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Alone in Oman: economic woes worsen abuse of Zimbabwe women by traffickers

…offers from agents too good to be true

Perseverance Javangwe

The harsh economic conditions in the country are pushing women to seek greener pastures abroad and this has made it easier for traffickers who are pretending to be employment agents to prey on these women.

The recruitment drive to Oman has been on overdrive, as the country is witnessing the same trend that culminated in the Kuwait saga. The same modus operandi is being used, but this time around the use of Social Media has made it easy for traffickers to prey on women.

Women are moved to Oman because they are offered a better life. The offers are too good to be true, and this has led some women to relinquish the few valuable goods they have in order to be able to process the papers to move abroad. Some women go to an extent of borrowing funds to travel to the airport on the assurance that they will lend money back home as soon as they arrive in the promised land of milk and honey.

“I departed Zimbabwe on the 19th of January this year after I had been informed that I was going to Dubai for work. I got this job through an agent. When we arrived here, we did not receive what we were promised. We were promised off days twice a week, but unfortunately, we do not have off days. We do not rest except when I am going to the bath that is when we can use our phones like now. Our employers are rough towards us, sometimes they refuse to give us food. So I am looking for assistance to return home,” said a woman who has been trafficked to Oman and has pleaded for anonymity because she is afraid of her agents.

“Where I work, when I started everything seemed ok because there was another maid from Nigeria but she wanted to return back. As for food, I was allowed to eat anything I like. I spent some days without inquiring about my salary then one day I had to ask how much I was getting paid. My employer informed me that the agent had told him that I should receive 80riyal which is equivalent to USD2$00 because he said they used USD$700 for me to travel this side. I am not sure whether it is 700riyal or USD$700, then I said it is ok. I then inquired about the name of the city and country where I was and he said it is Oman in the city of Muscat. I was shocked because my agent said we were going to Dubai. That is when I discovered that we were lied to.

“Our agent told us about off days, surprisingly there are no off days here, we work till at night, then in terms of food, it suddenly changed and they said I am no longer supposed to eat. Sometimes they can order food and it is finished without me eating. Something to cook will be available, but I am not allowed to cook anything for myself. Oftentimes I have to steal food to sustain myself.

“Another issue is that during work, there is no time to rest even during the day, from morning till the night we will be working non-stop. They say there is no rest until the day ends. This is how we are working here. The place they said we would go is not the one we are at, it was all a lie and the salary is low, going against what we were informed about. There is no agreement form signed, we never saw any contract. As for me, my health is not that good, but I did not do all the medical tests, so whenever I collapse this side, they say I will be faking,” narrated another Zimbabwean woman who was trafficked to Oman and is seeking assistance.

Zimbabwe is increasingly a leading source of trafficking to Oman according to the Vukarhani Trust Director, Gerald Johnson Shirichena who is one of the rescuers for the victims explained how the victims are lured by traffickers.

“Several red flags have been raised. The offer of freebies is too good to be true (if something is too good to be true, then it is not true). The maids who are in exploitative situations in Oman are also confirming that it is not true. As soon as they arrive in Oman, their passports are taken and the truth is that their freedom is stolen. Their contracts are written in Arabic and because the maids lack the knowledge they are not aware that they are signing themselves for slavery. They begin to work in less than four years of arrival. Most of the maids are complaining of physical harassment. They are punished for every mistake they do.

“However most of the mistakes they do are caused by communication challenges. There is overwhelming emotional abuse by employers. Barbaric acts like spitting on the food the maid will eat, oftentimes being denied food or simply being forgotten at mealtimes, they also do the full body massage of male adults who visit the homes and other unspeakable acts of maltreatment.

“We have interacted with some of the agents. Most of them are women who are either former victims or those that are being used to recruit women because they appeal to other women. Most of the agents in the Oman saga are ladies who are or have been taken to Oman. When we compiled our reports we found out that one of the victims in Oman was approached by an agent, and asked to bring other women then she would receive USD$50 per every person she recruited. Among the recruiters is an ex-police officer and some doctors involved in the deals as well. There is an ex-police officer working in cahoots with her husband to recruit people into Oman and there is also medical personnel that is being implicated in the recruitment of maids,” he said.

