Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman embroiled in controversy, linked to human trafficking

A US based Pakistani woman has claimed that she has been victimized under the guise of a promising future. According to reports of The Washington Post, the woman who has been identified as Rehana Bibi, 46, of Pakistan thought that her employment would lead to a well-paying job as the house-help in Virginia for a Pakistani family with “prominent relatives”.

However, upon arrival in 2013, Bibi allegedly spent the next five years “trapped in a Loudoun County home, working constantly”. During this time she cared for the Yahya family and was paid only $25,000 based on an article published in The Washington Post.

Bibi, who has filed a lawsuit against her employers in the US – including their relatives in Pakistan, for engaging in human trafficking activities has claimed that she has never seen people treat their maids in such a manner. It was learnt that during an interview pertaining to the case, Bibi recalled having told her husband that she was considering suicide as a means of escape. “I told him if I stay any longer, my dead body is going to come out”, Rehana Bibi stated with the help from an interpreter.

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The case is ongoing in the Federal court in Alexandria, and seeks payment for damages. The Yahya’s have reportedly responded to the allegations as “reprehensible” and “false”. Meanwhile, their attorney has stated that even if the claims made by Rehana Bibi are accurate, they are not enough to amount to a charge of human trafficking.

Earl Mayfield, attorney for the Yahya family informed the court, “Taking the allegations in the light most favorable to her, Ms. Bibi was oppressed, not trapped,” he told the court. Mayfield continued to add that Bibi was able to “leave the first time she tried” arguing that working through “unpleasant conditions” does not make one a victim of human trafficking “or false imprisonment”.

It is pertinent to note that, Rehana Bibi was allegedly scouted for the US position by Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman and his wife, who have yet to respond to the allegations. It is significant to consider that Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman is the founder of the media conglomerate GEO group, and has served eight months in in jail.

According to Bibi, during the time that she served the Yahya family, her work requirement included cooking, cleaning, caring for the children as well as assisting an elderly relative. Bibi claimed that she was allowed to take a shower once only, during the week because it was considered a waste of hot water. Furthermore, she was not allowed to eat meat and was discriminated against for being “too fat”.

Moreover, according to the complaint filed in the US court, Bibi alleged that she was not allowed any leaves even when her daughters got married. The complaint further stated that Bibi was forced to sleep on a mattress and keep her belongings in a suitcase.

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According to Mayfield’s statement in court, during the course of her employment, Bibi was only subjected to “physical” harm when she was struck twice by the Yahya’s pre-teen son, however, “That does not remotely come close to serious harm.”

Mayfield further stated that Bibi’s employment contract was with Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman’s family, relatives of the Yahya family in Pakistan, and that Bibi’s room and board should be considered a part of her payment.

Rehana Bibi claimed that she was confined because she is not an English-language speaker and was intimidated by the statement that reaching out to the police would lead to her arrest, or worse, deportation. As confirmed by The Washington Post, Bibi was under the impression that doing so would force her husband into compensating for the loss.

Moreover, Martina Vandenberg founder and president of the Human Trafficking Legal Center said, “Threats of deportation are one of the most common forms of coercion we see,” she said. “You don’t get to engineer the vulnerability and then exploit the vulnerability.”

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It is pertinent to note that according to the available data, labour trafficking is a more prevalent form of human trafficking in comparison to the sex trafficking. Human trafficking as described by the website for Homeland Security is the “use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in the United States”.

In the year 2018 alone, the United States Justice Department dealt with 213 sex trafficking cases meanwhile, they noticed only 17 labour trafficking cases.

According to reports of The Washington Post, Bibi managed to escape after five years of service with the help of an Urdu speaking woman who motivated her to “be brave”. Additionally, this friend helped her to seek out the Tahirih Justice Center, for help.

Recalling her time with the Yahya family, Rehana Bibi said, “I still have a lot of back pain… I was scared all the time. I cannot forget these memories.”

However, this predicament leaves many questions unanswered.

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