Human Trafficking in the Gulf Countries

It’s been an interesting time for the Arab world after the Arab Spring. The past few decades have seen a sharp rise in international migration. Many migrants from present-day developing or underdeveloped countries migrate to Gulf Countries where they hope to work for a better living. The present need for labor has caused the influx of migrants into Gulf Countries, skyrocketing the rate of human trafficking as a side effect as the years passed. The most accepted definitions of human trafficking has equated it with forced labor, and placed them on the same level in the rights violation meter.

A great percentage of the migrant workforce in these countries is from Africa and Asia, a total number of about four million who have are looking to find greener pastures, but discover they have been tricked and thus forced to work for their overlords for a stipulated period of time if they ever want to go home again. The government usually supports these sponsors indirectly, which does not effect the laws signed to protect migrant workers in the first place, then trafficked victims.

The greater percentage of gulf Countries’ work force are migrant workers, with Asia leading the share of the immigrants. Kuwait, for instance, has a population of over 2.9 million, out of which two million are migrant workers. About 3.6 million people live in Oman, and 1.8 million out of that are foreign nationals with majority being migrant workers.

Present State and Human Trafficking in the Gulf Countries

Human trafficking is a pandemic that the entire world has battled for ages and just as the war is being won, the perpetrators always find new ways to carry out their crime. There are many ways in which human trafficking can occurs in any part of the world. In Gulf Countries, however, people are trafficked for specific purposes, ranging from child marriage, prostitution to organ trafficking.

It’s a common case to see stranded immigrants loitering around government labor offices waiting for officials to give them audience, and when they do, the reports filed are mostly about the fact that their handlers or employees have exploited or is exploiting them in some way. It’s not an easy thing to leave the country, because even if they wanted, the employees have confiscated their visas until they pay an accumulated sum spent on upkeep, travel tickets and visa fees.

Arab nations have had their fair share of traffickers and have put several methods in place to prevent it, but it’s not difficult to find that the act is still going on. The employers trick the potential migrants to serve sign ambiguous and bogus agreements, which keep them in bondage and denies them basic rights. At the same time, these ‘opportunities’ turn out to be dangerous to the migrants. Some even lose their lives while trying to survive the stringent conditions to which they are subjected.

The Gulf Governments have been accused severally of inhumane treatment of migrant victims, especially ones who have no means of identification (because their visas are fake or undocumented). When a migrant is discovered to have problematic papers, they are put in detention centers and prisons while they await the verdict.

Present State of Human Trafficking in the Gulf Countries

Trafficking of persons is a pandemic the entire world has battled for ages and just as the war is being won, the perpetrators always find new ways to carry out their crime. Human trafficking across the world can take multiple forms. In Gulf Countries, however, people are trafficked for specific purposes, ranging from child marriage, prostitution to organ trafficking.

It’s a common case to see stranded immigrants loitering around government labor offices waiting for officials to give them audience, and when they do, the reports filed are mostly about the fact that their handlers or employees have exploited or is exploiting them in some way. It’s not an easy thing to leave the country, because even if they wanted, the employees have confiscated their visas until they pay an accumulated sum spent on upkeep, travel tickets and visa fees.

Arab nations have had their fair share of traffickers and have put several methods in place to prevent it, but it’s not difficult to find that the act is still going on. The employers trick the potential migrants to serve sign ambiguous and bogus agreements, which keep them in bondage and denies them basic rights. At the same time, these ‘opportunities’ turn out to be dangerous to the migrants. Some even lose their lives while trying to survive the stringent conditions to which they are subjected.

Despite the international clamor for the end of trafficking, The Gulf Governments have been accused severally of treating migrant victims poorly, especially the ones who have no means of identification (because their visas are fake or undocumented). When a migrant is discovered to have problematic papers, they are put in detention centers and prisons while they await a verdict, which usually is biased.

“No one shall be subjected to medical or scientific experimentation or to the use of his organs without his free consent and full awareness of the consequences and provided that ethical, humanitarian and professional rules are followed and medical procedures are observed to ensure his personal safety pursuant to the relevant domestic laws in force in each state party. Trafficking in human organs is prohibited in all circumstances.”

“All forms of slavery and trafficking in human beings are prohibited and are punishable by law. No one shall be held in slavery and servitude under any circumstances.”

“Forced labor, trafficking in human beings for the purpose of prostitution or sexual exploitation, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or any other form of exploitation or the ex- exploitation of children in armed conflict is prohibited.”

According to Articles 9 and 10 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights:

The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam Article 11 goes ahead to affirm the freedom of humans, irrespective of their nationality or race. The article states that “human beings are born free, and no one has the right to enslave, humiliate, oppress or exploit them.”

At this point, it’s important to know that the Arab Charter clearly differentiates between slavery and trafficking on human beings, but still outlaws both. According to the charter, slavery requires a right of ownership of one person over another; while trafficking is about control or excessive influence rather than purchasing. Despite that the conventional view defines trafficking as a form of modern day slavery, the legal distinction between trafficking and slavery is clear.

Interpreting Articles 9 and 10 of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam in light of Article 43 indicates that it doesn’t end at prohibiting or criminalizing trafficking in human beings by Arab states; but international law also necessitates the need for a state to provide assistance and protection to trafficking victims. Thus, although the Arab Charter never explicitly mentions a provision of protection and assistance to victims of trafficking, these obligations are considered implied under Article 43 with reference to those obligations in Part II of the U.N. Protocol.

Asian/African Migrant Workers

Of the many problems of the Middle East, trafficking of migrant workers is a major one. Many migrants who mostly hail from Asian and African States get deceived to migrate into the Middle East, where they do not find the good life they hoped for. Instead, it’s a dangerous terrain; a desperate situation and they’re helpless (not even by the government). To find their way back home or even survive, they must work for terribly low wages and in inhumane conditions. Countries with high prevalence of this include the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.

