their human rights and ensure the company provided Vikram what was owed to him. We hope that this experience will compel the company to respect the rights of their workers to avoid similar consequences in the future, further protecting others in their employ.
*Name and identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality.