In hopes to provide for my family, I endured almost a lifetime of servitude.
I come from a very poor family and a very small village of 150 people in Bangladesh. Like many poor Bangladeshi families, my family could not afford to keep me in school. I was pulled out of school at the equivalent of the fifth grade and encouraged to work and earn money for my family. I learned to speak and write Bengali, but never became fully literate.
I worked on the family farm, but it was not enough. Many in our village encouraged me to work abroad to earn more money. When I was 15 years old, a wealthy Arab family offered me a chance to work in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates for them. They assured my family that I would be cared for and paid well working as a domestic servant in their home.
My family and I agreed. Soon after, I left for the U.A.E. I worked for this family for more than 14 years as one of their many servant staff, cleaning and caring for their lavish home, and cooking meals. I was allowed to return once in 14 years to visit my family. I missed them dearly, but knew that I was providing for them in the best way that I could.
In 2016, the family informed me that I would be moving to the United States with one of their sons. I did not know where Arizona was, but I knew that it would be even farther away from my family. I protested this decision, but was told that I had no choice in the matter.
I was given a visa and was told to lie to the U.S. Embassy and claim that I was entering the U.S. to work as a chef. I did work as a chef, but for the son. I cooked all of his meals and even cooked for his two roommates, who were both rich young Saudis purportedly in the U.S. to study English as well. These three held extravagant and loud parties each month, and I was commanded to cook for the two dozen that were in attendance. But in addition to cooking, I also washed and cared for all of their laundry, cleaned the apartment, and anything else they desired.
The son was more verbally abusive than his parents had been to me. I was hit, beaten whenever I asked for lighter housework due to being sick or tired. I wanted to escape, but my passport had been taken away after I arrived. Whenever the son or his roommates left, they locked the apartment from the outside so I could not leave. The only time I could leave was to shop for groceries (chaperoned by one of the men) or to attend weekly prayer at the mosque.
I was miserable. I missed my family. Many times, I even missed working for the family in Abu Dhabi. One day when I could no longer endure the abuse, I found a fellow Bangladeshi at the mosque and begged him to assist me. He agreed.
The next day, at 4:00am, I quietly left the apartment while everyone was sleeping. Soon, the Bangladeshi man arrived and took me back to his and his wife’s home. His wife was afraid that I would be found, so for many weeks, I was moved around among their home, her brother’s home, and another Bangladeshi family’s home.
While I moved between homes, I attended a community event and learned about a free legal group called Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles. I called them for assistance as soon as I could. The person on the phone was very kind, and sent me to someone who spoke Bengali and explained how they could help me. I was so grateful.
With their help, I decided to apply for something called a T Visa, which is a visa for victims of human trafficking. The workers there said that there are many others like me, who leave their home for a better life, or to provide for their families, but are lied to. They find that they cannot go home, that the money they make is not enough for themselves or for their families. They can starve, they can be hit like me, or they can even look like they are here on their free will.
My goal now is to stay in the USA, so that I may work a good job. I want others to know about my experiences so that it does not happen to others. I am grateful to the Bangladeshis I met who took a big risk and helped me escape. I am grateful to the people at Advancing Justice-LA who are helping me as I apply for my Visa.
Client, Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles
*Name and details have been changed to protect client confidentiality