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Labour trafficking to Middle East rattles govt

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By Rebecca Chimjeka

The government has admitted that the country’s labour export to Arab countries has reached alarming levels.

It has since instituted investigations into bogus recruitment agencies.

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Reports say that most of the domestic workers being exported are young ladies who are becoming victims of human trafficking.

The revelations have forced the Ministry of Labour to launch an investigation on all “bogus and unregistered” labour export recruiters.

Minister of Labour Vera Kamtukule confessed to The Sunday Times that the situation is getting out of hand.

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She said her ministry is overwhelmed with complaints from parents and victims of human trafficking that have been trapped in Oman, for example.

“We are investigating cases of women and girls that have been trapped in Oman. We have to stop the malpractice, because this is pure, human trafficking,” Kamtukule said.

According to the Labour Minister, the government will act on all bogus and unregistered labour export agents, who it says have in recent times been exposing job seekers to human traffickers, labour exploitation and abuse.

Kamtukule has since appealed to Malawians to help reporting to authorities any suspicious cases of labour recruitment.

Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati said her ministry has also reported to Ministry of Foreign Affairs cases of women trapped in Oman.

“For the past two months, I have received phone calls from parents and some women that have been trapped in Oman,” Kaliati said.

A former domestic worker who returned from Oman told The Sunday Times that there are many Malawian women that have been trapped in the Arab country.

“After six months of working, I was forced to work excessive hours without rest or day off, and I faced many abuses. I thank God that I managed to escape and return home,” said the victim.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson John Kabaghe also confirmed the development and said the situation cannot be tackled by one ministry or department alone.

He said government has in general been discouraging Malawian ladies from taking up maid jobs in the Middle East due to the high prevalence of reports of abuse.

“So far, we had received a report of one Malawian lady who was stranded in Oman who has since returned home. But let me take this opportunity to appeal to Malawians around the world to always reach out and register with appropriate Malawi missions abroad,” Kabaghe said.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Malawi coordinator Maxwell Matewere asked Ministry of Homeland Security to be involved in screening labour export applications to the Ministry of Labour as they are on the frontline to the national response on human trafficking.

“I commend the steps taken by the Ministry of Labour but more needs to be done including the rescue of in Omani. We need to investigate and arrest everyone responsible,” Matewere said.

He said human trafficking is lucrative business.

“Interestingly, fees are usually not demanded up front from the victims, rather the recruitment agencies, mostly resident out of the jurisdiction of the victim’s origin country, assume responsibility of securing the victims passports, visas and air ticket, thereby greatly influencing the minds of intended victims.

“Often, there may not be registered agencies known for the recruitment of persons for the purpose of travelling from one jurisdiction to the other for commercial recruitment,” Matewere said.

The Trafficking in Persons Act (2015) says measures against abusive recruitment practices require cooperation and coordination among all concerned actors, including law enforcement officials, prosecutors, courts, labour inspectors, and immigration and border officials.

Caleb Thole, Executive Director for Global Hope Mobilization and the national coordinator of the Malawi Network Against Trafficking has disclosed that up to 15 Malawians have reached to his organisation with complaints related to this labour trafficking deals recently.

But there could be more, he said.

Last year, the organisation received 60 complaints from victims, he said.

“The situation is getting out of hand. We are receiving calls from different people especially women who have gone to the Middle East countries to work as domestic maids. We have managed to trace some but it’s difficult to trance others and they are no better ways of communicating with them, unless they call us,” Thole said.

 

According to the US Department of State, Malawian victims of sex and labour trafficking have been identified in Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, and Tanzania, as well as in Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

 

It says some young girls are drugged, gang-raped, and exploited in commercial sex.

 

Some girls recruited for domestic service are instead forced to marry and are subsequently exploited in sex trafficking by their “husbands.”

 

“Fraudulent employment agencies lure women and girls to Gulf states, where traffickers exploit them in sex and labor trafficking,” it says.

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