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Malawian Woman Relives Horrors of Human Trafficking and Abuse in Oman

In a heart-wrenching interview with the BBC, Georgina, a 32-year-old woman from Lilongwe, Malawi, breaks down as she recounts the harrowing abuse she endured while believing she was heading to a better life in the Middle East. Instead of the promised driver’s position in Dubai, she was tricked into becoming a maid in Oman, facing not just grueling work hours but also horrific sexual abuse.

Georgina’s journey into despair began when an agent approached her with the promise of higher earnings abroad, a tempting offer given her modest success with a small business back home. However, the reality of her situation dawned on her only after her plane landed in Muscat, Oman. She found herself trapped by a family that demanded she work without rest, granting her barely two hours of sleep and subjecting her to unspeakable sexual violence.

The abuse Georgina faced is part of a larger, disturbing trend in the Gulf Arab states, where it is estimated two million female domestic workers may be at risk. A report by the migrant charity Do Bold, highlighted in the 2023 US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, reveals that nearly all the 400 women surveyed in Oman were victims of human trafficking. Shockingly, nearly a third reported sexual abuse, while half faced physical abuse and discrimination.

In a desperate plea for help, Georgina turned to Facebook, where her message caught the attention of Pililani Mombe Nyoni, a Malawian social media activist living in New Hampshire, USA. Nyoni took immediate action to ensure Georgina’s safety and started a wider investigation into the issue, which revealed that Georgina was far from alone.

Nyoni’s efforts led to the creation of a WhatsApp group that quickly filled with over fifty Malawian women in Oman, sharing their own tales of abuse and entrapment. Many of these women had their passports confiscated upon arrival, effectively trapping them with their employers.

Pililani Mombe Nyoni, moved by the plight of these women, worked tirelessly to bring their stories to light and seek help. She collaborated with Do Bold and its founder Ekaterina Porras Sivolobova to negotiate for the women’s release, confronting the challenges posed by the “kafala” labor system in the Middle East, which binds workers to their employers, severely limiting their freedom to leave or change jobs.

The Oman National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking insists that the relationship between employer and domestic worker is contractual and that disputes can be resolved through legal channels. They also state that employers are prohibited from imposing forced labor or retaining a worker’s personal documents without consent.

This story sheds light on the dark underbelly of human trafficking and abuse in the Gulf, highlighting the courage of survivors like Georgina and the activists fighting to end their suffering.

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