Examining Human Trafficking Concerns in Oman: The Case of Punjabi Women


In recent years, Oman has been the scene of a disturbing reality of exploitation and trafficking. Specifically, the exploitation of Punjabi women within Omani borders through human trafficking schemes. Despite growing international awareness and concern, the Omani government’s response, or lack of thereof, has been met with skepticism.

Oman’s US Trafficking in Persons Report 2023 reveals no government convictions for human trafficking.  The Omani government’s reports disagree with the concerns and red flags raised by activist groups and reported by other governments. The media, NGOs and international organisations continued to report cases of workers lured by labour recruiters, but the Omani government failed to investigate most of these cases, exposing a dangerous gap in how the government is addressing trafficking indicators. The government’s response to human trafficking in Oman has raised serious concerns.

Punjabi women have become the target of human trafficking schemes in Oman establishing a pattern of taking advantage of the vulnerability of poorly educated women by luring them with the prospect of a job opportunity. Reported cases have shown a shared strategy for recruiting, where women are promised a well-paid job, often in the United Arab Emirates, only to be left stranded in Oman. There, they become even more vulnerable and get trapped in the so-called “domestic servitude”. This form of exploitation, which is already considered modern-day slavery, subjects victims to harsh physical, psychological and sexual abuse, while restricting their freedom of movement and ability to communicate. Such exploitation isolates the victim, limiting their autonomy and, due to the restrictions placed on them, their ability to seek help or escape is reduced.

“I faced constant beatings and harassment. I was shaking with fear”, said Sangeeta, capturing the horror of Punjabi women who are trafficked to Oman.  Survivors’ stories, from Simran’s abuse and exploitation to Priya’s abduction and rape, and Gurpreet’s unpaid labour, illustrate the jarring reality. Deceived by false promises, these women enter a cycle of abuse; they are stripped of their passports and telephones, deprived of their autonomy and threatened by the burden of financial debt. As victims are trapped in cycles of debt-montage and stripped of their independence, action is urgently needed to address the root causes of trafficking.

Although official reports indicate that the trafficking problem is not as pronounced in Oman, Indian authorities have shown interest in addressing the movements of trafficked Punjabi women. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP from Punjab, Vikramjit Singh Sahney, has taken an active interest, in creating a victim response and support programme. Through his Mission Hope’ initiative, he has become a driving force in unmasking the networks of illegal agents who exploit vulnerable migrants. This initiative, launched in 2023, has successfully rescued 79 women to date, playing a key role in their repatriation to Punjab. ‘Mission Hope’ also directs its resources to dismantle the trafficking network. Government authorities estimate the existence of a network of more than 2,000 agents inside India, who recruit intending to smuggle people to the Gulf. Through investigation and cooperation with the Indian embassy in Muscat, Sahney’s efforts have shed light on the network’s operational behaviour, from illegal border crossings to visa fraud. The hope is not only to rescue stranded victims but to tackle the infrastructure of exploitation by addressing the systemic problems that contribute to trafficking.

These stories of the “trafficking corridor” through which Punjabi women arrive in Oman bring attention to what is happening in this country. Oman is a scenario that allows the abuse of power in a sector such as that of domestic workers, who are excluded from labour protection laws and, as a result, are vulnerable to finding themselves trapped in cycles of exploitation and abuse. The Sultanate of Oman has stated its dedication to combating human trafficking, however, its lack of transparency in addressing its cases highlights the need for concrete steps to effectively address trafficking within its borders.