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Gulf Guide Digital Buying
Gulf Guide Digital Buying

Illustration: Marcelle Louw for GIJN


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Chapter 6 – Trafficking Case Studies

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Below we profile 10 stories of trafficking and forced labor common throughout the countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.

Domestic Workers: Trafficking and Unscrupulous Recruitment

Indian Women Duped by Recruiters. Indian women are regularly trafficked through the United Arab Emirates and forced to work as domestic workers in other countries in the GCC, where they are not registered with their embassies and can be subject to appalling working conditions. Here’s another example.

Domestic Workers For Sale in Oman. Domestic workers are being traded illegally by expatriate agents in an Omani town for less than $4,000. This is an example of how women are trafficked across GCC borders to bypass recruitment regulations for domestic workers.

Traded and Sold on Twitter. Sponsors hoping to avoid paying for a domestic worker’s ticket home, or hoping to make a profit from relinquishing the worker’s visa to another sponsor, find a thriving market online. Employers looking to avoid high recruitment costs are the prospective buyers, and the language used in these transactions underscores the slavery-like nature of this visa trade.


Nepalese Migrant Workers Stranded. Twenty Nepalese citizens were stranded in Qatar several years ago when their new sponsor denied them access to their passports after they refused to accept previously unannounced changes to their work terms. This is an example of how workers can become victims of forced labor after arriving in the country, and how sponsorship laws make it difficult for workers to escape these conditions.

No Reprieve for Victims of Saudi Financial Crisis. Hundreds of workers were stranded in Saudi Arabia after the collapse of construction giant Saudi Oger and other companies. Many had gone months without pay and were forced to work in labor camps.

Stranded Expat Pleads for Help. Even with reforms to the sponsorship system, migrant workers remain extremely dependent on their sponsors. If a sponsor fails to renew a worker’s visa, it is most often the worker who is criminalized and becomes “irregular.” With many embassies unable to manage the volume of cases they receive, migrants can be stranded for years in the Gulf, unable to return home.

Debts and False Promises

Gulf Guide - passport confiscation

Illustration: Marcelle Louw for GIJN

How Human Traffickers Trap Women into Domestic Servitude. Millions of women have been lured to work in the Gulf under false pretenses, only to find themselves trapped in a position tantamount to modern slavery. How do the human traffickers that feed this injustice work exploit women and what can be done to stop it?

Ugandan Migrants Stranded in Abu Dhabi Bakery. Workers often pay steep recruitment fees in exchange for the promise of a high salary and decent work. Even where laws have been implemented to protect against contract substitution, the pay and conditions they receive once in the destination country can be very different from the terms they agreed to. Sponsorship laws, bureaucratic obstacles, and recruitment debt make it difficult for migrant workers to leave work.

No Way Out: Exit Permits and Confiscated Passports

Indian Doctor Stuck in Saudi. Migrant workers are especially vulnerable to abusive or negligent sponsors in countries that require sponsors to issue exit permits for migrant workers to leave, whether for vacation or upon completing a work contract. In this case, a sick migrant worker trying to return to India was refused exit by his sponsor for more than a year.

Lebanon’s Migrant Workers Under Pressure. Passport confiscation is illegal in the Gulf, Jordan, and Lebanon, but remains a common practice with lax punishment of employers. Without access to their passports, migrants cannot leave the country or, where sponsorship laws permit, even find another job.

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