Work in a private hospital in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia: country without laws


The dermatologist Shahrzad Amier fails in her work at a private hospital in Riyadh because of the sexism of society and the lack of rights of foreign workers.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the bad reputation the media have spread about Saudi Arabia, I accepted a contract as a dermatologist in a private clinic in Riyadh. It wasn't my first stay abroad. I had already worked several times in different countries and cultures - even under difficult conditions such as in Ghana and Bangladesh.

But everything was different here! It started as soon as I arrived at the airport: At passport control, the officer who was holding my passport shouted: "Al ...!" Then one of the many men waiting there came to the counter, took my passport and ran, without introducing myself to the baggage claim. In panic, I ran after my passport or the young man in the white robe, who only seemed to notice me after a while and who finally introduced himself as an employee of the clinic where I was to work in the future.

In Saudi Arabia, the sponsorship system applies, which means that the visa is linked to the employment contract. So you are at the mercy of your employer during your entire stay. He confiscates the passport, and he determines whether and when you can leave the country again. In addition, there is no law to protect workers. The employer can set the working hours as he sees fit. Whether and when he pays the salary is also at his discretion.

I was driven from the airport to where my husband and I would live for the next two years. It was fenced in with barbed wire and guarded by soldiers. Europeans and Americans have been housed in such ghettos for years out of fear of terrorist attacks. Although the hospital was only a ten-minute walk away, management, colleagues, and drivers warned me not to walk there. It is not right to be seen alone on the street as a woman.

The clinic itself reflects the caste system of Saudi Arabia. The doctors have been trained in Lebanon, Syria or other Arab countries, but mainly in Canada, in the USA and partly in Europe. The salary is by no means the same for everyone. It depends on the origin. The nurses are Filipinas, the cleaners are Bangladeshis, the drivers are Indians. A trip home is only possible for her after her two-year contract has expired.

There are several private clinics in Riyadh. Since everyone is in competition with one another, they advertise primarily with European or US doctors, as well as with cooperation programs with foreign hospitals. The clinic I worked at maintains relationships with the Hamburg-Eppendorf University Clinic, among others.

It took a few months before I began to get used to my work in difficult circumstances. For example, all patients are covered in black from head to toe, only sometimes the eyes remain free. You have to talk without seeing the face of the person you are talking to, and you have to make your dermatological diagnoses through a tiny opening in your robe and the sight of a small piece of skin.

Just as I was beginning to come to terms with these absurd circumstances, the HR manager who is responsible for foreign employees called me. He informed me that he saw me talking to a male colleague on the street and that it was not allowed. He suggested that I organize a weekend in Bahrain for myself and said colleague who was a friend of his - the Saudis spend their weekends there because there is alcohol and sex. He also advised me to spend my time with this colleague instead of wasting it with my husband and other Europeans. The HR manager was very well informed about my entire private life. I complained to the hospital administration about these intrusions into my privacy. That didn't stop anyone from continuing to send me invitations to dubious parties. The result was that I only went to the clinic with my husband and he always picked me up after work. We wanted to put an end to all misunderstandings.

As a result, my work situation became increasingly strange: patients did not show up for their appointments; they turned out to be sham patients. Patient inquiries were blocked because I supposedly had no more appointments. The organizer of my office hours was the right hand of the deputy head of administration, who had proposed to me on the evening of the reception. When I went to the clinic management because of these difficulties, I met exactly this deputy head of administration. He emphasized in a suggestive way how easy it could have been if I had accepted his offer and the various invitations. Only then did I understand the situation and the connections.

Since it is difficult for a foreign worker to quit in Saudi Arabia, I first tried to endure the situation somehow with the help of my husband. I was hoping for good people on the hospital management team who would help me. But the situation took an absurd turn.

When I wanted to explain the situation to the owner of the hospital, he called me one evening after work. But as soon as he saw my husband, he said, “Oh, your husband is waiting. Go to him! ”- regardless of my letters of complaint that were before him. It should not be forgotten that in Saudi Arabia no woman can ever take a step without being accompanied by her husband, father or brother. The next day the clinic management informed me that my husband was no longer allowed to pick me up from the clinic. When my husband came to the hospital to talk to the management after making an appointment, the deputy administrative manager intercepted him at the entrance. After a brief exchange of words, he called the police and accused my husband of blasphemy. It is the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. So the accusation was anything but harmless. My husband spent two days in prison.

What should I - pregnant, without a passport, without a husband - do with such a sponsor in such a country ?! The German embassy was extremely helpful, but was not taken seriously in the hospital. At least we were able to get the police to get my husband bailed out.

We reported the case personally to the police and to the ministers of health and labor. The mayor of Riyadh and King Abdullah were also informed. Everyone promised to help. It stayed that way. The hospital management and the owner were summoned several times. They never appeared. After four months of stress, in the end only the Saudi human rights organization could help me. She managed to get my passport including an exit permit and a minimum of money for travel expenses. In return, I had to sign that I waive any further claims. Attempts to persuade German politicians to take action against such abuses in Saudi Arabia after our return failed.
Dr. med. Shahrzad Amier
Email: [email protected]
Saudi Arabia: country without laws