By Harold Kapindu
Alarming numbers of young Malawian women and girls are being trafficked to Gulf countries such as Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates where they are subjected to sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
Several posts have gone viral on social media platforms in which trafficked victims working in Oman have described their living conditions as inhumane.
Some have alleged to suffer abuses of rape, torture and poor pay with no access to justice or a safe route back home.
This is the exact story which a 25 year old Malawian girl trapped in Oman narrated to this reporter in a conversation via WhatsApp.
We have named the girl Yamikani for security reasons.
She explained, “When we arrived in Oman, we were taken to an office where we were lined up for sale. Upon noticing that we have been trafficked, I protested and I was beaten severely.
“I was left with a dislocated leg. I am in a terrible condition because I can’t get any medical help. I cannot be taken to hospital and I haven’t been given any medication. I cannot work and make money for my traffickers hence I was given an option to go home.”
She said her traffickers are asking for K3 million as a repayment for the costs of her VISA and other travel expenses.
“I have been trying to communicate with Malawi Government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Labour but no avail. I know my parents have assured me that they are fundraising the money for my ransom but I am sick and tired of this place. Someone told me that you are a journalist and you can help so please help,” Yamikani said in a voice note message sent to this reporter.
Yamikani’s situation is somewhat isolated as she has access to a mobile phone, can be contacted and she is willing to be repatriated.
“I am currently the only Malawian at this office. The rest of the girls are from Myanmar and they seem to be comfortable staying here. The other Malawian girls are in far away places. Some girls are scared to protest while others don’t want to come home,” appealed the desperate Malawian girl trapped in Oman.
Malawi Network Against Trafficking National Coordinator and Global Hope Mobilization (GLOHOMO) Executive Director Caleb Thole described Yamikani’s situation as “dangerous”.
He warned that Yamikani should not be tempted to run away, saying Oman is a dangerous place.
“The girl should stay where she is and stay in touch. She should not run away because once she is caught by authorities she might be in trouble. We believe some of the Government officials are culprits,” Thole warned.
In a separate interview, USA based Do Bold organization founder Ekaterina Porras Sivolobova urged Yamikani to be patient.
“Repatriation is a slow and complicated process. We negotiate for the their release and make travel arrangements. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but we don’t pay ransom because we don’t want to promote the practice. No Government should pay ransom,” she emphasized.
She was quick to point out that safety of the girls is always a priority.
Yamikani’s traumatic mother could not comment on her daughter’s ordeal.
Yamikani left a 7 year old daughter who is leaving with her unemployed grandmother.
Speaking at a press briefing held under the theme “Trapped in Oman”, Minister of Labour, Vera Kamtukule said Malawi Government officials are not allowed to enter Oman.
“Our recent problem is with those that went to Oman. We are unable to assist them because we are being denied entry into the country and we do not have any bilateral or international agreements with them. However, we are using our embassy in Kuwait to find out more,” Kamtukule said.
In her remarks, Minister of Homeland Security, Jean Sendeza highlighted that investigations are underway to crackdown those involved in the human trafficking business.
“My office has been informed that one of the police officers at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) who was involved in the clearing processes has been arrested together with a police officer from Area 30 and a health officer from Kamuzu Central Hospital,” Sendeza said.
According to Sendeza, seven cases have been concluded by the courts and 71 other cases are still under scrutiny.
Malawi Police Service also recently arrested a suspected human trafficking agent Martha Kalazi Mbewe.
A recent Do Bold Report titled “Mapping Her Journey” has revealed that Oman is failing to protect migrant domestic workers who are victims of human trafficking, trapped in abusive households.
Do Bold is an organisation that works to assist and repatriate migrant workers trapped in the Gulf.
After interviewing 469 domestic workers from Sierra Leone working in Oman, the report concluded that all but one of the women interviewed were victims of forced labour and human trafficking.
According to the report, 80% of the women reported that they worked between 16 and 20 hours a day and 99% had no day off.
“Almost all (91%) said they had their freedom of movement curtailed, including having their passports confiscated. More than half said they had experienced wage theft, and one-third claimed they had been sexually abused,” reads the “Mapping Her Journey” Report in part.
The Report said most of the women interviewed revealed they had been tricked or deceived by recruiters.
“Some claimed they had been promised jobs in restaurants and hotels in Europe or the US, while others said they believed they had applied for scholarships to study abroad. They said they were then trafficked into domestic work when they arrived in Oman,” the Report added.
Watch Dobold’s Mapping Her Journey Report on YouTube https://youtu.be/J2Fn5RqhRWw