Human Rights Watch says that because of Oman's immigrant labor laws, tying employment to a specific family’s sponsorship, many foreign employees – particularly female domestic workers – face exploitation and abuse at the hands of their Omani employers and have little means of recourse to protect themselves.
In a new report, HRW charges that Oman’s Kafala immigrant labor system is at least partly to blame for leaving workers exposed to abusive employers who have total control over their employment opportunities.
“Migrant domestic workers in Oman are bound to their employers and left to their mercy,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Employers can force domestic workers to work without rest, pay, or food, knowing they can be punished if they escape, while the employers rarely face penalties for abuse.”
At least 130,000 female migrant domestic workers currently work in Oman, and the report alleges that the neighboring United Arab Emirates (UAE) serves as a human trafficking hub where recruiters sell migrants to families that then illegally transport them into Oman.
HRW investigators interviewed 59 female migrant workers for the report, and many detailed episodes where they were beaten, verbally abused and forced to work as much as 20 hours a day while being denied fair pay.
“The situation is so dire that some countries, such as Indonesia, have banned their nationals from migrating to Oman and other countries with comparable track records,” the report reads.
The report called on Oman to reform its labor laws to include protections for domestic workers – who are currently explicitly excluded from protection – and end its use of the “Kafala” employment sponsorship system. It also encouraged Omani police and other officials to protect the domestic workers instead of punishing them for trying to escape by returning them to their abusive employers.
This year the United States downgraded Oman to the Tier 2 Watch List in its annual Trafficking in Persons report. The State Department said the Omani government did not increase its efforts to address human trafficking.