MORDEN DAY SLAVERY. . . Malawian women’s Oman nightmare

LILONGWE. When Georgina (32) was recruited to work in the Gulf, she thought she was going to work as a driver in Dubai.

She is a Malawian and ran a small business in Lilongwe when she was 

approached by an agent saying she could earn more money in the Middle East.

It was not until the plane landed in Muscat, the capital of Oman, that she realised she had been deceived and subsequently trapped by a family who made her work gruelling hours, seven days a week.

“I reached a point where I couldn’t take it,” she says, detailing how she got as little as two hours’ sleep.

She had not been there long when her boss began forcing her to have sex with him, threatening to shoot her if she said anything.

“It wasn’t only him,” she says. “He would bring friends and they would pay him after.”

It is estimated there are around two million female domestic workers in the Gulf Arab states and a survey of 400 women in Oman by migrant charity Do Bold, showed that almost all of them were victims of human trafficking.

Nearly a third said they were sexually abused, while half reported physical abuse and discrimination.

After several weeks, Georgina became desperate and in a post on Facebook she begged for someone to help her.

Thousands of miles away in the US state of New Hampshire, 38-year-old Malawian social media activist, Pililani Mombe Nyoni, saw her message and began to investigate.

She got in touch and got the Facebook post removed for Georgina’s safety and passed on her own WhatsApp number, which began to circulate in Oman. She soon realised it was a wider problem.

“Georgina was the first victim. Then it was one girl, two girls, three girls,” she told the BBC.

“That’s when I said: ‘I am going to form a [WhatsApp] group because this looks like human trafficking.’”

More than 50 Malawian women working as domestic workers in Oman joined the group.

Soon the WhatsApp group was full of voice notes and videos, some too harrowing to watch, detailing the horrific conditions the women were enduring. Many had their passports taken away as soon as they arrived, preventing them from leaving.

Some told of how they had shut themselves in toilets to secretly send their pleading messages.

Ms Nyoni began speaking to human trafficking charities in Malawi and was introduced to Ekaterina Porras Sivolobova, founder of Do Bold, based in Greece.

“The laws that are in place [in Oman] prohibit a domestic worker to leave the employer. She cannot change jobs and she cannot leave the country – no matter how you are treated,” said Sivolobova,

After three months in Muscat, and with the help of Ms Nyoni and someone in Oman, Georgina returned to Malawi in June 2021.

The Malawian government says it has spent more than US$160 000 to bring 54 women back from Oman.

But 23-year-old Aida Chiwalo returned home in a coffin. 

There was no autopsy or investigation done in Oman after her death.

Oman’s authorities said the labour ministry had not received any complaints from domestic workers of Malawian nationality in 2022 and only one complaint in 2023 that had been settled. – BBC

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