Forcing workers to pay Saudi sponsors for transfers ‘is human trafficking’

The human trafficking law, issued in 2009, prohibits the exploitation of people in any shape or form, including the use of threats. (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia's National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) has said instances of employers extorting workers for money before allowing them to change sponsors is not considered human trafficking according to the Kingdom’s laws, but it should be the case.

The human trafficking law, issued in 2009, prohibits the exploitation of people in any shape or form, including the use of threats, deception, misuse of a position of authority in return for services, begging, removing organs, or medical experiments.

A recent report issued by the NSHR showed 51 cases of human trafficking were recorded where victims were sexually exploited, made to beg or forced into employment.

The report stated 46 cases of sexual exploitation were recorded.

Jeddah had the most cases with 27, followed by Riyadh with 11. "Three cases of people being forced into begging were recorded in Qassim and two cases of forceful employment were recorded in Abqaiq," the report added.

Shoura Council member and judicial consultant, Dr. Naser Al-Shahrani, said the current practice of transferring workers’ sponsorships does not take into consideration whether the employee agrees to the transfer, and this should be reviewed and considered by the Ministry of Labor.

"Some forms of sponsorship transfers are concluded in exchange for large amounts of money and this is considered human trafficking that is against the law, especially as the worker is put in a legal situation against his will," he said.

He believed the Kingdom should completely scrap the word kafeel (sponsor) from its laws, due its negative connotations.

Al-Shahrani believed laws should be legislated to protect the rights of both parties, including ensuring the worker clearly agrees to the sponsorship transfer.

Meanwhile, spokesman of the Department of Passports, Lt. Col. Ahmad Allehaidan, told Al-Hayat daily that 12,955 workers have transferred their sponsorships over the past three months.

This article was first published in Saudi Gazette on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.

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