Rubylyn Canda knew almost immediately that she was in over her head. Days after her arrival in Jordan from her native Philippines, the employment recruitment agency that placed her with a family in Jordan dropped a bombshell on her.
"They told me they would deduct 4 months' wages for my visa, my ticket and my paperwork," Rubylyn says.
Sent after 1 month to work for an Iraqi family in Amman and informed that she would be responsible for cleaning only one house as part of her contract, Rubylyn soon found herself a prisoner to an impossible workload.
"I was told to clean their office, the house of their niece and the house of their son, as well as their house," she says of her new employer family. "That's four houses, but they never told me I would be cleaning so many houses."
With no room of her own, Rubylyn was forced to sleep on the living room floor. After 5 months in Jordan, she fled her abusive employers for the safety of a Filipino friend—officially breaking the law and leaving her passport behind.
Unfortunately, such cases are not at all uncommon in Jordan, where an estimated 300,000 foreign migrant workers are legally employed, and 300,000 more are thought to be living and working illegally. Many are from Asia, arriving without Arabic language skills. They also have little understanding of their rights, which frequently are limited in a Jordanian legal system where foreign migrant workers—penniless and poorly represented—find themselves facing daunting legal hurdles.
To give them a voice, Catholic Relief Services helped partner Adaleh Center for Human Rights Studies set up a unit in 2010 to provide legal support to foreign migrant workers. By assigning lawyers on staff at Adaleh to individual migrant cases, the center had a remarkable effect in its first full year of operation: It resolved 70 percent of the 390 cases it took on in 2010 alone.
In 2011, says Luna Sabbah, executive director of the Adaleh Center, they have built on the contacts made earlier and have further strengthened their established reputation as a hard-nosed advocate for migrant workers in Jordan.
"People know us more now, so we are becoming stronger," she says. "With CRS' support, we were able to add more lawyers and take more cases, so we are having more impact."
Living illegally in Jordan after fleeing her abusive employers, Rubylyn was desperate for help. She approached the Philippines embassy, a Jordanian human rights center and a rights-based nongovernmental organization with her case. But, she was unable to either clear the trumped-up legal charge against her or get her passport back from the recruitment agency that had exploited her from the outset. When she heard about the Adaleh Center, she was quick to plead her case—and amazed by the response.
"At the center, there was action right away," Rubylyn says. "They called the agency right away to try to get my passport back, and they called me every day to tell me what was going on."
Eventually, lawyers at the center retrieved her passport and had her case dismissed by her former employer. Rubylyn was then able to work legally in Jordan for the first time in years. More important, she says, she can now leave the country, and plans to visit her two teenaged children in the Philippines for the first time since she left them to find work in 2006.
Her experience in Jordan, Rubylyn says, has taught her a valuable lesson.
"Now I realize that being with your family is more important than earning money," she says. "Family is first."
David Snyder is a photojournalist based in Baltimore, Maryland.