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OMAN: Tier 2

The Government of Oman does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Oman remained on Tier 2. These efforts included investigating, prosecuting, and convicting more sex traffickers, and sentencing the offenders to significant jail time. Additionally, the government increased funding toward operation of its victim shelter and protective services and, for the first time, provided alternate sponsorship for a domestic worker who reported work conditions indicative of trafficking. The government also entered an agreement to facilitate pro bono legal representation in both criminal and labor court proceedings, promulgated a new video awareness campaign that reached the vulnerable migrant worker population, and increased the frequency of anti-trafficking capacity building trainings for officials across several government entities and the number of officials participating in these trainings by 50 percent. It investigated cases of passport retention and referred some cases to the public prosecutor and labor court system. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government continued to process potential labor trafficking cases through mediation in labor courts without investigating them as potential trafficking crimes, which omitted criminal accountability and victim care. While it initiated prosecution of one labor trafficking case, it did not convict a perpetrator of a single labor trafficking crime, though the issue of forced labor remained a significant problem in Oman. The government identified fewer victims, did not adopt standardized procedures for the proactive identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, and only referred victims to protective services if they filed cases with the public prosecutor. The government did not take steps to reform the sponsorship system that tied workers to specific employers, which increased vulnerabilities for forced labor and penalization of victims who fled forced labor circumstances.

Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers for forced labor offenses, including by investigating indicators of potential trafficking crimes in enforcement of labor law violations. • Expand labor law protections to, and enforce legal protections for, domestic workers. • Institute formal procedures to proactively identify and refer to care male and female trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and people in prostitution. • Amend the law to allow referrals of suspected male and female trafficking victims to protective services, regardless of whether they file charges against, or there is a corresponding prosecution of, an alleged offender. • Amend the sponsorship-based employment scheme that renders expatriate workers vulnerable to exploitative labor, to include allowing them to leave reportedly abusive employers and removing the requirement for “no objection” certificates in seeking new employment and exit permits. • Undertake serious efforts to prevent penalization of trafficking victims by screening for victimization among vulnerable groups such as those arrested for immigration violations or prostitution or who flee abusive employers and face deportation. • Impose dissuasive penalties on employers who withhold their employees’ passports. • Increase utilization of the specialized unit to prosecute trafficking crimes. • Expand trainings for officials involved in criminal investigations. • Institute trainings for hotline operators to ensure accurate characterization of trafficking crimes. • Fully implement the national action plan. • Continue to carry out the Ehsan national public awareness campaign, after transferring it to the management of the Ministry of Information.

The government increased its overall law enforcement efforts, registering higher numbers of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of sex trafficking crimes compared to the previous year. However, it continued to focus disproportionately on sex trafficking versus labor trafficking crimes, and it did not convict any labor traffickers during the reporting period. Oman’s 2008 anti-trafficking law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed punishments of three to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine between 5,000 and 100,000 Omani rial ($12,990-$259,740) for offenses involving adult victims and seven to 15 years’ imprisonment and a minimum fine of 10,000 Omani rial ($25,970) for offenses involving child victims. These punishments were sufficiently stringent and, with regards to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Ministry of Manpower (MoM) circular No.2/2006 prohibited employers from withholding migrant workers’ passports but did not specify penalties for noncompliance.

In 2018, the government reported investigating 11 alleged human trafficking cases—10 for sex trafficking and one for forced labor—compared to a total of nine human trafficking cases (six potential sex trafficking and three forced labor cases) investigated during the previous reporting period. Authorities charged all suspects in the 11 cases under the anti-trafficking law. It initiated prosecution of five of the 11 cases, an increase from three the prior year; the six remaining cases were pending at the close of the current reporting cycle. The government achieved 15 sex trafficking convictions—up from 12 in 2017—under the anti-trafficking law, seven of which stemmed from outstanding cases stymied in the courts in previous years. Officials sentenced the defendants to imprisonment ranging from three to 10 years and fines from between 500 to 10,000 Omani rial ($1,300 to $25,970). The government planned to deport and impose lifetime Oman reentry bans on all 15 (non-Omani) convicted traffickers upon completion of their sentences. The government reported the public prosecutor’s specialized anti-trafficking unit initiated criminal proceedings of two of these cases during the year. According to labor-sending country diplomats, law enforcement personnel continued to treat forced labor cases as labor law violations rather than criminal offenses, without referring victims to trauma-informed care and investigating only tangible evidence to build trafficking cases. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking. Anecdotal reports alleged police officers sometimes informed Omani sponsors if their runaway domestic workers filed charges of trafficking or related crimes against them.

