The Global Slavery Index has estimated that there are almost 3 million people living in conditions of modern slavery in the region of the Middle East and North Africa. Oman is a transit and destination country for men and women primarily from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines, most of whom migrate willingly as domestic servants or low-skilled workers in the country’s construction, agriculture and service sectors. Trafficked persons subsequently experience conditions of modern slavery such as the confiscation of passports, restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, long working hours without rest and physical or sexual abuse.
Basma N., 21, from Majohe in Dar es Salaam, went to Oman in March 2015 after her agent in Tanzania promised her a domestic worker job for a family of four with a salary of 70 OMR ($182) a month. However, upon arrival her employer confiscated her passport, and forced her to work 21 to 23 hours a day with no rest and no day off, in three houses for a family of nine, for 60 OMR ($156) per month. Basma was confined to the house, verbally abused and had two months’ salary taken away after she complained to the embassy about her working conditions. Her employer refused to let her leave unless she paid back costs amounting to 2,400 OMR ($6,234).
My employer said to me: “We gave the agent 1,200 rials ($3,117) to give your family in Africa, and it cost 1,200 rials to bring you here.” I told them: “My family never received this money.” My employer said: “I don’t care, that’s what I gave your agent. Not my problem, I want my money back.” I just said: ‘I want to go back home.’ Madam said: “If you don’t give me back my money, I will take a case against you in court.”
[one day when she was working alone in the house her employers brother attempted to rape Basma]
I started ironing clothes and he started pulling me to try and rape me. I was lucky the younger brother came back and rang the doorbell–he then left. I told the madam and the embassy. She said: ‘No, you are just lying.’ She didn’t want to believe he would do such a thing.
I used to feel dizzy from not sleeping
[Basma finally fled her employer and a month later, she received a letter to attend a dispute-resolution session at the Ministry of Manpower]
I had time to say all my complaints in the room. The [official] then asked my employer: “Is it true what she is saying?” My employer said: “It’s not true.” He then said to me: “We cannot agree with you, as we were not there.” Then he said to my employer: “If she doesn’t want to pay you, and she doesn’t want to go to another employer–take her to the police.” That’s when I said: “Keep my money, and give my passport back so I can get flight tickets to go home.
As told to researchers for Human Rights Watch