Saudi Arabia is a “destination country” for men and women being trafficked for labor and “to a lesser extent, forced prostitution,” said the United States Department of State in its annual report on human trafficking published June 19.
Men and women from countries like India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Sudan travel to Saudi Arabia as domestic servants or other low-skilled workers.
Some of them subsequently face conditions comparable to involuntary servitude, including long working hours, deprivations of food, physical or sexual assault and restrictions on movement.
The report further claims that although many migrant laborers sign contracts, many report work conditions “that are substantially different from those described in the contract.”
These conditions are exacerbated by Saudi Arabia’s law, which requires foreign workers to obtain permission from their employer to get an exit visa before leaving the country.
According to the report, many employers make use of this law, forcing migrant workers to stay for months or years beyond their contract term.
The US State Department asserts that the efforts of Saudi government to combat human trafficking have been “modest” at best. Although the government reported that it prosecuted 11 cases of human trafficking, it is unclear if these cases occurred during the reporting period.
During the reporting period, the government achieved only one conviction under the anti-trafficking law. Details of the cases were not provided.
Additionally, the government’s annual budget for the fiscal year 2012 dedicates $1 million to the permanent committee to combat trafficking. However, procedures have never been implemented to systematically identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations. Moreover, the government officials lack the necessary training on prevention and prosecution of these cases, the report said.
This is not to say that Saudi government has made no progress. It is now a tier three country, according to the US State Department’s ranking and there have been some cases where foreign workers successfully sought help from the authorities.
In one case, a Saudi sponsor paid an Indonesian domestic worker $15,200 in back wages after Riyadh police intervened. In another case, a provincial governor helped an Indian shepherd to recover more than $22,500 in unpaid wages.
The Saudi Ministry of Labor has also produced a guidebook delineating foreign workers’ rights in Arabic, English and a few other languages. These guidebooks are continuously distributed in airports and contain a telephone number for workers to report abuse. Saudi police has likewise maintained a 24-hour emergency anti-trafficking hotline with operators who speak Arabic and English.
The US Department of State suggested various reports to the Saudi government in the sponsorship system and enforcing existing laws to discourage employers from withholding workers’ passports and restricting workers’ movements, including arbitrarily denying permission for exit visas.
The report also encouraged increased efforts to prosecute, punish, and stringently sentence traffickers.