The government increased efforts to address passport retention compared to the previous reporting year, during which it did not investigate cases as potential trafficking crimes but rather settled all of them via dispute mediation. The MoM reported 120 total passport retention cases in 2018; it investigated 58 as potential trafficking cases, and referred one case to the public prosecutor and 13 cases to the labor court system. The MoM reported that, as of the end of the reporting period, 36 cases remained under investigation, authorities initiated investigations into 22, resolved 30 through mediation, and determined three to be unfounded.

The government did not provide data on its expenditure for trafficking-related trainings in 2018, whereas in the prior year it provided venues, catering, and in-kind support totaling approximately 25,000 Omani rial ($64,940) for such, in addition to auxiliary support of 5,000 Omani rial ($12,990) from the public prosecutor’s office to offset foreign donor contributions. However, in close partnership with an international organization, the government facilitated and provided in-kind and monetary support for anti-trafficking law enforcement training for more than 750 officials from the justice, police, and labor regulatory sectors during the reporting year, a 50 percent increase over the previous year. Representatives from an international organization, NGOs, and foreign governments conducted several trainings on implementation of the anti-trafficking law and victim-centered approaches to law enforcement, reaching 95 relevant government officials. The Royal Oman Police training academy continued to educate all incoming cadets on the legal framework for trafficking and related crimes, victim identification, and mechanisms for transferring potential cases to court, and reached more than 550 new Omani officials.

The government demonstrated uneven efforts to protect victims. The government reported identifying and referring to its shelter 10 sex trafficking victims, a decrease from 24 trafficking victims—including 19 for forced labor—in the previous reporting period. The government lacked formalized identification and referral procedures. In practice, officials reactively referred to care some victims identified as part of ongoing police investigations. Officials continued to rely on victims to self-identify and report abuses to authorities, and victims could only obtain government-provided services if they filed cases with the public prosecutor and the public prosecutor issued a referral for them. Some source-country embassies in Oman offered victim services for their nationals. As the labor law did not adequately cover domestic workers, authorities continued to treat potential domestic servitude cases as labor violations and did not identify potential victims of domestic servitude.

Due to the government’s increasing efforts to provide victim identification training, some officials became more proficient at screening for potential sex trafficking victims, particularly among women in prostitution. Officials typically referred self-identified victims first to the police rather than directly to the government-operated shelter, which resulted in delays in victims receiving protective services. Foreign workers, whose legal status continued to be tied to their employer, could be compelled to work for lower or no wages under the credible threat of deportation by their employers. Additionally, labor regulations continued to require an employer to provide a “no objection” certificate to a foreign employee to seek a job with a new employer in Oman; although illegal, employers commonly charged a month’s salary or more to administer this certificate.

