US State Dept.: Bahrain is Destination Country for Men, Women Subjected to Forced Labor & Sex Trafficking

2016-07-04 - 8:29 م

Bahrain Mirror: The United States Department of State said that despite past commitments and pledges, the Government of Bahrain did not abolish the sponsorship (Kafala) system, which contributed to forced labor and debt bondage in the country.

Corruption and official complicity, especially in facilitating the "free visa" scheme, remained a concern in the reporting period, it added. The government continued to arrest, detain, and deport potential trafficking victims.

This came in a report issued by the annual 2016 Trafficking in Persons report issued by the US State Department on Thursday (June 30, 2016). The purpose of this Report is to enlighten, energize, and empower, incorporating the insights of NGOs, advocates, and survivors with firsthand experience of this horrific crime, noted US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Bahrain was again classified as a Tier 2 country, which is the same status it attained last year in 2015. It was; however, upgraded from Tier 2 Watch List status received in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The Department places each country in this report onto one of four tiers, as mandated by the TVPA. This placement is based more on the extent of government action to combat trafficking than on the size of the country's problem. The analyses are based on the extent of governments' efforts measured against the TVPA's minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, which are generally consistent with the Palermo Protocol. Tier 1 is the highest ranking.

As for TIER 2, it is the status of the governments of countries that do not fully meet the TVPA's minimum standards but are making significant efforts to meet those standards.

TIER 2 Watch List; however, is given to the government of countries that do not fully meet the TVPA's minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to meet those standards, and for which: a) the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecution, and convictions of trafficking crimes; increased assistance to victims; and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government officials; or c) the determination that a country is making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional steps over the next year.

The governments of countries that do not fully meet the TVPA's minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so are classified as TIER 3.

The Department classified 27 countries as TIER 3, including Algeria, Mauritania, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Iran, Djibouti, North Korea and Russia.

Libya, Somalia and Yemen were; however, listed as special cases.

No Arab country attained the TIER 1 status, whereas Egypt, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, UAE were classified as TIER 2.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Tunisia, Oman, Qatar were ranked as TIER 2 Watch List.

According to the Bahrain country narrative in the report, the Kingdom of Bahrain is a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Men and women from South, Central, Southeast, and East Asia; East and West Africa; the Middle East; and other countries migrate voluntarily to Bahrain to work as domestic workers or as laborers in the construction and service industries.

"In recent years, NGOs observed a greater influx of workers from parts of Africa. Some migrant workers face forced labor after arriving in Bahrain, experiencing unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, contract substitution, non-payment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse," stressed the report.

"Withholding of workers' identity cards and passports and intimidation by employers prevents some workers from reporting abuse," it noted.

"‘Free visa' holders, who work for an employer who is not their sponsor and are therefore working illegally, are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Government and NGO officials report physical abuse and sexual assault of female domestic workers, who are often strictly confined to the household, are significant problems in Bahrain," the report added.

"NGOs report male Bangladeshi unskilled workers are in high demand and are considered by employers to be exploitable as they typically do not protest difficult work conditions or low pay." "Domestic workers are highly vulnerable to forced labor and sexual exploitation because they are largely unprotected under the labor law," it highlighted.

The 2016 report further stated that "in recent years, reports of suicides among migrant workers have been associated with forced labor, debt bondage, and isolation. Migrant workers did not always have access to their employment contracts and many were unaware of their terms of employment. A large percentage of foreign workers borrowed money or sold property in their home countries to secure their jobs, increasing their vulnerability to debt bondage. Women from Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern European states are subjected to forced prostitution in Bahrain."

The US State Department report stressed that "the Government of Bahrain does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the government identified an increased number of trafficking victims; continued to refer victims to services, including to a newly established shelter; made modest efforts to prosecute and convict trafficking offenders, including a government official; launched a hotline to report migrant worker abuse; and continued awareness-raising efforts."

"The government provided anti-trafficking training for more than 120 officials, including prosecutors, immigration officials, labor officials, and police officers," it noted.

"However, among hundreds of reported labor violations in Bahrain, efforts to investigate and prosecute serious trafficking crimes or identify potential forced labor victims remained minimal. Corruption and official complicity, especially in facilitating the "free visa" scheme, remained a concern in the reporting period."

The report further highlighted that despite past commitments and pledges, the government did not abolish the sponsorship system, which contributed to forced labor and debt bondage in the country. The government continued to arrest, detain, and deport potential trafficking victims."

The State Department recommended that the Bahraini government "significantly increase the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of traffickers, particularly those involving forced labor; and abolish or significantly amend provisions of the sponsorship system, including taking steps to eliminate the "free visa" scheme."

It also recommended "vigorously investigating cases involving passport retention and non-payment of wages; continuing to institute and apply formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as domestic workers and women in prostitution; instituting a formal victim referral mechanism for law enforcement and other government officials to refer identified victims to protection services; ensuring identified trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, such as illegal migration or prostitution; expanding labor law protections to include domestic workers and actively enforce those laws; and ensuring shelter staff receive anti-trafficking training and have appropriate resources to communicate with expatriate workers that speak other languages."

It further urged the Gulf kingdom to "eliminate obstacles to migrant workers' access to legal recourse; continue to train officials on the anti-trafficking law and victim identification; and continue to publicly raise awareness of trafficking issues in the media and other outlets for foreign migrants, specifically domestic workers, in their native languages."

"The government reported it investigated 18 trafficking cases involving 28 suspects during the reporting period, eight of which were forced labor cases and 10 sex trafficking cases, compared to 21 investigations the previous reporting period," noted the report.

"The government convicted 17 traffickers for sex trafficking; sentences were usually 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of BD 2000 ($5,300), and deportation after serving their jail sentence for non-Bahrainis. There were five additional cases being prosecuted at the end of the reporting period, including three sex trafficking and two forced labor cases," it further read.

As for cases of unpaid or withheld wages, passport retention, and other abuses, they "were often treated as labor violations and resolved through arbitration; a worker could file a complaint against the employer in labor court if arbitration was not successful. LMRA could refuse to issue new work visas to an employer until its open cases were resolved. Only particularly egregious cases were referred to the public prosecutor under the anti-trafficking law."

"In 2015, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development (MOLSD) received 746 complaints of non-payment of wages covering 945 migrant workers, and successfully arbitrated 255 of those cases. It referred four cases of non-payment of wages to the public prosecutor."

Arabic Version

التعليقات المنشورة لا تعبر بالضرورة عن رأي الموقع

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