Below you will find background information on the ISR Work/Travel Advisory
From: Katherine Phillips, Al-Bayan Bilingual School Middle School Deputy Principal, Kuwait
US Passport Number: XXXX9279 — contact ISR if needed.
TO: Whom It May Concern
DATE: June 21, 2007
RE: Detained in Kuwait/In Fear for My Safety
I am a Middle School Vice-Principal at Al-Bayan Bilingual School in Kuwait. I have been employed in Kuwait for 6 years at the same school. One of my primary responsibilities is student discipline. On March 8, 2006, three boys in grade 5 were suspended for fighting. I interviewed the boys, met with my principal and followed normal procedure. There is no stigma here regarding suspension. Students spend the day in the office where they study, are visited by teachers, and are taken to the canteen, etc. It’s a normal consequence for fighting; all students are aware of this and the procedure is clearly defined in our Parent Handbook.
In the afternoon of March 8th, I received a phone call from one of the boys’ fathers, Mr. Fawaz Khalid Al Marzouq, who is a powerful man in Kuwait. He called to inform me that this situation was “personal,” that he is “friends with the emir” and that he planned to “destroy” me. This conversation, which lasted about 9 minutes, was littered with profanities and threats.
On March 11, 2006, the parents met with me, my principal and our director, Dr. Brian McCauley, to discuss the suspension. The father requested that if there was an issue involving his child that I would call him immediately.
On April 27, 2006, I was requested to write a synopsis of events and to visit the Ministry of Education to answer questions regarding the suspension, describe the room in which the boys spent the school day and provide a copy of our handbook.
In June 2006, the father transferred his children to a different private school in Kuwait. Also, we received notification from the Ministry of Education that in-school suspensions were no longer to be applied; instead, parents must be contacted to take their children home.
In February 2007, I learned that a case had been filed against me at the Jabriya Police Department in Kuwait; the charge was “illegal detainment” of his son on March 8, 2006. I answered questions in my director’s presence and the Consul from the US Embassy, Mr. Sonny Busa. My lawyer was also present. The police did not suggest that there was any reason for me to be concerned as all of the questions were answered to the apparent satisfaction.
On June 13, 2007, I was at the Kuwait International Airport intending to fly to Bahrain. I was stopped at immigration where I was informed that there was a case against me, pending further investigation and that a travel ban had been placed on me. I had not been informed. My lawyer had not been informed. This travel ban was placed upon me 15 months after the boy was suspended. The parent said that he would make this personal and this seems to be what he is intent upon doing.
On Saturday, June 16, 2007, I visited the American Embassy where I met with the Vice Consul, Mr. Jared Caplan, who informed me that he sympathized but could do nothing to lift the travel ban. He suggested that I get an older Kuwaiti man to appeal to Mr. Marzouq. I was told on Wednesday that my file would be transferred to another agency for review so the ban could be lifted. Five working days later, the whereabouts of my file are uncertain. I have been told that my file is in 2 different places; this seems to be a delay tactic. Why? Because I angered an influential Kuwaiti national who is at the top of the social register both locally and at the US Embassy?
On I visited the office of a police inspector named Falah Al Otaibi, whose office is in Salmiya. He is a police official who was to evaluate my file and determine if I could leave or not. He stated that he didn’t have my file. I visited him on June 17th and 18th. On June 18th, not five minutes after I left his office with my director, the Business Officer of my school and another school representative, I called Mr. Jared Caplan, Vice-Consul at the US Embassy to gain his insight into the situation and to see if any progress had been made to help me leave. He was completely aware of my visit to Mr. Al Otaibi’s office and instructed that I not return as it “interfered.”
Several Kuwaiti families are aware of my situation but they are not in a position to help or they don’t want to get involved. They have ALL said that I should go to my embassy because my embassy can help me. The fact that the embassy can’t seems shocking to everyone. Many people also question why this accusation from Mr. Marzouk is placed solely on me – not the school, not the principal, not the director of school. I feel that I am being used as an example because I am a single, American woman and he wants to show others that he can do what he said which is to “destroy” me.
Yesterday, June 20, 2007, I received a paper from Mr. Al Otaibi’s office in Salmiya which lifted the travel ban. This waiver had been granted by the Kuwait Minister of the Interior. Not long after the Minister released me, he reverted his decision at the request of the Marzouq family or his representatives. I went to the airport last night, only to learn that I couldn’t leave.
