An Oman rescue campaign was started by the Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) with the aim of raising about 180 million kwacha (U$17,500) ransom to seek the release of 50 women and girls stranded in the country.
The women and girls were reportedly recruited by middlemen on the promise of finding better jobs in the Middle Eastern country but are now being held ransom, and are said to be living in deplorable conditions.Human rights bodies have since raised concern over the matter, asking the Malawi government to take measures toward rescuing the women and girls.
Life in Oman 'unbearable'
Martha* is one of seven women who have just recently managed to return to Malawi from Oman. She shared how miserable her life in the Middle East was: "Life in Oman is unbearable. I was forced to go to Oman on the promise of a job but this is not what I was doing, I was forced to work as a slave," she told DW. Martha's family had to collect money to bring her back from Oman. Another woman, who also wanted to remain anonymous, told DW that she met also met mistreatment in Oman, forcing her to return to Malawi.
A costly rescue mission
The Executive Director of CDEDI, Sylvester Namiwa, has blamed Malawi's government for turning a blind eye on the matter."What is sad about the whole saga is that besides not being willing to rescue the women, the government is acting strangely by trying hard to sweep the whole matter under the red carpet," Namiwa said. His organization hopes to raise between $2,500 and $3,000 to help free each of the 50 women with the crowdfunding campaign. He claims that there are also reports that 300 Malawians are trapped in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait facing similar predicament.
Known rights violations
The deputy director for gender and women's rights at the Malawi Human Rights Commission, Deborah Banda, has described the appalling treatment of women in Oman as a serious violation of human rights.:
"We have heard stories that women are beaten, raped, and these are issues of violations of human rights. We can even talk of issues of reproductive rights because some of them are infected with diseases, so it's really indeed a overall violation of human rights." Meanwhile gender rights activist Emma Kaliya says the government should launch a thorough investigation to bring those involved in the trafficking of women to book. Kaliya thinks that taking action on such individuals would send a strong warning signal to all perpetrators:
"They should also be able to trace those people who brought these women to Oman, so that others learn that they cannot pick people here and expect that the government will be bailing out people who they are taking here to go willfully to places like Oman," she told DW.
Air tickets reserved
Malawi's Ministry of Homeland Security meanwhile reported that it has managed to secure air ticket sponsorships for the 50 women.The spokesperson for the ministry, John Kabaghe, indicated however that what remains is still the payment of the ransom. "The first thing that we are going to do is to ensure that the problem is being addressed in the country because as we are speaking there are people who are sending an SOS," Kabaghe said.
He also noted that since the women entered into employment contracts with their employers in Oman, there is also an element of paying for fines for their return involved.
He added that the Omani government has been supporting them to help those who want to return, while refuting claims that Malawi's government was not working hard enough to bring the women and girls back; according to the ministry, there are 350 Malawians in Oman in total, saying that 50 wish to return because of the working conditions.
Malawi has witnessed a proliferation of human trafficking in recent years as unemployment continues to plague the African nation. Recent reports indicate that about 85 Malawians die in South Africa every month at the hands of traffickers.