“The Embassy of Sri Lanka in Oman categorically denies the recent reports by certain Sri Lankan media accusing the Embassy of not extending welfare and repatriation assistance to the stranded Sri Lankan female domestic workers in Oman,” the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Muscat of Sultanate of Oman, has noted in an email response to the enquiry made by Sri Lanka Guardian.
However, taking action against the alleged misconduct by a diplomatic officer in the mission, the statement reiterated the fact that “according to the instructions of the Foreign Ministry and SLBFE, the Embassy has taken immediate action to terminate the services of the alleged diplomatic officer of the labour section from the SLBFE.”
“As informed through the Foreign Ministry media release on 17 November 2022, the Sri Lankan Embassy in Oman is inundated with requests for the repatriation of Sri Lankan female domestic workers. Most of them are victims of human trafficking by unscrupulous and unregistered agents and have arrived using a visit/tourist visa through Dubai. The Embassy had previously reported this illegal practice to the authorities and taken action to bring the offenders to book,” it added.
Response from the embassy has further elaborated on the incident as follows;
“As of today, there are 77 female domestic workers sheltered at the safe-house, out of whom 63 had arrived on visit/tourist visas and only 14 had come with employment visas. The safe house was established in October 2019 with about 50 inmates. After a visa overstay amnesty period granted by the Omani government between December 2020 and January 2022, the number of inmates decreased to about 40 at the beginning of February 2022. However, due to the exploitation of visit/tourist visas by human traffickers, the number of stranded female migrants has once again increased.
The cost of providing adequate security and facilities to the inmates of the safe house is met by the SLBFE.
Their repatriation is restricted due to several reasons such as:
- Unavailability of funds to pay overstay penalty for those who arrived in Oman using a visit/tourist visa. Omani authorities charge OMR 10 per day for overstaying. The average cost per person to pay penalty is OMR 500. (Rs. 500,000.00)
- Unavailability of funds to pay recruitment costs demanded by employers/agents to get exit permission for those who want to return prematurely within a two-year contract period. The average cost per person is OMR 1000 (Rs. 1,000,000.00)
- Unavailability of air tickets and COVID Vaccination Certificate. The average cost per person is OMR 45 for a ticket and OMR 15 for PCR for non-vaccinated persons. The overall cost is OMR 60 per person (Rs. 60,000.00).
- In a few cases, the unavailability of correct data is needed to prepare temporary travel documents.
- Pending court cases and Police complaints for alleged theft etc.
The Embassy has undergone several predicaments due to the overwhelming number of safe-house inmates, compelling the owner of the safe-house villa to issue notice to vacate. While fully understanding their plight and duress due to limited resources, it is reiterated that the onus of solving their recruitment charges with the respective employers only relies with the agents who took a commission from Omani agents/employers to send them to Oman.
The Embassy officials had successfully negotiated the cancellation of overstay penalties for several females and repatriated 21 safe-house inmates and 12 others who were residing without proper visas in November 2022. The Embassy hands over the deportees to the Labour Department every Sunday with tickets to travel on the following Thursdays as per the negotiated agreement by the Embassy with the Omani authorities. At this point, the charge for PCR (OMR 15) is handed over to the officials of the Labour Department who arrange an escort for them to the airport.
It is important to note that each worker has a distinctive problem, associated with extensive dealings with agents, employers, police, labour department etc. It is noted that the main obstacle faced by the Embassy in arranging the repatriation is due to the fact that the concerned workers try to break the contract within a short period of time causing monetary loss to the employers. Moreover, medically and physically unfit females have been brought to Oman by the agents through visit visas who either do not get any job offers or get rejected and returned to the agents. However, the Embassy ensures that it takes all endeavours to safely repatriate them at the earliest possible occasion and tirelessly seeks the assistance of donors including IOM for air-tickets, and negotiates with the agents/sponsors for cancellation of charges.
According to the instructions of the Foreign Ministry and SLBFE, the Embassy has taken immediate action to terminate the services of the alleged diplomatic officer of the labour section from the SLBFE. Further, the Embassy appeals to all those who report and comment on this sensitive matter to act responsibly and avoid tarnishing the image of Sri Lanka and Oman which will be detrimental to the well-being of the strong Sri Lankan professional expatriate workforce. Moreover, due to stringent rule of law, auctioning of females and prostitution cannot openly take place in Oman and anyone who has credible information on such incidents is requested to report it to the authorities immediately with details of the alleged victims.