Waiting so long for justice: Tales of a Domestic Worker
2015-09-15 16:18:46 -

Mariaam Bhatti


It was a Sunday afternoon on one of my few weekends to spend at home after about three years of working every weekend over the duration of my studies. Now that I can be ‘normal’ and sometimes have a peaceful weekend, I also get to spend time with friends I’d neglected for a while due to my previous schedule. This particular morning a friend and I were sitting in the living room after she’d had a sleepover at my place. She was preparing to leave while I was sorting out some stuff that needs posting to South Africa ahead of my first big trip there since I arrived in Ireland nearly six years ago. 


I was absent-minded, I think, daydreaming about what it would be like to be home after such a long and difficult journey in Ireland. I was imagining the early morning when a ‘lost’ me arrived in Dublin Airport to work in a house. I did not imagine it would take five years before I could see direction with my life. It was in this daydreaming moment that my friend said “ Tomorrow I am supposed to go the GNIB” and I replied “Okay” unconsciously, casting my eyes briefly at her and back to the stuff my hands were sorting out.


She ignored my absent-mindedness and went on: “You know? I feel like a criminal, I do! … I was exploited, not paid my wages and I am waiting for an immigration status for nearly four years. But I am the one who needs to keep reporting at immigration!” 


That got my full attention. I remember raising my eyes and putting aside what I was doing to tell her that she did not do anything wrong by having a dream for a better life that resulted in her taking that domestic job. Is it wrong to wish for a better life? Is it wrong to try and get any job that would help one further studies or earn money to pay the medical bills of an ailing parent or family member, or to build family a roof over their heads, or to send children to school? How can that be wrong? Everyone would do it if they had to do it, but why do we always have to justify working for these basics that everyone is supposed to be entitled to?


Many migrants in low-paid work don’t go abroad for any reason other than to be able to do basic things that many raised in our destination countries already have and often take for granted. I couldn’t stop thinking about my friend’s words all week; she was right. I was reminded of how unjust it is that someone can be wronged this way but be treated like a criminal, while the real criminal who subjected her to labour exploitation is walking around free, their life never stopping once. My friend’s life stopped: she can’t work, and she can’t freely plan her life as she doesn’t know what the outcome of the investigation, now entering its fourth year, will be.


I continue to ask myself what really justice is. We are told we are all entitled to it, but it seems to serve certain people more than others. Many victims of various injustices end up going to highest courts in the land or even the European courts to get justice, which can take years and years and huge amounts of resources. But how many ordinary people can afford that, or have the means or even practicalities to fight such battles?


For immigrants and migrants, immigration status is everything. It means being able to work, study and sometimes access services such as healthcare. I know winning such battles by ordinary people is possible but it can take forever. In the meantime, all I have to do is to keep hope for my friend and many others like her out there who are waiting so long for justice.



Mariaam Bhatti is a member of the Domestic Workers Action Group and Force Labour Action Group of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland

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