I am in fear for my safety. If the Embassy can’t help me, then who can? I contacted the FBI in Riyad, Saudi Arabia yesterday and talked to “Mike” who couldn’t give me his last name. He was non-committal but did suggest that he thought the embassy should be able to get me out.
Mr. Sonny Busa has informed me that they are “working on it.” That seems a little vague and I am not sure if the US Embassy completely realizes the level of danger that I feel that I am in. Why does Mr. Marzouq want me in Kuwait during the summer when no one from my school will be in country to offer their support? To make me feel vulnerable? He is well-connected and his friends are supporting his mission to damage me in any way that he can. What’s next?
I do not feel safe. I am not safe. I need someone from the US to acknowledge the urgency of my situation and coordinate my release. I committed no crime. I am simply the victim of “wasta” which roughly translates into “influence/pressure” at a high level.
My mobile phone number is: 965-6298331
Following is a copy of a letter sent by a teacher to their
senator in regards to Katherine’s situation.
Arresting teachers is not so uncommon in Kuwait.
I am an American teacher working in Kuwait. To date, this year, I know for a fact that one school has had two teachers go to jail and one teaching assistant flown out of the country over night to escape from Kuwait due to a politically charged incident. Now the Katherine Phillips incident is taking place at another school. We need help from our government representatives to provide some semblance of protection. We are there in good faith as contract international teachers, and we would expect help from our embassy when this type of situation emerges. We don’t get help. The US Embassy staff repeatedly have said that there is nothing that they can do in “these situations”.
If this is true, why do we have an American Embassy there at all? I understood that being an American citizen meant that we could at least call upon our embassy for assistance and intervention when there is clearly a wrong being committed. Surely a little “behind the scenes” intervention, or inquiry from our government, would not be out of line. This is the third case of an American citizen being told by the US embassy that they can not help us, and two of them going to jail THIS YEAR. Now another teacher is in danger.
Others of us have been threatened by parents that if we fail their student, try for alternate placement to meet the student’s educational needs, or institute disciplinary action that the parents will go to their government.
Kuwait is supposedly our Friend as we fought to free their country and we have given tremendous military support and training to this government. When we follow the rules and procedures of the school, shouldn’t they be the ones held responsible, not the individual employee who has done nothing wrong?
I request that you intervene on this person’s behalf. If there truly is nothing that can be done, then all American citizens should be given State Department warning not to work in Kuwait, and we should ALL be taken out as being in danger as provided for in our teaching contracts.
I eagerly await your intervention and assistance for a fellow teaching staff member at the mercy of Kuwait’s lack of support for contract-hired American citizens. We are there to do the job we were contracted to do.
The following letter confirms that the
sort of treatment Katherine is being subjected to
is not unique to this situation.
Dear ISR and Katherine,
I worked in the Middle East for many years. Katherine’s story is common throughout the Middle East and unfortunately, unless you are related to the Mafia, nothing can be done. I recommend not working in the Middle East, not because of safety and terrorism, but due to the fact Westerners have no rights there and are not really liked so much. The AIS schools are the worst. I have helped many teachers from this school, pick up the pieces as the owner gives them 24 hrs. to leave the country, without warning, over giving the wrong person’s child a “C”. My advise is to leave and don’t look back. There are plenty of other schools in this world who would love to employ Katherine.
Katherine is currently being subjected to the
mentality outlined in this next letter.
Why would any educator want to be subjected to such treatment?
I read the letter regarding Katherine Phillips. I worked in Kuwait as a teacher for 8 years. I don’t know Katherine but I have contacted by e-mail all the major TV networks, my congressman, and the State Department. I have also called and messaged her. I was glad to see the travel advisory put in place by ISR. Is there anything else you all could do? Could you all contact the media? Newspapers?
Democracy in Kuwait is only for the Kuwaitis. I myself was fingerprinted and had to apologize to some Kuwaiti, who actually forced my husband and myself off the road. I could fill pages with incidents like this. I am concerned because Katherine is there without family and I don’t trust the Kuwaiti system. I told her to carry around a big bat.
A concerned teacher
Principal Turns Down Position as
Result Of Katherine’s Detainment
I have taken very seriously the situation that you have described. I have turned down an offered
Principalship in Kuwait City. Many thanks for bringing this to light. It is reprehensible and indicative of the arrogance with which some Kuwaitis treat their ” servants/teachers”. Name withheld.
