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Spotlight on migrants in Oman

On January 10, 2012 has featured a striking piece depicting the marginalization of migrants in Oman. "A Taboo Subject: The Desperate Plight of Domestic Workers in Oman" is written from the perspective of an Omani citizen, contributing to the growing number of criticisms voiced by MIddle Eastern citizens against the inhumane treatment of migrant workers in their countries.

The UN Refugee Agency has published several reports condemning Oman for failing to address rampant employer abuse and exploitation, as well as for subjecting migrants to poor living and working conditions. A list of the agency’s reports can be found here.


I am a proud Omani, but the general attitude among locals here towards South Asians & Southeast Asians makes me sick. I’m using housemaids as an example only. The same applies to construction workers who have built this country block by block (literally) and other low-skilled laborers. Whenever I try to discuss this with colleagues or friends, they claim that the abuse of migrant laborers is worse in other GCC countries and that laborers are better off in Oman. As if that justifies ill-treating another human being!

The aim of this column isn’t to criticize government policies, per se, but rather to address the issue from a human perspective. Nearly sixty years ago my father’s family lived in a cave in the mountains of Dhofar. My grandmother was out with the animals from sunrise to sunset. Like most Dhofaris living in the mountains at the time, every day was a struggle to find food and water. Today, almost every single Omani household has one or two maids whom they treat with very little respect. What went wrong along the way and when did we stop being humble?

Something I find quite interesting is that Oman was one of the very last nations on earth to abolish slavery in 1970. It’s incredible to think that people who actually owned slaves are still alive today. I mention this because perhaps in some way this is linked to how many Omanis view and treat their domestic help, and why they feel the need to have them in the first place. Naturally, slavery is a taboo subject that no one discusses in public here.

I know it’s not fair to generalize because there are plenty of really great employers who treat their labourers as humans. By employing help Omani families are indirectly supporting immediate and extended family members in their employees’ respective countries. However, that does not by any means justify low wages, forced labour, threats, blackmail and confiscation of passports..

Read the full piece here.