During the reporting period, the government fully operated, and allocated slightly more money—198,130 Omani rial ($514,620) compared to 191,860 Omani rial ($498,340) in the previous reporting period—for accommodations and victim care at its permanent shelter, which could accommodate up to 50 women and child victims of forced labor, sex trafficking, or other types of abuse. The shelter provided lodging, psychological counseling, legal support, monetary stipends, recreational opportunities, rehabilitation activities, resiliency training, and medical care to victims. Victims in the shelter were only permitted to leave the premises with a chaperone. As in previous years, the government did not provide shelter services for any male or child victims during the reporting period. The government provided complimentary repatriation services to all 10 victims with initiated court proceedings who did not want to remain in-country. Victims were permitted and encouraged to stay in Oman for the duration of court proceedings against traffickers; however, they were not permitted to work or leave the shelter in the interim, and given protracted court cases coupled with prolonged unemployment they were thereby disincentivized from participating in trials. In December 2018, the national anti-trafficking committee signed an MOU with a local association to provide pro bono assistance to trafficking victims involved in court proceedings, to include seeking damages on behalf of trafficking victims and pursuing labor claims via MoM mediation. During the reporting period, for the first time, the government facilitated new sponsorship for a domestic worker who reported work conditions indicative of trafficking; however, most cases during the year ended with aggrieved workers unable to switch employers, reaching administrative settlements with their former employers, and subsequently returning to their home countries. The government provided foreign victims with legal alternatives to removal to countries in which they may face retribution or hardship; however, it did not report if any victims benefited from this policy.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. During the reporting period, the government strengthened its implementation of various activities within its 2018-2020 national action plan, which it approved as official policy in 2017; the national anti-trafficking committee met during the year to recommend modifications to this plan. Several government entities routinely disseminated anti-trafficking messaging on their respective social media platforms, and Omani state newspapers increased press coverage of trafficking arrests and victim support services substantially over the previous year. Additionally, in March 2019, the MoM created and widely shared a video, in both Arabic and English, on expatriate workers’ rights and responsibilities; the video encouraged migrant workers to contact authorities in case of any workplace irregularities and prominently featured the ministry’s hotline numbers. The government reported it was in the process of transferring its national awareness campaign—entitled Ehsan and inaugurated during the previous reporting period—from management by a private company to the Ministry of Information’s direct management. During the reporting year, the government passed legislation that made it more difficult for employers to use existing absconder laws to punish employees who refused to work without pay or for wages disparate than contractually agreed upon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to fund an international trafficking expert to advise and assist interagency entities in operating a task force to carry out victim-centered investigations, devising legislative improvements, and enhancing information-gathering techniques. The police maintained the government’s main trafficking hotline, and its phone number was displayed on social media posts and news articles pertaining to trafficking. For the first time, the government confirmed that calls to the police hotline received resulted in trafficking investigations; police reported it received 24 total calls of which authorities referred two for trafficking-specific investigations. The MoM had a labor violation hotline and the government shelter operated one that served as an all-purpose helpline. All hotlines were active year-round and staffed with Arabic and English interpreters, and Urdu, Hindi, and Bangla-speaking contractors were on-call. The MoM reported it received 21,563 complaints via phone, website, and walk-ins. Some labor recruiters who mediated disputes between sponsors and domestic workers preferred to register complaints on behalf of aggrieved workers on the MoM’s website instead of calling any of the hotlines or reporting the possible crimes to law enforcement. The government reported having memoranda of understanding with Iran, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Morocco; some included articles prohibiting unlawful labor recruitment and trafficking. Local press reported initial bilateral negotiations on treaties with Nepal, Kenya, and Uganda, and Oman became party to a Gulf Cooperation Council-wide labor agreement with the Philippines. During the reporting period, the MoM issued a ministerial decision stating that companies must prove they have paid the past three months’ of an employee’s salary before filing a complaint to charge an expatriate employee with “absconding.” The ministerial decision stipulates that, if a company files more than five complaints in a month or more than 10 in a year, it will be subject to increased inspections to ensure it is complying with local labor laws. If the company is noncompliant with local labor laws, the MoM will suspend it. The ministerial decision also created protections to prevent employers from firing employees while on leave or otherwise absent from work. During the reporting period, authorities inspected 3,593 establishments to ensure compliance with labor law provisions, screen for trafficking indicators, and build awareness against forced labor and exploitative practices among the migrant workforce; from these efforts, it did not report referring any cases to the courts for administrative or criminal proceedings or refer any victims to care. The government did not report any efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor. It provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Oman. Oman’s migrant worker community hails primarily from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, and most recently Uganda. However, largely as a result of Omanization—a series of labor-related policies designed to prioritize Omani nationals for employment over expatriates—the number of migrant workers in Oman in every sector declined in 2018, continuing a trend started the previous year and effectively reducing the pool of vulnerable third-country residents in Oman. Trafficking victims typically migrate to Oman willingly and legally, with men seeking employment in construction, agricultural, and service sectors, while women often seek domestic worker jobs. Male victims are generally from South Asia and more vulnerable to forced labor. Traffickers exploit female victims, predominantly from South, Southeast, and East Asia and East Africa, in forced labor and sex trafficking. Women, primarily from Southeast and East Asia, who come to Oman seeking domestic work are sometimes exploited in sex trafficking. Domestic workers who flee their employers are also vulnerable to sex trafficking. Uganda and Kenya maintained bans prohibiting their citizens from working as domestic workers in Oman; however, during the reporting period both Uganda and Kenya simultaneously engaged in negotiations with Oman on bilateral labor agreements that would provide a legal basis for Ugandan and Kenyan domestic workers to return.

Expatriate workers seeking low-wage jobs continue to be at risk for trafficking under the visa-sponsorship employment system in Oman, which grants individuals’ recruitment agencies and/or Omani visa sponsors significant unilateral control over their ability to change employers or leave the country. The system gives employers the power to dictate the status of residency permits. Some unscrupulous recruitment agencies in Oman and their sub-agents in labor-sending countries mislead migrant workers in their respective countries of origin to accept working conditions significantly worse than otherwise promised, providing fraudulent contracts with fictitious wages and exorbitant recruitment fees charged to the employees. Traffickers subject some of these workers to employment practices that constitute forced labor, to include excessive work hours, passport confiscation, non-payment of wages, food deprivation, and psychological and sexual abuse. Conversely, other workers enter Oman with full knowledge of their work obligations but sponsors ultimately coerce them to work for little or no pay or in dire conditions under the credible threat of deportation. Additionally, some victims originally intend to travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) but are subsequently compelled to accept work in Oman, or vice-versa. After arriving in the UAE, traffickers transport the migrant laborers into Oman and force them to work for lower wages and in austere conditions in the absence of legal contracts. Informal labor middlemen operate legally but without regulation in Oman, communicating anonymously via social media platforms to promise Omani sponsors inexpensive domestic labor at a fraction of cost stipulated by the formal, well-established recruitment agencies.

U.S. Department of State

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