More than 100 Zimbabwean women who had been lured into slavery through fake promises of well-paying domestic work in the Gulf region were recently freed from captivity after the Government paid off their employers to secure their release.
The Government has, in recent weeks, successfully negotiated freedom for 105 women and two men who were being subjected to deplorable living and working conditions that included constant beatings, being overworked, forced labour, underpayment and sex slavery in Arab countries.
Some of the women, aged between 25 and 45, had been working under virtual captivity for nearly two years.
An official investigation earlier this year concluded that some local employment agents, working in collusion with criminal syndicates in the Middle East, were recruiting Zimbabwean women before trading them off into slavery.
It was established that most of the women had their passports confiscated on arrival and were being forced to see out their two-year employment contracts in spite of poor working conditions.
Some of the employers were reportedly demanding up to US$2 500 from the women in return for their freedom, according to the official investigation, which also found that most of the domestic workers were earning between US$60 and US$80 per month.
In an interview on the sidelines of the SADC High-Level Tripartite Dialogue on Migration Management held in Victoria Falls recently, Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Secretary Mr Simon Masanga said the authorities were concerned by increasing cases of human trafficking in the country.
“We have made great strides in making sure that we bring back our citizens,” he said.
“A few weeks ago, we repatriated about 105 women. Their situation was not good at all.
“They were forced to work under poor conditions for two years, while their salaries went to agents who facilitated their travel.”
Some employers, he said, demanded huge sums of money for the release of the women, which Government duly paid.
He, however, could not disclose how much was paid.
“The challenges they faced include long working hours with no rest; no off days, even when one was unwell, physical assault and verbal abuse.”
Most Gulf nations religiously enforce the kafala labour system, which is used to monitor migrant labourers, working primarily in the construction and domestic sectors in Gulf Cooperation Council member states and a few neighbouring countries.
The system requires all migrant workers to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status.
It gives employers total control over migrant workers’ employment and immigration status.
The system arose from growing demand in Gulf economies for cheap labour.
Added Mr Masanga: “They endured a lot of suffering. So, we have put them under the guidance of the Department of Social Welfare, which helps them with a smooth reintegration back into society, ensuring their privacy is respected, at the same time, taking care of their welfare.”
Programmes officer responsible for migration and repatriation in the Ministry of Social Welfare Mrs Margareth Ruzive said Government has provided US$1 000 to each of the repatriated women.
“The journey was not easy; these people had been traumatised in different ways and we had to set up a team of people with different expertise to give them the much-needed support,” said Mrs Ruzive.
“We had to bring in psychologists and other professionals to assist with their recovery.”
She said Government has established remote counselling centres in some Gulf nations to assist stranded citizens.
“Upon arrival in Zimbabwe, we did not rush to send them to their respective homes,” she added.
“We trained them in different fields, including poultry farming, and offered financial support of up to US$1 000.
“We also gave them grocery hampers that had all the basic needs and toiletries so that they would not go home empty-handed.”
Officially opening the high-level meeting in Victoria Falls, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga said a framework to monitor recruitment agencies had been established.
“We have strengthened inter-agency cooperation to deal with unscrupulous recruitment agencies, who seek to recruit our human capital through unethical means, which eventually subjects labour migrants to human trafficking and exploitation.
“This approach enables us to ensure coherence among state and non-state actors involved in the recruitment of our citizens on both the regional and international labour markets,” he said.—state media