OMAN: Tier 2
Oman is a destination and transit country for men and women, primarily from South Asia and East Africa, subjected 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 workers in the country’s construction, agriculture, and service sectors; some are subsequently subjected to forced labor. Labor source-country officials report domestic workers seeking assistance experience excessive working hours, passport confiscation, and physical and mental abuse. Unscrupulous labor recruitment agencies and their sub-agents in South Asia, and labor brokers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, and Iran deceive some workers into accepting work that constitutes forced labor. Many agencies provide false contracts with fictitious employers or wages and charge workers high recruitment fees 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. Employers typically secure a labor permit for domestic workers to legally work in Oman; however, some female domestic workers often leave Emirati families and are not aware they are being taken to Oman for domestic work, rendering them further vulnerable to exploitation. Women working in Oman as domestic workers from countries without a diplomatic presence in Oman, such as Ethiopia and Vietnam, are especially vulnerable to forced labor. Government sources previously noted 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 a destination and transit country for women from Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa who are 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 continued limited investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenses. Potential labor trafficking cases continued to be consistently treated as labor disputes. Victim identification efforts remained weak, as Omani authorities did not employ formal procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups—including domestic workers. The government identified 10 trafficking victims and continued to assist some victims at a government-run shelter. Authorities continued to rely on victims to voluntarily identify themselves and report abuses, rather than proactively investigating trafficking in vulnerable communities.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR OMAN:
Significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and sentence convicted traffickers to imprisonment; increase and enforce legal protections for domestic workers; institute formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among all vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and people in prostitution; 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 Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the public prosecutor to investigate and prosecute cases of labor trafficking; refer all suspected victims of trafficking to the government shelter, regardless of whether there is a corresponding prosecution of an alleged offender; amend the restrictions on victim referrals to allow broader victim access to shelter care; offer shelter and specialized services to male victims and labor trafficking victims; do not punish victims of trafficking 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; continue training government officials to recognize and respond appropriately to human trafficking crimes; and implement prevention programs to reduce the demand for forced labor and forced prostitution.
The government decreased minimal 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 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. In May 2014, the government enacted the child’s law, for the purpose of providing additional protections for children, which includes a provision against holding a child in slavery. A MOM circular (No. 2/2006) prohibits employers from withholding migrant workers’ passports, but does not specify penalties for noncompliance. The Ministry of Justice oversees a special judicial department at the appeals court in Muscat to handle trafficking-related cases. The government reported investigating five trafficking cases. The government did not provide information on the details of the cases. This compares with the investigation of six sex trafficking cases and one forced labor case in 2013. From the five investigations, the government initiated two prosecutions involving 11 suspects. The government convicted two of the suspects, acquitted seven due to insufficient evidence, and two remained awaiting trial at the end of the reporting period. The two convicted offenders received seven-year sentences and a 10,000 Omani rial ($26,000) fine in accordance with the anti-trafficking law. This represents a decrease from the five sex trafficking cases prosecuted and convicted in 2013.
Government and source country officials have previously reported cases of labor violations—some of which likely amounted to forced labor—which were frequently classified as administrative complaints and rarely investigated for trafficking or referred to criminal court. The government did not report any law enforcement efforts to address the widespread practice of passport withholding among employers in Oman. Overreliance on administrative avenues of labor enforcement remained particularly problematic as domestic service—one of the sectors most vulnerable to abuse—was not within inspectors’ mandate under Omani labor law. During the reporting period, labor source countries including Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and India either restricted or suspended labor migration of domestic workers to Oman, pending acceptance of specific procedures by recruiters and employers. The government tolerated these specific procedures, including set minimum wages by some source countries; however, it did not develop any standard policies to implement them. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking. The Royal Oman Police (ROP) continued to conduct victim identification trainings for all incoming cadets. In June 2014, MOM organized a workshop on the role of labor inspectors in anti-trafficking efforts, and in September 2014, the Ministry of Social Development hosted training for 70 officials from various agencies, which required each agency to present on their efforts to combat the crime.
The government made inadequate efforts to identify and protect victims. The government reported identifying and referring 10 trafficking victims to shelter services, including seven Bangladeshis, two Indonesians, and one Ethiopian. Information on the ages and genders of the victims was unavailable. The government reported the shelter provided basic lodging, psychological counseling, legal services, and medical care to victims. This is comparable to the nine victims referred to shelter services in 2013. The government did not proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers and women in prostitution. Instead, victims were required to identify themselves and report abuses to authorities. The government continued to treat potential forced labor cases as labor violations and not identify or provide protection services to potential forced labor victims. The government lacked a referral process to guide officials in transferring identified trafficking victims to government-run protection services, such as shelter, or to refer victims to NGOs for assistance. The lack of identification and referral 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. The government did not increase protections for domestic workers, who are not covered by Oman’s labor law. The government continued to require expatriate laborers be bound to the terms of their employment contract or leave the country for a minimum of two years before returning to Oman to obtain a new employer. This remained a significant concern as it compelled workers to endure situations where they were subjected to exploitation, non-payment of wages, or even abuse for fear of returning jobless to their home countries.
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, but the shelter remained underused due to the government’s weak victim identification efforts. Victims in the shelter could not leave the premises unchaperoned, but they could reportedly request shelter employees to accompany them offsite. Oman continued to lack shelter services available for male victims of trafficking, although major source country embassies continued to operate their own shelters available for men and women. 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 sustained minimal efforts to prevent human trafficking. A working group within the inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee met regularly, but had limited effectiveness in coordinating anti-trafficking efforts. The Joint Group on Manpower Workers consulted regularly with diplomats from several source countries in efforts to promote ways to protect male and female expatriates. The government blacklisted seven companies for illegal recruitment practices during the reporting period. In 2014, the ROP placed public awareness announcements in local English and Arabic newspapers informing citizens that confiscating or otherwise holding the passport of an expatriate worker was illegal and could lead to prosecution and a jail sentence. The government continued to require employers to 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. The government implemented an anti-trafficking training, led by an international organization, for more than 40 diplomatic personnel and other government officials in January 2015.