Malawi Government Struggles to Probe Reported Worker Abuse in Oman

Malawi officials say they have arrested two police officers, a medical worker and a Burundian refugee in connection with an apparent human trafficking operation that routes people to Oman.

Malawi officials said Friday that they have been seeking to investigate alleged abuses of Malawians trafficked to the Middle Eastern nation, but that Omani officials have refused their visas.

The arrests are part of the crackdown of people operating unregistered job recruitment agencies who are trafficking Malawians to countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman under the pretext of finding them jobs.

Malawian Minister of Homeland Security Jean Sendeza said at a news conference Friday that the two police officers were arrested Thursday for granting “trafficked persons” clearance to travel to Oman through the Kamuzu International Airport.

She said the medical worker, a public hospital officer, was arrested for providing health certificates for the trafficked persons that cleared them of any diseases, while the Burundian refugee was allegedly conspiring with other people in human trafficking.

Police said the suspects would appear in court soon on charges of human trafficking.

“We have got a lot of cases in our courts — as of now we have got seven cases that have been concluded and 71 of them are still active,” Sendeza said.

Complaints of abuse

Many of the Malawians sent to other countries such as Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates for “employment opportunities” have complained that their employers are sexually, physically and emotionally abusing them.

For example, in a Facebook post that went viral last week, a Malawian woman working in Oman alleged that she’d suffered abuses such as rape, torture and poor pay. She compared her situation in Oman to that of slavery.

Vera Kamtukule, Malawi’s labor minister, said her office had received 40 complaints about abuse from Malawians trapped in Oman. But she said Malawi government efforts to investigate the allegations in Oman were facing challenges.

“We are unable to assist them because we are being denied entry into Oman. That’s the first thing,” Kamtukule said. “The second thing is we don’t have bilateral agreements or international agreements with that country. So, we are using our embassy in Kuwait, and they have been facing a few challenges to break through to investigate these issues.”

There has been no comment from authorities in Oman on the matter.

Kamtukule said the Malawi government had intensified its crackdown on people who are operating illegal job recruitment agencies.

She gave an example of her personal efforts to stop such activities. Accompanied by a nonuniformed police officer, she went undercover, posing as a prospective employee at a suspected “illegal job recruitment office” in the capital, Lilongwe. The undercover operation resulted in a number of arrests.

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