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Activists have welcomed news that a company is facing legal action for human trafficking, but say it is just the tip of the iceberg and want Bahraini authorities to follow up with more raids on unscrupulous employers, reports The Gulf Daily News (GDN).
Bahrain’s Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) announced on Monday that it had uncovered 40 cases of suspected human trafficking and action was being taken against an employer who allegedly mistreated his staff and deprived them of their rights. The employer is said to have enslaved workers by subjecting them to fictitious debts and seizing their passports.
However, the Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) says it was made aware of new trafficking cases on a daily basis, but little was ever done.
"We can daily bring to light a case of human trafficking to authorities," MWPS chairwoman Marietta Dias told the GDN, adding that in many instances where such cases were exposed, investigations by authorities did not lead to prosecutions.
"We are happy to see some action taken by the officials, but we need to see the end results," Ms Dias, who is also a member of the National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons, added.
Ms Dias’ society runs a shelter for abused women that housed 115 victims last year: "We have lots of cases where a worker in her country is promised jobs in hospitals, companies or hotels, but when she comes here she works as a housemaid.”
"In other Gulf countries there have been cases where suspects were found guilty of human trafficking - we need this to happen in Bahrain as well," she added.
The Bahrain Free Labour Union Federation (BFLUF) has backed calls for better treatment of foreign workers.
Ali Al Binali, International and Arab head of relations for BFLUF, said: "Nobody should be treated like a slave in these modern times. We hire these workers from different countries and pay them salaries that do not match living standards."
Mr Al Binali said many expat workers paid huge amounts of money to secure jobs in Bahrain, but ended up living here illegally when the promised work does not materialise.
In 2008, Bahrain enacted a comprehensive law prohibiting all forms of human trafficking and imposed strict penalties ranging from three to 15 years' imprisonment.
However, the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report last year stated Bahrain made few "discernible efforts" to investigate, prosecute, and convict trafficking suspects. It stated that the government had reportedly only investigated seven trafficking cases last year; of which six were sex trafficking cases and one was forced labour.
Bahrain remained on the report's Tier 2 watch list for the second consecutive year, which means that the government made "limited efforts to prosecute and punish perpetrators of forced labour and sex trafficking during the reporting period.”