By Iommie Chiwalo
The Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) calls on the government to speedily act in a manner that it cares about the welfare of 60 Malawian women enslaved in the Middle East, Oman and six others whose whereabouts have remained unknown for the past six months.
In a press statement signed by CDEDI Executive Director Sylvester Namiwa, the calls are coming after noting with dismay that in the past seven months government lacks seriousness in dealing with the matter and, actually evident attempts to sweep the whole matter under the carpet.
“We have learnt with broken hearts that in Oman, where our women went to seek greener pasture, are called ‘Shagara’, which means slave over there. As the name suggests, our sisters were ‘bought’ by agents of slavery at $2,500 each,” says Namiwa.
The said amount is what was spent on individual air ticket, visa, medical tests, police clearance and related travel requirements as well as starting work straight from the airport.
“In most cases, they serve over 10 families living within a compound, forcing them to sleep only three hours a day. The only food they take on a daily basis is water and a few slices of bread. And in the course of their work and stay they endure unbearable sexual abuse and assault. If this is not chilling enough to make government act with speed, what would be,” queries Namiwa.
CDEDI resolves that if government was really serious about rescuing these enslaved Malawians, it could have used funds from the unforeseen circumstances budgetary allocation, assuming funding is the stumbling block.
He has given an example of a situation whereby government hired buses to rescue its citizens from South Africa in the face of xenophobic attacks and similar action was taken to rescue Malawian students trapped in a Covid-19 lockdown in China.
“It is against this background that CDEDI hereby challenges President Chakwera to address Malawians and acknowledge his government’s awareness about the Oman enslaved Malawians. He should explain to the nation why it has taken his Cabinet seven months to approve the spending of less than MK200 million to rescue these young women,” he says.
Namiwa however, warned that as a matter of urgency, failure by the President to make available the required funds within the next seven days will mean that leadership has failed to help the stranded citizens, and CDEDI will be forced to knock on the doors of the international community for its intervention.
The urgent call for quick action by CDEDI is also grounded on human rights aspect whereby one of the victims has confessed that she cleans a two-stoley building which accommodates 12 families, doing the laundry, cleaning the outside including two vehicles and as if that is not enough, some men in the compound take turns raping her and some of her female masters beat her up over very flimsy accusations.
“It is said that these women are forced to work even when they are sick. Worse still, they have no access to medical care. When they cry for mercy they are told they were ‘bought’ exactly for what they are experiencing hence the only way out is to serve for two years or pay back the $2,500. So far, only three women have regained their freedom after refunding the money, and are back home, albeit traumatized,” he said.
In its findings CDEDI established that President Chakwera silently set up a Cabinet Committee to handle the matter but sadly what is coming out is that Labour Minister Vera Kantukule is reportedly receiving death threats for attempting to disturb this slave trade.
“It is, however, disturbing to hear that the committee has decided to literally abandon the task for which it was formed,” said Namiwa.
He says his organisation has also learnt with shock that the efforts by the Malawi Government which in October, 2022 sent a delegation to Oman via Kuwait since there is no embassy in Oman, to pursue the matter has yielded nothing.
CDEDI also understands that since the Oman authorities claim these women sign legally-binding contracts, there is nothing their government can do about the emerging atrocities.
The story says the helpless women first lose contact with their agents while in transit and upon arrival, their work permits and travel documents are confiscated before being handed over to powerful and wealthy people who shamefully use them as symbols of prestige in what epitomises modern day slavery.
It is in the press that in an event that one has been caught trying to escape from the dehumanising conditions, they are mercilessly assaulted before being forced back to their slavery.
Efforts to get more information from responsible ministries proved futile but rights activists approached by this publication says much us labour export is as a result of high unemployment levels in Malawi, the exported labour is not supposed to undergo atrocities like what is happening in Oman.