Saudi Arabia has launched its first mechanism to deal with human trafficking, providing government departments, law enforcement and civil society advice on how to deal with the issue.
The National Trafficking in Persons Referral Mechanism (NRM) was created in partnership with in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Organisation of Migration to define the roles and responsibilities of different state agencies.
“Human trafficking is an affront to the dignity of all humanity,” said Dr Awwad Alawwad, chair of Saudi Arabia’s National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking.
“It is our duty to eradicate this heinous practice and I am proud to report that the launch of the National Referral Mechanism is a major step to that end."
In 2015, the government launched a national human rights strategy bringing together government and non-government bodies to pass laws to meet UN resolutions and international treaty obligations on human right, following its ascension to the UN Human Rights Council in January 2014.
The NRM is the latest in a range of measures taken by the kingdom on trafficking as part of a three-year national action plan launched in 2017. As well as legal reform, the kingdom has donated to charities dedicated to migrants rights and reducing trafficking and ran awareness campaigns and training programmes for people who may come into contact with trafficked people to recognise signs and act appropriately.
It also set up a phone line operating in nine languages for people to report issues relating to trafficking. In 2018, the call centre received approximately 1.3 million "general enquiries and requests, labour disputes, employment complaints, and tips", the US State Department reported.
In 2018, the Human Rights Council recommended Saudi Arabia "adopt adequate mechanisms for the early identification and referral of victims of trafficking."
A copy of the new mechanism shown to The National meets the UN recommendations with a six-step process: identifying victims, saving and sheltering them, investigating and prosecuting culprits, protecting and assisting victims, voluntary repatriation and social reintegration.
This process will bring in the country’s Ministry of Labour and Social Development, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Industry and Commerce and Ministry of Media as well as a host of civil society organisations and the justice system.
The unveiling of the mechanism coincides with the launch of an anonymous digital reporting service online. The referral service will be expanded to include a 24/7 hotline and mobile application, both of which are currently under development.
“The launch of the NRM is a key milestone in the fight to combat trafficking in persons in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, said Mohamed El Zarkani, IOM Bahrain’s Chief of Mission.”
“We are working in harmony, simultaneously, with a leading UNODC program focusing on partnership, prosecution, and data management. The collaboration shows a welcome and timely step into international collaboration on the subject of trafficking.”
The US State Department’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons report recognised the steps Saudi Arabia was taking to address the problem in the region.
But it suggested that the kingdom should develop a referral system to better protect victims and increase investigations into human trafficking.
There was no official comment from the US on Saudi’s latest announcements or whether it would address these concerns.
Saudi Arabia has made a raft of reforms over the last few years as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 to modernise the country and accelerate economic development.
Human rights reforms included lifting the ban on women driving in June 2017, and 2019 changes to labour laws to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sex, disability, or age.
Dr Awwad also promised further human rights reforms to “improve the quality of life of all citizens and residents of the Kingdom".