Social media is awash with adverts that are too sweet to accept. Traffickers have taken advantage of the power of social media to lure victims by promising them goodies that they did not receive here in Zimbabwe. Added to that most traffickers promise their victims that they will be going to work in Dubai.

“Traffickers have distorted the truth about the destination. They presented a distorted version of maids’ jobs in Oman. The ladies are promised a better life than on the other side of the world. The traffickers interviewed exhibited the same traits of distortion, realization, social comparison blame-shifting, and dehumanization to justify their actions.

“The social media is awash with adverts that are offering facilitation to go to Oman. Their recruitment drive is led by an agent in Oman who has subsidiary agents in Zambia, Nigeria, and Tanzania and a few in Zimbabwe. These agents have runners in Zimbabwe who facilitate the process. Most victims spoken to had their papers processed by the subsidiary agents in Tanzania, Nigeria, and Zambia. The victims met no one in person all their papers are processed online. The Agents have connections at the Oman Embassy who speed the papers. Visas are processed with speed. The whole process takes up to three days maximum. Within 3 days a person can be flying to Oman. All communication is on WhatsApp with no voice calling but at times voice notes. The agents are also facilitating the acquisition of passports for maids who have no such documents.

“There are WhatsApp groups and Facebook groups that have been created that carry adverts and luring stories. Once someone joins the group on Facebook and shows interest, the prospective maid is put in a WhatsApp group and an agent is appointed to walk through the process with a client/candidate. In those same groups, there are testimonials from women purporting to be maids in Oman who post pictures of themselves in holiday resorts, eating out sitting with employers, and so on. This is done mainly, to lure unsuspecting ladies, and secondly to counter the stories from maids in Oman who are complaining of abuse and maltreatment. The runners have infiltrated many groups where they throw the links to their groups. The runners in Zimbabwe are in every group in the spectrum, family groups, church groups, and all. The adverts promise people, a free ticket, free visa, free medicals, free hygienic products, as well as off days,” said Shirichena.

Human trafficking in Zimbabwe is an urgent crisis, and women are especially at risk. Women and girls are being trafficked within their own countries, to neighboring countries such as South Africa, and to other continents for sexual exploitation, sexual slavery, forced marriages, domestic slavery, and various forms of forced labor.

According to Dr. Chamunorwa Nyoni from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at Bindura University and the Center for Combating Human Trafficking, there is a need for national awareness targeting human trafficking. He also spoke on the role of the government, the civic society organization, and the media in dealing with the challenge of human trafficking in Zimbabwe.

“It is disturbing that we are currently witnessing a surge in the number of cases of human trafficking especially those that are leaving for the Middle East including Oman. Many cases in the Middle East have come to the attention of the Center for Combating Human Trafficking and these cases reflect labor-related trafficking. We have maids who are lured into this East Asian country on the pretext of good salaries and as a result good life.

“…national awareness especially targeting human trafficking should be done, in the different languages and in the different media-related opportunities that could be available. Furthermore, the government in my view should investigate and regulate these employment agencies that are mushrooming and recruiting innocent women into servitude those that are found on the wrong side of the law should honesty face the hues.

“We also have got civil society organizations who in my view should work in partnership to address human trafficking. They possess different specialties and they should work to enhance the live hoods, especially of survivors of human trafficking. Civil society organizations should amount advocates work to ensure that awareness is brought to every corner of the country.

“The media on the other hand should also be involved in raising awareness on human trafficking and should collectively work to expose the shenanigans of the traffickers. You would note that trafficking, is evolving every day and in some instances, we have heard people that get recruited and then flown out. You would discover that if awareness is raised around maybe, the airports they also then take some other routes in what we term the rerouting of the trafficked individuals. We end up having people that are getting recruited, they are transported into South Africa and then they could fly from South Africa. So media houses and civil societies in partnership with the government should be able to raise awareness so that individuals, weigh the options that they have before they actually move into…

“Our law enforcement agents in my view should be capacitated to appreciate the dynamics of human trafficking so that when they respond to issues that are brought to their attention, they are able to use knowledge and the skills that they would have gained to ensure that human trafficking is combated,” he said.

Human trafficking can be eradicated with a comprehensive and coordinated response.

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