The government maintained its protection efforts, but implementation of victim identification and protection measures remained uneven; some unidentified victims may have remained vulnerable to punishment for unlawful acts committed, as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. The government continued to distribute victim identification criteria to officials and provided training on their implementation. Although the government did not provide aggregate information on victims identified during the reporting period, it identified at least 264 victims during the course of investigations. In comparison, the government identified 658 trafficking victims in 2015. The government reported challenges capturing aggregate-level victim identification data. Government officials continued to arrest, deport, imprison, and penalize some domestic workers who fled their employers and undocumented foreign workers, some of whom could be potential trafficking victims. In mid-2016, the media reported a Senegalese domestic worker faced the death penalty for allegedly killing her employer in self-defense; prior to the incident, the woman complained to her family of abuse and little rest, indicators of forced labor. Authorities reportedly did not provide the woman with legal assistance, as required by law, and there was no evidence that the government took into consideration the possible element of forced labor in this case, or recognized the worker as a potential trafficking victim. In January 2017, the media reported the government arrested and sentenced an unknown number of migrant construction workers to four months imprisonment and flogging for protesting about not receiving their wages from their employer; there was no evidence the government took into consideration that the workers’ withheld wages could be an element of forced labor in this case. The government did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims of trafficking to countries where they might face retribution or hardship.
The government provided protection services to domestic workers and child beggars, but it did not provide specialized shelters for victims of other forms of forced labor or sex trafficking. The government did not report what types of protection services—if any—it provided to the 264 victims identified in 2016. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development (MOLSD) continued to operate shelters for child beggars, some of whom may have been trafficking victims, as well as 10 welfare centers for female domestic workers, some of whom may have been trafficking victims. The government continued to operate a welfare center for male domestic workers, but it did not report if any male trafficking victims received assistance at this facility during the reporting period. These centers generally provided shelter and psycho-social, health, and educational services; however, the condition and quality of victim care services varied across the Kingdom. The welfare center in Riyadh—which has a capacity of 230—operated as a full-service facility for female domestic workers, providing residents with legal assistance, immigration and passport services, translation, and rehabilitative care by seven female social workers, as well as trained psychologists and other medical professionals. The center had a separate living area for trafficking victims, but it did not report how many victims received assistance at the center during the reporting period. Labor source-country diplomatic officials had regular access to their nationals residing in this center. Many victims continued to seek refuge at their embassies; source-country diplomatic missions continued to report complaints by their citizens of unpaid wages, withholding of passports, physical or sexual abuse, and poor working conditions.
Although the government reportedly encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, there were few known and public cases of victims successfully pursuing criminal cases against abusive employers, in part due to lengthy delays in the immigration and justice system. During judicial proceedings, trafficking victims reportedly had the option to remain in the country—predominately in welfare centers or working for a new employer—or they could request an immediate exit visa; however, the government did not report if any victims received these benefits during the reporting period. The law entitles identified trafficking victims to legal assistance, translation services, and immediate repatriation upon the victim’s request; the government did not report providing any of these benefits to trafficking victims in 2016. The government reportedly provided protection to witnesses involved in trafficking cases, but the government did not report any such cases in this reporting period. In December 2016, the government signed a MOU with an international organization to provide technical assistance and expertise to the government’s human rights commission (HRC) on protection and assistance to trafficking victims, funded by the HRC.