Oman is a destination and transit country for men and women, primarily from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Nepal, Kenya, and Indonesia, who may be subject to forced labor and, to a lesser extent, sex trafficking. Most migrants travel willingly and legally to Oman with the expectation of employment in domestic service or as low-skilled workers in the country’s construction, agriculture, and service sectors. Some subsequently face forced labor, experiencing the withholding of passports and other restrictions on movement, nonpayment of wages, long working hours without food or rest, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. Labor source country officials report that the most common complaints among domestic workers seeking assistance at their embassies are excessive working hours, passport confiscation, and physical and mental abuse. Unscrupulous labor recruitment agencies and their sub-agents in communities in South Asia, as well as labor brokers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, and Iran, may deceive workers into accepting work that constitutes forced labor. Many of these agencies provide false contracts with fictitious employers or wages and charge workers high recruitment fees (often in an amount exceeding the equivalent of approximately $1,000) at usurious rates of interest, leaving workers vulnerable to trafficking. Some Omani employers obtain foreign domestic workers at the porous border crossing between Buraimi, Oman and Al Ain, UAE, though the numbers crossing into Buraimi reportedly decreased in 2013. Though employers typically secure a labor permit for domestic workers to legally work in Oman, often these women are runaway workers from Emirati families and are not aware they are being taken to another country to work, rendering them further vulnerable to exploitation in Oman. Women working in Oman as domestic workers from countries without a diplomatic presence in Oman, such as Ethiopia, are especially vulnerable to forced labor. In recognition of that problem, the Omani government imposed a ban on visas for Ethiopians in 2013 until the Omani government can appropriately address the trafficking problem. Government sources note that domestic workers who run away from their employers are also susceptible to forced prostitution. Male Pakistani laborers and other workers from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and East Asia transit Oman en route to the UAE; some of these migrant workers are exploited in situations of forced labor upon reaching their destination. Oman is also a destination and transit country for women from China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Morocco, Eastern Europe, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Burundi, who may be forced into prostitution, typically by nationals of their own countries.
The Government of Oman does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government prosecuted and convicted some sex trafficking offenders, and it continued to identify and assist victims of trafficking at a government-run shelter, though the facility remained underutilized. Nonetheless, the government’s prosecution efforts declined from the previous reporting period, and as the government continued to treat potential forced labor cases as administrative violations, it failed to prosecute any suspected labor traffickers. For example, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Public Prosecution’s Office of Labor Prosecutions assisted some potential victims through labor dispute settlement mechanisms. Though the government referred some victims to shelter services, Omani authorities did not employ formal procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups. Because authorities continued to rely on victims to voluntarily identify themselves and report abuses, rather than aggressively and proactively investigating trafficking in vulnerable communities, unidentified victims continued to be punished for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
Recommendations for Oman:
Significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and sentence convicted traffickers to imprisonment; make greater efforts to investigate and prosecute forced labor offenses, including those perpetrated by recruitment agents and employers; establish a formal mechanism for cooperation between the MOM and the Public Prosecution to investigate and prosecute cases of labor trafficking; institute formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among all vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and people in prostitution; amend the restrictions on victim referrals to allow broader victim access to shelter care; refer all suspected victims of trafficking to the government shelter, regardless of whether there is a corresponding prosecution of an alleged offender; offer shelter and specialized services to male victims and labor trafficking victims; ensure that unidentified victims of trafficking are not punished for acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, such as immigration violations or prostitution; enact and enforce strict penalties for employers who withhold their employees’ passports, including government officials; increase and enforce legal protections for domestic workers; continue training government officials to recognize and respond appropriately to human trafficking crimes; and implement public awareness campaigns and other prevention programs to reduce the demand for forced labor and commercial sex acts.