I learned long ago that if I just sit there and do nothing when my compatriots are brutalized then I am
no better than the bullies who seem to get away with their inappropriate behaviors. I shut down a Canadian High School in China of which I was the founding Principal because I could not stand by and allow them to lie and steal from their countrymen under the guise of providing a “Canadian” High School diploma. I walked away from 6 figures then and will do so now. I am attaching a copy of the offer of employment and contract which I have notified them that I will not be taking. Keep up the good work and continue to encourage others to make the morally correct decision. These abusers of international teachers may discover that we will all take the moral high ground and put them out of business or make it impossible for them to staff their schools unless they change their behaviors. All it takes is for us to show that money is not the be and end all to us.
Teacher Resigns Position In Kuwait
in Support of Katherine
First of all, thank you so much for providing this forum.I worked with Katherine at BBS. I can attest to the absolute corruption in the high school. Katherine was in the Middle School and had a Principal who followed the “rules”. The high school is a totally different situation. I know of five American teachers (in the high school) who lost their jobs in the last two years for doing their jobs as professional educators. Any mention of corruption – including payoffs – was viewed as not being a “team” player by administration and grounds for dismissal. Teachers were blamed for inappropriate behavior by students – including stealing exams or cheating on tests. Attempts to hold students accountable for their actions such as catching them cheating was met with threats of deportation.
All in all, a terrible, terrible experience. I have been teaching for over 10 years and can assure you that we don’t teach in Kuwait; we certify bogus grades.
I will join the boycott and not return.
Minister of Education Bans
Foreign School Heads
Katherine’s situation has simply made it easier for the pro-Kuwaiti administration and Minister of Education, Nooriya Sabeeh, to move their plan along sooner than expected and ban expatriates from serving as administrators in private schools located in Kuwait.
Kuwaitis to be appointed administrators in schools
Published Date: July 01, 2007 Arab Times
KUWAIT: After the ban was imposed in employing 95 expatriates in private schools, officials have put together a comprehensive program to make employment in private schools an attractive place for employing Kuwaitis as administrators during the coming period.
The program they said would qualify citizens to work as administrators or assistant teachers for all those who are proficient in the English language. The National Workers Percentage Administration Director Fayes Al-Enezi said that after the decision implemented by the Minister of Education Nooriya Sabeeh banning expatriates to work as administrators in private schools, the next step was to make use of local national staff to fill in the gap, through a program to employ Kuwaitis.
She added that the total number of Kuwaitis employed as administrators in the private, foreign and Arabic schools reached 410 employees, while expatriates accounted for 1,617. He also said that after the completion of the program, the number of Kuwaitis would be doubled. He stated that Kuwaiti teachers employed in private schools accounted for 140 while expatriate teachers accounted for 10,793. Official sources also expect that within a few years all administrators employed in private schools would be Kuwaitis.
The following article appeared on the second to
the last page of the Kuwait 1 News.
‘Travel-ban’ teacher appeals for help
KUWAIT CITY : An American teacher at one of Kuwait’s private schools has appealed for help from a number of organizations by placing an article on the Internet alleging that she has been prevented from leaving the country against her will.
The teacher, who says that she is a vice-principal, adds that she has been banned from leaving the country because of a case filed in 2006 by a parent who objected to the detention of his son at school. The American lady also alleges that she has approached the US Embassy in Kuwait, which she says should realize the urgency of her situation. The teacher adds that she now fears for her safety. The US Embassy in Kuwait said it is aware of the situation but cannot comment as a matter of policy due to privacy concerns.
– By Arab Times Staff
Following is a letter sent to ISR supporting
Katherine’s detention in Kuwait.
ISR does not support this attitude.
The issue regarding Katherine Phillips, Al-Bayan Bilingual School Middle School i dont think it is so logic that she would be banned to travel or afraid of being in kuwait since we all noticed that the rate of crimes in usa is more and regading the students behaivor well i guess if the school contacted the parents instintly without having the students kept in a jail room this situation wouldnt be like that and if this is true that they are kept togther why would the father be so upset and does that thing with you as we all know kuwaiti families and espacially this family is educated and very well behaived so i guess you should reconsider the whole issue your sef miss kathy and face the damage you did to the student u r a teacher and should be aware how to behave in such matter
Note: ISR received the above letter from an unknown party regarding the Katherine Phillips situation. It is clear to the ISR staff that this letter sets a very dangerous precedence for teachers considering working in Kuwait. Our assumption is that this letter came from a parent in the Al-Bayan community or from the general Kuwait community. In any case, we want all International teachers to consider whether or not you would want to work in this climate. Clearly there is no human compassion or logic within this letter but rather an underlying tone of threat. Please choose wisely.