The government maintained efforts to protect trafficking victims and reported details on its protection efforts for the first time. The government widely disseminated victim identification and referral criteria to relevant official stakeholders and provided regular training on their implementation. During the reporting period, officials identified and referred to government-run shelters 121 trafficking victims—of which 20 were victims of forced labor—out of 164 individuals proactively identified as potential victims; during the previous year, it did not provide aggregate information on victims identified, but reported 264 potential victims discovered over the course of investigations. The government allocated—and reported for the first time—10 million SAR ($2.7 million) to the MOLSD, which operated shelters across the country for vulnerable populations and abuse victims, some of whom were likely trafficking victims. These include shelters for child beggars in Mecca, Jeddah, Dammam, Medina, Qassim, and Abha, in addition to welfare centers for female domestic workers in at least ten locations throughout the Kingdom and for male domestic workers in Riyadh. Each shelter provided accommodation, social services, health care, psychological counseling, education, and legal assistance, and all 121 government-identified victims received these services from the government during the reporting period; the government did not report what types of protection services, if any, it provided to identified victims during the previous reporting period. Diplomats from labor-sending countries had regular access to their nationals residing in government-run shelters and reported conditions and quality of services in the shelters varied slightly across the Kingdom, but were overall satisfactory and safe. Some embassies and consulates—including those of the Philippines, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka—also operated shelters for their respective nationals. Various diplomatic missions reported complaints by their citizens of unpaid wages, passport retention, physical or sexual abuse, or substandard working conditions. The Saudi Arabian government and foreign missions reported the large majority of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia did not experience problems with their employers. During the reporting period, officials extended a 90-day amnesty program, which commenced in March 2017, for five additional months for undocumented migrant workers, those who worked for an unofficial sponsor, and those who were declared absconders by employers, to depart the Kingdom without punishment by granting emergency exit certificates. The amnesty program also permitted undocumented expatriates to reverse their illegal status, fully exempt from any associated consequences. After the expiration of the amnesty period, the government detained approximately 250,000 people reportedly in violation of its residency laws and deported some 50,000, the majority of whom were of Ethiopian descent, according to press reports. There were no reports of confirmed trafficking victims being punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being subjected to trafficking; however, despite efforts to improve screening there were claims by human rights organizations that the government did not always screen all deportees for potential trafficking victimization and police frequently arrested and/or deported undocumented migrant workers, some of whom experienced abuses indicative of forced labor and were potentially unidentified trafficking victims.
The government extended all identified trafficking victims the option of remaining in the country—either in a shelter or via transfer to a new employer—during judicial proceedings or an immediate exit visa; these benefits did not require a successful prosecution or cooperation with law enforcement personnel. Victims who wanted to repatriate immediately could assign a power-of-attorney and pursue their legal case from abroad. During the reporting period, the anti-trafficking secretariat worked with interior ministry officials to extend the residency permits—without employers’ consent—of an unknown number of identified trafficking victims on an ad hoc basis. The government reportedly encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, and the law entitled trafficking victims to legal assistance, security protection, translation services, and the right to immediate repatriation or continued residence in-country until resolution of the case, in addition to medical and psychological care, shelter, and recovery; it did not report how many victims accessed these provisions during the reporting year. The government reportedly provided protection to witnesses involved in trafficking cases, but the government did not report any cases in 2017. Officials permitted victims to obtain restitution from the government and file civil suits against trafficking offenders; however, such restitution generally occurred outside of civil court proceedings, and the government typically and informally reimbursed workers for back wages and/or assisted in their repatriation.