A Pakistani woman has filed a lawsuit in which she accused the Yahya family and their Pakistani relatives Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, owner of the GEO/Jang group. She said they arranged her employment in the US and sent her only to make her live there illegally and thus engaging in human trafficking.
According to the complaint, Bibi was hired by Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman as a servant for his sister-in-law’s family.
Rehana Bibi, 46, thought her employment in America would begin with a trip to Disneyland and end with a well-paying job, according to the American website Washington Post.
However, she said that she went to California and spent the next five years effectively trapped in a Loudoun County home, working constantly when she arrived in 2013. She added that she was paid a total of around $25,000.
She gave an interview through an Urdu interpreter. She said, “I have not seen anybody in my life, not even in Pakistan . . . treat anyone like that.” She also recalled the time when she told her husband she was considering suicide, “I told him if I stay any longer, my dead body is going to come out.”
She said that during her time with the Yahyas, she cooked, cleaned, and cared for three children. She said she was on call to assist an elderly relative who rang a bell for help day and night. She said they told her she could shower only once a week because any more was a waste of hot water. And they forbade her from eating meat, saying she was too fat, according to the complaint.
According to the international news source, Bibi added that she asked to go home to Pakistan when two of her daughters got married but was refused, she said; she couldn’t even watch the weddings on the family’s iPad. She slept on a mattress on the basement floor and kept her belongings in her suitcase, according to the complaint; for the first two years, she says, she was in a storage room infested with insects.
Rehana Bibi said that she did not know English and she was in the country illegally. The visa she received was good only for a year. She says the family rarely let her out alone and warned her that if she went to the police, she would be arrested.
“Maybe they don’t want me to find out what type of support and help” was available, Bibi said.
How did Yahya family and Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman respond?
The Yahya family called the allegations “as reprehensible as they are false.” Their attorney Earl “Trey” Mayfield wrote in court papers, the conditions Bibi described would not amount to human trafficking.
“Taking the allegations in the light most favorable to her, Ms. Bibi was oppressed, not trapped,” he told the court.
Mayfield mentioned that Bibi “was able to leave the first time she tried” and argues that “enduring unpleasant working conditions does not make someone a victim of trafficking or false imprisonment.”
However, Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman and his wife did not lend an ear to the request to comment by publication.
“The only mention of any physical act whatsoever is an allegation that the Yahyas’ pre-teen son struck Ms. Bibi twice in the course of five years, for which he was scolded by Mr. Yahya,” Mayfield said in court documents. “That does not remotely come close to serious harm.”
Mayfield says that Bibi’s employment contract was with his clients’ relatives in Pakistan and that her room and board should be considered part of the payment.
What does Human Trafficking Legal Center say?
Martina Vandenberg, the founder and president of the Human Trafficking Legal Center, said, “Threats of deportation are one of the most common forms of coercion we see,”
“You don’t get to engineer the vulnerability and then exploit the vulnerability,” she added.
“Investigators frequently view forced labor cases as just a bad working situation and don’t take the allegations very seriously,” Vandenberg said.
“It’s not at all an uncommon phenomenon, particularly in the D.C. area,” said Janie Chuang, a law professor at American University who studies human trafficking. “When people use the threat of legal process to keep people in exploitative situations, that’s a hallmark of trafficking. You don’t have to have something that looks like chattel slavery to have it amount to trafficking.”
Did Rehana Bibi escape?
Bibi said that she confided in her new friend that she was thinking of killing herself. But she had also found her passport while cleaning and was starting to consider escape. The woman told her to “be brave.”
According to the international news source, she went out in the early morning of December 7, 2018. Her friend found the Tahirih Justice Center, a Falls Church nonprofit that helps immigrant women fleeing violence.
Bibi said she is seeking to stay in the United States out of fear that the conflict over her employment would make life difficult for her if she returned to her native country. Tahirih is helping her apply for a visa that would allow her to stay in the country as a survivor of human trafficking.
Bibi successfully found a place to live in Prince William County with the help of her friend. She is waiting and hoping that she would get a legal residency in the US and rejoin her family someday.