Liberia asks Oman to halt granting visas to Liberians for domestic work after abuse reports

By Dounard Bondo
Posted on Friday, 16 September 2022 09:03

Sultan of Oman Haitham Bin Tarik Al Said
Sultan of Oman Haitham Bin Tarik Al Said, at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, July 14, 2022. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

In 2021 Suzan Kwehneh left Liberia to Oman where she was promised a better life and a good job. Instead, her passport was seized on arrival and she was given to a family as a domestic servant where she faced abuse and exploitation. “I went through a lot, I was locked in a room with no food for two days” she says.

Suzan’s case isn’t unique. Since 2021, Liberia media had reported numerous cases of the ill-treatment and torture of Liberian women who were trafficked or relocated there as domestic workers.

As a result, this month, the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Labour, requested the Omani government to halt the issuance of visas to Liberian jobseekers for domestic work in Oman.

Kafala system

These women are usually given domestic work under Oman’s Kafala (sponsorship) system. The kafala system gives private citizens control over migrant’s workers’ employment and immigration status.

Critics say the kafala system which was primarily created to help provide cheap labour is now a major means of exploitation and abuse.

Aside from the request for Oman to halt the issuing of visa to Liberian jobseekers for domestic workers, the government has requested the Omani government to ensure Liberian women in Oman are protected while discussions are underway between the two governments.

The requests were given in a meeting between the two countries where the government also requested a response to a Note Verbale from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Liberia to the government Oman to enable a high-power delegation from the Government of Liberia pay a visit to Oman and discuss the issue.

Rogue agents?

In Liberia, most of the women are recruited by agencies who promise them jobs in Oman. These agencies charge the women money to help bring them to Oman and also collect fees from families in Oman who serve as the final destination of these women who are to serve as domestic workers.

Leaving isn’t an easy option as women seeking to leave usually have to pay a fee and have to cover their costs of return to Liberia. When Suzan told the agency she wanted to leave “they told me I had to pay their expenses, when I said how much they said 2,500 riyad, which they said they spent on bringing me” she says.

The women seeking to leave are usually on low wages and cannot afford to leave. They are usually dependent on donations or government intervention to return home.

Earlier in the year, after excess campaigns, Liberia repatriated 27 women from Oman with most reporting cases of physical abuse, terrible living conditions and excessively long hours of work.

Government effort

In their response to the Government of Liberia request to stop the issuance of Visa to Liberians for domestic jobs in Oman, the Head of Global Affairs Department, Omani Foreign Ministry in Oman, welcomed the requests and said the note verbale request be treated urgently.

The Omani government blamed recruiting agencies for being responsible for the situation of the girls in his country as well as the media for sending wrong information on the ill-treatment of Liberian women in Oman and complicating issues between the two countries.

Last year we had at least seven cases resulting in conviction for trafficking.”

While trafficking is a global issue with women and girls represent the majority of detected trafficked persons globally, it remains a major problem on the African continent.

In Africa, human trafficking is a major issue because the continent serves as a key point of origin for victims who are trafficked to other continents, including Western Europe and the Middle East.

Trafficking problem

Trafficking for labour is also on the rise on the continent. According to the most recent (2018) global report on trafficking in person by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, most of the victims detected in sub-Saharan Africa in 2016 were trafficked for forced labour (63 per cent).

With a high illiteracy rate and a large number of citizens below the poverty line, poor countries like Liberia are increasingly targeted by traffickers.

In 2021, the government passed The Revised Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons within the Republic of Liberia. The law revised the 2005 Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons and brought Liberia’s trafficking legislation into compliance with international law. An anti-trafficking hotline was also established.

According to Adolphus Satiah, the director of the ministry of labour trafficking in person secretariat, there have been more efforts being taken to combat trafficking.

Raising awareness

“There are increased efforts to reintegrate repatriated individuals and raise awareness against trafficking in both rural and urban Liberia. We have also increased our rates of prosecution for trafficking. Last year we had at least seven cases resulting in conviction for trafficking,” he adds.

However, there are still challenges to overcome, according to the United States 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report on Liberia. Shelter services for victims remain insufficient, and the government did not support NGOs providing care to victims. The report also noted that Law enforcement officials continued to lack adequate resources and understanding of trafficking to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes.

For Suzan, and many other Liberians, there is a hope that the government’s actions would help tackle trafficking.

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