ISha knew she was in trouble when her passport was snatched from her hands. The 27-year-old from Sierra Leone had just arrived in Oman’s capital Muscat, believing she was going to start a high-paying job in a restaurant. Instead, her recruiting agent put her in a car and drove her to a house where she was told that she would work as a domestic worker.
“My agent told me that he could take my passport away because he had bought me,” he says. “I was confused. How can you buy a human being?”
At 5 a.m., a few hours after her arrival, her new employer woke her up and ordered her to clean the house and then get her children ready for school. “This is not the job I came to Oman for,” he says. “My agent in Sierra Leone lied to me.”
the kafala The employment system still links migrant workers to the employer who brings them to the Gulf, allowing widespread exploitation to persist, despite years of campaigning by human rights groups.
Now human rights groups are warning that the Covid pandemic has made conditions even more difficult for migrant domestic workers in Oman who come from poorer countries like Sierra Leone. Trapped in private homes during lockdown, many have faced great risk of violence, forced to work longer hours and earn less as the economic downturn hits their employers.
These pressures have led women to flee their employers, but their lack of rights puts them in a nightmare situation. A group working to support domestic workers warned that 200 Sierra Leonean women are stranded and homeless in Oman. Many were trafficked there, tricked like Isha into thinking that a better life awaited them.
Sierra Leone has been a focus of trafficking since the aftermath of its civil war in 2005, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Human trafficking is further driven by poverty, exacerbated by the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
“There are all kinds of different tricks applied to them; they are told that they can choose a job, or that they come to receive an education ”, says Sari Heidenreich, in Project 189, a Germany-based organization that promotes the rights of migrant workers in the Middle East. “Very few of them are told that they will work in [private] homes “.
Sierra Leone is increasingly one of the main sources of trafficking to Oman, according to the IOM.
“Most of the calls I get from women who need assistance in Oman are from Sierra Leone. There are many traffickers in Sierra Leone, ”says Dana Al-Othman, IOM’s project and external relations assistant in Kuwait. “Women want to earn money to take care of their families and they are presented with [by local recruiters] with what they think is a golden opportunity. “
Much of the traffic to Oman comes from the neighboring United Arab Emirates, according to Human Rights Watch.
Some victims are highly educated and are told that they have been hired for professional jobs.
Dija, 24, a recent nursing graduate, believed she had a job waiting for her in a hospital in Europe. She had decided to travel abroad for work to support her family, including her young daughter, after losing her partner to Ebola in 2015.
Instead, she is trapped in a house in Salalah, near the Yemeni border. Her recruiters sent her on a trip from her home in Freetown, overland to Guinea, then on flights to Addis Ababa and Muscat. I had no idea that I was going to Oman.
“My agent said I would have my own apartment and earn $ 500 [£360] a month, ”she says. “When I boarded the flight, I still thought I was going to Europe. I didn’t think I would come here. This place is like hell to me. “
Isha is among those now trapped in Oman. “My employers took my phone; they beat me, ”he says. “There was no time to rest and they didn’t give me food unless they wanted to.”
After not having received his monthly salary of $ 180 for three consecutive months, he ran away.
Sierra Leone does not have an embassy in Oman, so Isha had nowhere to turn and her employer eventually located her. He said he would let her quit if she paid the $ 1,560 fee he gave the recruiting agent. Since he had no money, he decided to sell it.
“He said there is another man who wants me to go to work; They told me to go with him and take my bag, ”says Isha. “Not know what to do. I really want to find a way to get back to my family. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism