Freeman Razemba Crime Reporter—
OVER 200 Zimbabwean women are reportedly stranded in Kuwait after they were lured to the Middle East country on the pretext that they were going to be offered lucrative jobs by a local human trafficking syndicate, it has been learnt. Sources revealed yesterday that most of these women had their travelling documents confiscated on arrival in Kuwait. It is believed the women were sold for amounts starting from $2 500 each to individuals that needed cheap labour for a period of over two years. Most of the women had been employed as housemaids under harsh conditions and were not allowed to leave, denied enough food, forced to work for long hours while others were reportedly forced into prostitution.
Chief police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba yesterday urged people not to respond to advertisements in which offered to take them out of Zimbabwe for employment under unclear circumstances.
“We would like to urge the public, especially the youths, not to respond to such advertisements because they will be risking their lives because they will end up being slaves in foreign countries,” she said.
Snr Asst Comm Charamba said job seekers should be careful when responding to employment advertisements. Police have since embarked on awareness campaigns to educate people on the matter. The Herald has it on good authority that the Zimbabwean Embassy in Kuwait has informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here about the 200 young women stranded in that country.
Most of the victims were lured through advertisements in local media and were promised hefty salaries, good working conditions, air tickets and education. Sources say the Foreign Affairs Ministry has since handed over the communication to police for investigations.
However, Foreign Affairs Minister Cde Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and his secretary Mr Joey Bimha could not be reached on their phones yesterday. Kuwait Ambassador to Zimbabwe Ahmed Khalid Al Jeeran’s home number went unanswered yesterday.
Last month Government set up a Human Anti-Trafficking Inter-Ministerial Committee to curb these rampant cases of human trafficking in the country. Addressing journalists recently, Home Affairs Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo said trafficking in persons was a heinous crime that was robbing individuals of their fundamental human rights.
He said some of the rights that they were being robbed of included rights to human dignity, personal security, right to personal liberty and freedom of movement. “Globally, it has affected millions of people and it has turned into a multibillion-dollar industry where a few individuals are benefiting from violating vulnerable groups. The crime of trafficking in persons can occur within the country or transnationally,” Dr Chombo said.
He said as one of their awareness initiatives they intended to enlighten all Members of Parliament on the crime of trafficking in persons so that they could help pass the information to grassroots levels where the most vulnerable are found.
Kuwait is a destination country for men and women who are subjected to forced labour and to a lesser degree, forced prostitution. Men and women migrate from India, Egypt, Bangladesh, Syria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal, Iran, Jordan, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iraq, Lebanon and Kenya to work in Kuwait, mainly to join the domestic service, construction and sanitation sectors.
Uganda this year warned its nationals against travelling to Kuwait.
In the last year, there was a reported increase in migrants from Ethiopia, Uganda and Madagascar, while Filipino and Sri Lankan women represent a significant percentage of Kuwait’s domestic worker population.
Though most migrants enter Kuwait voluntarily, upon arrival some sponsors and labour recruitment firms subject them to forced labour, including non-payment of wages, long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical or sexual abuse and restrictions on movement, such as confinement to the workplace and withholding of passports.
Many of the migrant workers arriving in Kuwait have paid exorbitant fees to recruiters in their home countries or are coerced into paying labour broker fees in Kuwait that, by the Middle East laws, should be paid by the employer—a practice that makes workers highly vulnerable to forced labour, including debt bondage.
Kuwait’s sponsorship law, which ties a migrant worker’s legal residence and valid immigration status to an employer, restricts workers’ movements and penalises them for “running away” from abusive workplaces; as a result, domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to forced labour inside private homes.
While Kuwait requires employers to use a standard contract for domestic workers delineating some basic rights, Kuwait lacks a domestic labour law to govern the relationship between domestic workers and sponsors; thus, many workers report work conditions that are substantially different from those described in the contract.
Some workers never see the contract at all.
In addition, sources report that runaway domestic workers fall prey to forced prostitution by agents or criminals who exploit their illegal status.
The Government of Kuwait does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making sufficient efforts to do so.
The government did not demonstrate efforts to prosecute nor convict trafficking offenders using the 2013 anti-trafficking law or other laws that address trafficking crimes.