A Filipina migrant has told how she overcame months of hell to achieve the freedom denied to many domestic workers in Qatar.
"My inspiration to keep me going is God, my family and myself," said Jane, who has finally been released from her contract with a company that owes her months of wages and forced her to work long hours, often without food. "I keep telling myself to be strong, always."
Her feat is a rare one in the Gulf country, according to Amnesty International. Barely more than 200 of Qatar's estimated 1.4 million migrant workers managed to escape such circumstances in 2012, according to the latest figures available.
In January, Jane and seven other Filipina workers described how they were lured from their country by the promise of waitress work for 1,200 Qatari riyals (£200) a month plus a 200-riyal food allowance. The package was an attractive one for people from a relatively poor country such as the Philippines.
On arriving in Doha in July, their passports were confiscated – the first of many shocks the women claim to have endured. They were forced to take on gruelling work as cleaners, maids and babysitters for much lower wages than promised. By August, the company had stopped paying the women altogether, they claim, a situation that they say remains unchanged.
James Lynch, Amnesty's lead researcher on migrant rights in the Gulf, said if the women were hired as domestic staff, they would have no choice but to continue working for the same employer who withheld their wages.
Domestic workers have no rights under Qatari labour laws. Although the women were forced to undertake such work, they were entitled to appeal to the interior ministry's human rights department because they were officially hired as waitresses. Domestic worker classification includes people recruited as cleaners, maids, cooks, gardeners and drivers.
"That process, whereby you apply to the ministry of interior if your rights have been abused and you can get released from sponsorship, should happen to all workers," Lynch said.
The women say their battle to be paid has been dogged by delays and setbacks. Four of them relinquished the fight for their wages, acceding to the company's demands for payment of 2,000 Qatari riyals each to be freed from their contracts. Two of them, Jeanette, 27, and Maricel, 36, returned to their families in the Philippines, their finances shattered along with their dreams.
Jane says the interior ministry's human rights department had recommended the four remaining women should be granted no objection certificates releasing them from their contract and allowing them to change sponsor.
She said the families they were supposed to support back home in the Philippines had financed the court fee for their hearing of 600 Qatari Riyals each.
Lynch said this was common in such situations, as was selling precious possessions and property back home, in order to survive. "A lot of people will just give up," Lynch said. "You're supported by the same family you're supposed to be supporting; it's a difficult time."
Many migrant workers, including Jane, have been forced to work secretly for other employers, which is illegal in Qatar law. Such work helped fund her court fight and pay for the single room she shared with the three former colleagues who became her good friends. "We are afraid we will be caught," Jane said in January. "We are all feeling so hopeless and nearly want to give up."
Lynch said that, had the interior ministry refused the women's request to be freed from their contracts, they would have had no avenue of appeal.
The group is due to appear before a hearing on 14 May to determine whether their former employer must pay them the wages they are owed.
"I'm not thinking about it, whether they can give it back to me or not," Jane said. "What is important for me now is to focus on my new job, my future and move on with my life."
A Qatar salon has hired Jane as a receptionist and she awaits the outcome of her new sponsorship application. "They offered me a package of 3,500 Qatari riyals plus transportation," Jane said. "I feel happy now because I'm having a new job with a good salary."
Of the other women interviewed in January, high-end Doha hotels have hired Leyda, 26, and Joana, 27 to work as waitresses; Jobelle, 27, is working as a sales promoter in the Qatari capital; and Teresa, 32, is employed as a babysitter with a German family. Rochelle, 25, is unemployed and unsure whether to work in Qatar or return to the Philippines.
Despite the nightmare she has endured, Jane has decided to stay in the oil-rich Gulf state for at least another two years. "God gave me a new opportunity to make my dream again," she said. "Now I'm having a new job and I know it's a good one."