The International Labor Organization, an organization that caters for the needs of labor worldwide, has started campaigns to warn potential migrating workers about the dangers in the fraudulent schemes. Some of these schemes promise subsidized transportation and work opportunities in Gulf Countries when nothing concrete has been put in place. The unsuspecting and naïve migrants only learn about the deceit when it is already too late and they cannot get adequate assistance from the government to return to their countries of origin. Despite this, migration has not been reduced effectively.

Human Rights of Migrant Workers

Exploitation of migrant workers in the Gulf, ranging from non-payment of wages to physical abuse, is not simply commonplace or widespread; it is systematic process that has gained ground in previous years, despite attempt to curb it.

The Gulf Governments may argue that hey establish anti trafficking laws but findings and experience has shown that these laws are biased towards the employers and is ineffective in helping the actual victims.

The overseeing government agency in question, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs barely has the drive or capacity to execute its duties. There is hard evidence based on first hand reports that the government acts far from the stipulated directives, thereby become an active participant in the human trafficking schemes because they profit from it, a system that keeps millions of migrant workers in perpetual bondage.

The structures that are supposed to protect the human rights, fail to keep it. The laws, as earlier depicted, are biased and migrant workers who have complains are unable to lay them due to the milling obstacles. The Gulf Governments brazenly overlook international rules and regulations on a normal bases and this one is no different.

Violations of International Labour Organization Agreements

Laws are only as strong as the mechanisms that enforce them, and there is hard evidence that Gulf States’ labor laws are not made in of favor migrant workers and barely protects them from exploitative labor practices. It wouldn’t be farfetched to say these laws actually support the trafficking system. 

In the Gulf news, a ministry official was quoted to have said that abuses are only recognized when there’s a complaint. He stated however, that there’s barely a complaint because workers are too afraid of their handlers and the repercussions.

The first major problems for Workers especially migrant workers such as those of South Asian origin are that they do not speak either Arabic or English. Therefore, wishing to file a complaint usually is met with language difficulties. Aggrieved employees have to submit a written complaint in either Arabic or English, to the concerned Ministry of Labor and then to their employer. Language is a grave barrier at all levels of interaction, including complaints, especially in a foreign country where no one basically cares about foreigners. Officials at the Ministry of Labor are unhelpful and obstructive, even when complaints are filed in person to any of the main Ministry offices.

For example, in a Gulf News report, it was revealed that 38 South Asians were barred from lodging a complaint because they could not afford to pay an AED 20 typing fee. The men decided to bring a handwritten complaint, which was not acceptable. Also, the men were informed by Ministry staff officials, that they would have to submit an individual complaint each (therefore have to pay more), when in fact labor law adequately allows for the submission of joint complaints. Their complaint was that they had not been paid for five months, and had been living on dates from a farm near their housing site. These men were ultimately incapable of lodging an official complaint.

How Cn the Guld States Curb Human Trafficking

Gulf Countries need more labor. Migrant workers provide just that. Migrant workers, especially unskilled ones, make a huge sacrifice by leaving their homes to seek work overseas in a fairly mysterious world. Most times, they do this to be able to better support themselves and their families back home thereby searching for green pastures. For many, it’s the first time they’re leaving their towns or villages. Being able to find work abroad in general and in the Gulf in particular means something special to them as a window of opportunity. The reality however, is far from that.

Despite several curbing methods, employed, the best will be a more inclusive one, targeting trafficking from the roots, rather than the branches.

Below are some recommendations that could present a start on Gulf Countries’ long journey of securing the human rights of all domestic migrants:

1. Reaching out to victims:

The phrase “victims of crime” is defined in article A(1) of the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crimes and Abuse of Power as “[p]ersons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws operative within Member States.”

Due to the trauma, victims of trafficking mostly seclude themselves. The government must be ready to reach, communicate with them and assist them. For instance, individuals tricked into forced labor through the imposition of exorbitant fees may require education, or those who are psychologically or sexually attached to a sex trafficker may require some counseling.

2. Principle of non-discrimination:

The U.N. Protocol states in article 14.2 that “the measures set forth in this Protocol shall be interpreted and applied in a way that is not discriminatory to persons on the ground that they are victims of trafficking in persons. The interpretation and application of those measures shall be consistent with internationally recognized principles of non-discrimination.”

This is an internationally accepted standard, which protects migrant workers against any form of stigmatization. Usually, victims are stigmatized within their groups and communities for actions they committed while being trafficked, a period of slavery for them where they had no say.

States must be prepared to also provide the following to the victims of human trafficking, as well:

Right to information: This will come with the communication put up in place.

Right to legal representation.

Right to compensation for damages.

Right to safe return to country of origin.

REFERENCES:

  1. WHO, Health of migrants—the way forward. Madrid, Spain: World Health Organization (2010)
  2. International Labour Organisation (2015). World Report on Child Labour 2015: Paving the way to decent work for young people.
  3. Centre for the Study of Democracy (2002): Smuggling in Southeastern Europe, http://www.csd.bg/publications/book10/SMUGGLING%20ENG.pdf
  1.  Human Rights Watch, “Oman: Domestic Workers Trafficked, Trapped”,
  2. Kamrava, Mehran and Zahra Babar. 2012. “Situating Labor Migration in the Persian Gulf.” In
  3. Columbia University Press, 1-20.
  4. ILO. 2001. Stopping Forced Labour, Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on
  5. Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, Geneva.
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  2. World Bank. 2011. Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011. Herndon: World Bank Publications.
  3. ILO, World of work report. International Labor Organization (2010). Available at http://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/inst/download/wow2010.pdf.