The government made minimal progress in anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Through Royal Decree No. 126/2008, also known as the Law Combating Trafficking in Persons, the government prohibits all forms of both sex and labor trafficking and prescribes punishments of three to 15 years’ imprisonment, in addition to financial penalties, for trafficking crimes. These punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. A MOM circular (No. 2/2006) prohibits employers from withholding migrant workers’ passports, but does not specify penalties for noncompliance. Though passport withholding is a widespread practice among employers in Oman, the government did not report any investigations or other actions against employers during the reporting period based on the prohibition. The government reported investigating six cases of sex trafficking and one case of forced labor, as well as prosecuting and convicting five cases of sex trafficking during the reporting period, in comparison to the 15 sex trafficking prosecutions and two sex trafficking convictions in 2012. Four of the convicted traffickers were sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment. The government failed to prosecute or convict any forced labor offenders, despite cases of forced domestic servitude reported during the year; the government has not prosecuted or convicted a forced labor offender since 2010. Government and source country officials reported that cases of labor violations—some of which likely amounted to forced labor—were frequently classified as administrative complaints and rarely investigated for trafficking or referred to criminal court; thus, employers were not brought to justice for trafficking offenses. Overreliance on administrative avenues of labor enforcement was particularly problematic as domestic service—one of the sectors most vulnerable to abuse—was not within inspectors’ mandate under Omani labor law. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking even though several government officials in Oman reported that they hold their domestic workers’ passports for fear that the workers will abscond or lose their passports if they have them in their possession. The Royal Oman Police (ROP) continued to conduct victim identification trainings for all incoming cadets, while the inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee conducted a separate training for ROP officials in March 2014. The Public Prosecution held a three-day anti-trafficking workshop in December 2013 for prosecutors and ROP officials; it also regularly conducted lectures for judges and lawyers on Oman’s anti-trafficking law. The Ministry of Justice oversees a special judicial department at the Appeals Court in Muscat to handle trafficking-related cases.
The government’s efforts to identify and protect victims of trafficking remained limited. It did not proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers and women in prostitution; on the contrary, victims were expected to identify themselves and report abuses to authorities. The lack of identification procedures prevented victims from accessing protection services and made them susceptible to being inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. Though the government continued to operate and fund a permanent shelter that could accommodate up to 50 women and child victims of forced labor or sex trafficking, the shelter remained underused due to the government’s poor victim identification efforts. The Public Prosecution identified and referred nine victims of trafficking to the shelter in 2013, an increase from the two sex trafficking victims referred in 2012. The shelter provided social, psychological, legal, and medical services at no cost to victims. Victims in the government shelter could not leave the premises unchaperoned, but they could reportedly request that shelter employees accompany them offsite. Though the ROP previously operated the government shelter, it was transferred to the Ministry of Social Development (MOSD) in 2013 in an effort to have victims treated less like criminals and detainees. The ROP and the MOSD cooperated to assist and escort potential victims to the shelter 24 hours a day.
Oman continues to lack shelter services available for male victims of trafficking. As in previous years, the government continued to fail to identify and refer any labor trafficking to the government care facility for assistance. As the government continued to treat potential forced labor cases as labor violations, potential victims of trafficking were neither identified nor provided protection services. The MOM cooperated with and requested that foreign embassies immediately refer all potential trafficking cases involving victims that sought assistance at the embassies of their home countries to the MOM for investigation. The government encouraged suspected foreign trafficking victims to assist in investigations and prosecutions of their traffickers, but did not provide information on the number of victims who did so during the reporting period. Victims were permitted to stay in Oman on a case-by-case basis, but were not permitted to work while awaiting court proceedings. The government did not provide foreign victims with legal alternatives to removal to countries in which they may face retribution or hardship.
The government made minimal efforts to prevent human trafficking. Though a working group within the inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee met regularly in this reporting period, the committee developed a fledgling interagency process to handle trafficking cases. In an effort to address concerns of Ethiopian domestic workers forced into domestic servitude in Oman, the ROP announced in March 2014 a temporary freeze on its issuance of work visas for new Ethiopian domestic workers; Ethiopians already working in Oman, however, were not provided any additional protections and remained eligible to renew their visas. The government blacklisted an unknown number of companies for illegal recruiting practices during the reporting period. The government also required that all employers post labor law regulations in the languages of their workers in prominent locations at worksites. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in Oman.