OMAN: Tier 2 Watch List
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. Migrants to Oman travel willingly and legally with the expectation of employment in domestic service or as workers in the construction, agricultural, and service sectors; some are subjected to forced labor, including excessive working hours, passport confiscation, and physical and mental abuse. The approximately 600,000 Bangladeshis working low-wage jobs in Oman are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Unscrupulous labor recruitment agencies, their sub-agents in South Asia, and labor brokers in United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman deceive some workers into accepting work that constitutes forced labor. Such unscrupulous agencies provide false contracts with fictitious employers or wages and charge workers high recruitment fees with exorbitant interest rates, leaving workers vulnerable to trafficking. Some Omani employers obtain foreign domestic workers at the border crossing between Buraimi, Oman and Al Ain, UAE. Female domestic workers from countries without a diplomatic presence in Oman, such as Ethiopia and Vietnam, are especially vulnerable to forced labor. Domestic workers who flee 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 UAE, where some are subjected to forced labor. Oman is a destination and transit country for some women from parts of South Asia, North Africa, and East Africa exploited in sex trafficking, often by nationals of their own countries.
The Government of Oman does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate evidence of overall increasing efforts to address human trafficking during the previous reporting period; therefore, Oman is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. The government decreased investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenses compared to the previous reporting period and did not convict any traffickers. The government treated potential labor trafficking cases as mediation disputes, handled in labor courts. Victim identification efforts remained weak, as authorities did not employ formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups; authorities relied on victims to voluntarily identify themselves and report abuses. The government identified five sex trafficking victims, compared with 10 the previous reporting period. The government shelter accepts victims on referral from the public prosecutor. The government conducted awareness campaigns through the media and distributed pamphlets advising migrant workers on their rights, including contact information to report abuses. It provided training to law enforcement, private sector employers, labor unions and inspectors, and social service officials, including workshops on interviewing victims and referring them to protective services. The inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee met twice during the reporting period.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR OMAN:
Significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, especially for forced labor offenses and including government officials; increase and enforce legal protections for domestic workers; institute formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and people in prostitution; establish a formal mechanism for cooperation between the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the public prosecutor to investigate and prosecute cases of labor trafficking, including unscrupulous labor recruitment agencies; expand labor protections to domestic workers; refer suspected trafficking victims 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 penalize trafficking victims for acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, such as immigration violations or prostitution; enforce strict penalties for employers who withhold their employees’ passports; continue to expand training for government officials to recognize and respond appropriately to human trafficking crimes; and continue to conduct public awareness efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor and commercial sex.
The government decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Royal Decree No. 126/2008, also known as the Law Combating Trafficking in Persons, 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. The May 2014 Child’s Law prohibits 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. Despite passport withholding being illegal, there are no punitive measures or accountability for withholding passports; therefore, the practice continued during the reporting period.
The government reported investigating five sex trafficking cases and no forced labor cases, and it initiated three prosecutions involving nine suspects, in comparison with two prosecutions involving 11 suspects the previous reporting period. The government did not convict any traffickers during the reporting period, compared with two convictions the previous reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
MOM handled 432 passport retention violations, which is a common indicator of forced labor. Of these violations, 137 were referred to the lower court, 126 were settled through a mediation process, and seven were referred to labor inspection teams comprised of law enforcement to check on the employer. MOM did not refer any of these violations for criminal prosecution of potential labor trafficking offenses. The Ministry of Justice oversees a special judicial department at the appeals court in Muscat to handle trafficking-related cases. The legal mandate for labor inspectors did not include domestic workers, resulting in cases of domestic servitude being treated as non-criminal labor violations rather than criminal offenses. The Royal Oman Police (ROP) continued to train all incoming cadets on victim identification. In October 2015, the Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), hosted a seminar for law enforcement officials, judges and attorneys to strengthen efforts to address and combat human trafficking and raise awareness on the issue. Additionally, the national committee for combating trafficking, in collaboration with the MFA, organized four lectures for law enforcement, social service, labor, and immigration officials on human trafficking.
The government made modest efforts to identify and protect victims. The government reported identifying and referring to shelter services five trafficking victims, compared with 10 in the previous reporting period. It largely relied on victims to identify themselves and report abuses to authorities. Victims could only receive government shelter services upon referral from the public prosecutor, as there were no NGO shelters available and no options for assistance to victims identified by NGOs and social service officials. Some source-country embassies operated shelter services for their nationals. The government continued to treat potential forced labor cases as labor violations and did not identify, or provide protection services to, potential forced labor victims. The government’s lack of identification and referral procedures left victims vulnerable to being incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. Because the labor law does not cover domestic workers, victims of domestic servitude had limited recourse for receiving assistance. Government enforcement of foreign labor contracts effectively provided a disincentive for foreign laborers to identify as trafficking victims or cooperate with authorities. The government publicly reaffirmed its policy that foreign workers are required to adhere to the terms of employment contracts or leave the country for a minimum of two years before returning to Oman to work for a new employer. Without a legal mechanism by which potential trafficking victims can avoid repatriation or seek employment outside existing contracts, this policy may serve as a disincentive for victims to report their victimization and participate in legal actions against traffickers.
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; however, the shelter remained largely underused during the reporting period. The shelter provided lodging, psychological counseling, legal services, and medical care to victims. Victims in the shelter were not able to work and could not leave the premises unchaperoned, but could request shelter employees to accompany them offsite. The government did not provide shelter services for male victims; however, some source-country embassies operated their own shelters 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 provided foreign victims with legal alternatives to removal to countries in which they may face retribution or hardship; however, it did not report if any victims benefited from this policy.
The government modestly increased efforts to prevent human trafficking. A working group within the inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee met twice, but had limited visible effectiveness in coordinating anti-trafficking efforts during the reporting period. The government has maintained an action plan since 2009. In 2015, MOM prepared and distributed pamphlets advising migrant workers on their rights, including contact information to report human trafficking abuses or other violations of their rights. The Ministry of Social Services maintained a hotline in Dar al Wifaq staffed with Arabic, English, Urdu, Hindi, French, and Swahili translators. The government continued to require employers to post labor law regulations in the languages of their workers in prominent locations at worksites. Oman stopped issuing domestic worker visas from Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, Guinea, and Cameroon during the reporting period. The government reported having existing signed memoranda of understanding with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, some of which included articles prohibiting unlawful labor recruitment and trafficking. The government monitored employment agencies; during the reporting period 497 complaints were registered, 299 of which were settled through mediation and 115 were referred to judicial authorities. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.