Scores of job-seeking Zimbabweans were left in the lurch after they were trafficked to Oman. The Zimbabweans who had been promised better jobs were instead forced to work unacceptably long hours with little or no pay.
According to Aaron Nhepera, the Secretary for Home Affairs over 100 Zimbabweans were stranded in the Middle Eastern country.
Hard hit by a collapsing economy with few opportunities, thousands of Zimbabweans are fleeing the country for jobs abroad. For those who have ended up in the Middle East, the promise of improved welfare has come at a heavy cost for some.
Nhepera says the government has received 18 complaints from women who went to Oman under the Kafala visa sponsorship.
Under the Kafala system that is employed by many Gulf countries, migrant workers in need of visas and work permits, require sponsorship by local individuals or companies.
International human rights organizations have criticized this Kafala system for fueling modern-day slavery, as migrant workers dependent on their local sponsors are forced to work very long hours for very little pay.
Recently, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Lovemore Mazemo in a report said that women were underpaid, forced to work up to 18 hours a day, not allowed to leave the house, denied sufficient food, and had their passports taken away.
“No rest; no off days even when one is sick; salaries are not paid in full or on time; being forced to work for large extended families; confiscation of passports by employers; physical assaults and verbal abuses; confinement to the house for long periods of time; denial of adequate food as well as the inability to leave an employer and work for another one before the end of their two-year contracts”, reads an excerpt from the report.
Considering these abuses, the Embassy strongly recommended that the department of social welfare consider taking action to rescue some of the workers. The plan by the government is to pay back the money being demanded by the handlers of these migrant workers.
The report also highlighted, “Two of the maids are now displaying suicidal mentalities much to the fear of Zimbabweans in Oman. The two maids openly told consular officers that they were seriously considering committing suicide as a way to end their suffering and enslavement. The government may wish to consider banning Zimbabwean nationals from migrating to Oman to work as maids,” the report reads.
The kafala system used by the Gulf States to regulate migrant workers has become a cost for governments in Africa and the poorer parts of Asia. It ties workers to employers who facilitate their travel to Oman.
The kafala or sponsorship arose from growing demand in Gulf economies for cheap labor, and the desperation of many migrants in search of work and better opportunities.
The system, however, gives private citizens and companies in Jordan, Lebanon, and most Arab Gulf countries almost total control over migrant workers’ employment and immigration status.
This has over the years resulted in gross human right abuses, racism, and gender discrimination of the migrants mostly from Africa, Zimbabwe included.
According to the Migrants Rights Organization Workers in Oman, one must obtain a no-objection certification (NOC) in order to change employers or face a two-year ban from returning to Oman.
The rights organization also said employers extort the NOC requirement, by charging a fee or requiring workers to relinquish their end of service benefits.
While Oman announced plans to abolish the NOC requirement in November 2016 alongside a new labor law, no changes have been forthcoming so far.
Other countries in the region have made pledges to do away with the kafala system which has been condemned worldwide. Saudi Arabia last year effected the long-awaited labor reforms which have gone a long way in changing the migrants’ situation.
Foreign workers in the country are now able to change jobs without their employers’ permission.
Meanwhile Zimbabwe’s information Secretary, Nick Mangwana says the government has started examining the prospect of repatriating some of its citizens.
The process is starting with the repatriation of 30 Zimbabwean women trapped in Oman. Nhepera also says the government will engage the Oman government to improve migrant workers’ security.