On 22 June 2015, Garmi M. Aly arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
She was one of a group of 20 Mauritanian women who had signed up to start working as child minders, nurses and teachers.
But once Garmi arrived at the home of her new employer she was shocked to discover that instead of working in childcare she was being employed as a domestic worker.
According to her mother Jamilah, Garmi was forced to work day and night. She was refused permission to leave the house and had her passport and mobile phone confiscated. Trapped and fearful of her employer, she ran away.
Desperate to return home, she managed to call her mother to ask for the money to buy a ticket to Mauritania, but her devastated family was unable to help.
“We are poor. We have no money, even to feed our children,” said Jamilah.
The families of the other women say their daughters were also promised good jobs by recruitment agencies in Nouakchott, Mauritania’s capital city, but were equally tricked and forced into working long hours for a pittance. Some even reported suffering physical abuse and sexual harassment.
Their employers, who paid the equivalent of US$5,000 in recruitment fees, say the women cannot return home until they have completed two years of service – or paid back the recruitment fees.
Today, as I write this, we have received information of two further cases of migrant female workers from Mauritania who are confined to their employers’ homes in Riyadh. These women have endured burns, beatings, sexual harassment and the confiscation of their passports. But like so many other women, they are stuck and have nowhere to go.
All of the aforementioned women are trafficking victims and thesen are all clear cases of forced labour, a violation of international human rights and labour laws.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Arab Trade Union Confederation (ATUC) and the Confederation Libre des Travailleurs de Mauritanie (CLTM) are calling for their immediate release.
We also want to see the Mauritanian government held to account for contributing to these violations by helping to establish offices in Mauritania to recruit female workers to send to Saudi Arabia. Since May 2015, as many as 900 women are thought to have been sent to Saudi Arabia through these recruitment offices.
The families of the trafficked women have been protesting outside the Saudi Embassy in Nouakchott but to no avail – their daughters are still missing.
Despite endorsing a draft law to criminalise slavery, Mauritania is still notorious for being one of the countries where slavery is most rampant.
How can Mauritania tell the world it wants to end slavery when it is outsourcing forced labour to Saudi Arabia?
The Mauritanian government should ensure its overseas workers can safely return home from Saudi Arabia and are fully compensated. It should also suspend its foreign labour programme until it can ensure the effective protection of overseas workers.
The ITUC is calling for the Mauritanian government to stop the trafficking of female workers to Saudi Arabia. Sign the petition here.