DAKAR: A migrant workers’ rights organisation has sounded the alarm over alleged trafficking of Sierra Leonean women in Oman, a week after a Liberian minister raised similar concerns with the Gulf nation’s foreign ministry.

Nearly 100 percent of Sierra Leonean women domestic workers in Oman surveyed by the non-profit Do Bold were identified as victims of human trafficking, the group said in a report released Wednesday.

The organisation surveyed 621 Sierra Leonean women migrant workers in Oman and verified 469 of the responses.

It said it found that all but one had had experiences that were consistent with human trafficking, as defined by the UN’s Palermo Protocol.

The “vast majority” also reported working conditions that could be considered forced labour, it said.

“We found that most Sierra Leonean women domestic workers experienced deceptive recruitment (78%), long working hours (80% worked between 16 and 20 hours a day and 99% had no day off), restriction of movement (91%), and discrimination (77%)”, the report said.

“More than half of them experienced wage theft (60%) and physical abuse (57%) and approximately one-third of them experienced sexual abuse (27%).”

While the majority of domestic workers in the Gulf states come from Asian countries, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), African countries have become more popular sources of labour as Asian nations have strengthened protections for their migrants.

The US State Department said in a 2021 report that Oman’s government is making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but did not yet fully meet them.

“Expatriate workers seeking low-wage jobs continue to be at risk for trafficking under the kafala or visa-sponsorship employment system in Oman, which grants recruitment agencies and/or Omani visa sponsors significant unilateral control over workers’ residency and work visas and therefore their legal status in the country”, the report said.

“Traffickers subject some of these workers to employment practices that constitute forced labor, to include excessive work hours, passport confiscation, non-payment of wages, food deprivation, and psychological and sexual abuse,“ it added.

- Liberian concerns -

Do Bold’s report follows a virtual meeting last week between Liberia’s labour minister, Charles Gibson, and Oman’s foreign minister, Humaid Al Maani, in which Gibson raised concerns about women and girls from his country being trafficked and forced into “slavery” in Oman.

He asked the Omani authorities to stop issuing work visas to Liberian women recruited by employment agencies for domestic jobs, and to allow a Liberian delegation to visit the country.

“Liberian females... are being held by their employers in a situation of slavery that amounts to human trafficking”, a statement from the Labour Ministry said.

It said the Liberian government had recently rescued and repatriated sixteen trafficked Sierra Leoneans from Oman.

Al Maani “blamed recruiting agencies” and said the media misrepresented the situation, according to the Liberian statement.

“He intoned that out of the over five hundred female Liberian workers in Oman, only 26 have reported having problems, but expressed his government’s preparedness to work with Liberia to address the concerns expressed”, it said.

The Omani government did not immediately respond to AFP’s requests for comment.-AFP