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Alone in Oman: Covid worsens abuse for trafficked women | Oman

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Isha knew she was in trouble when her passport was snatched from her hands. The 27-year-old from Sierra Leone had just arrived in the Omani capital, Muscat, believing she was to start a well-paid job at a restaurant. Instead, her recruitment agent bundled her into a car and drove her to a house where she was told she would be working as a live-in maid.

“My agent told me he could take my passport because he had bought me,” she says. “I was confused. How can you buy a human being?”

At 5am, a few hours after she arrived, she was woken by her new employer who ordered her to clean the house and then get his children ready for school. “This is not the work I came to Oman for,” she says. “My agent in Sierra Leone lied to me.”

The kafala system of employment still ties migrant workers to the employer who brings them to the Gulf, allowing widespread exploitation to persist, despite years of campaigning by human rights groups.

Now rights groups are warning that the Covid pandemic has made conditions even more difficult for migrant domestic workers in Oman who come from poorer countries such as Sierra Leone. Trapped in private homes during lockdown, many have faced a great risk of violence, are being made to work longer hours and are earning less as the economic dip hits their employers.

Such pressures have led to women running away from their employers, but their lack of rights puts them in a nightmarish situation. One group working to support domestic workers has warned that 200 Sierra Leonean women are stranded and homeless in Oman. Many were trafficked there, tricked like Isha into thinking that a better life was waiting for them.

Sierra Leone has been a trafficking hotspot since the aftermath of its civil war in 2005, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Trafficking is further driven by poverty, exacerbated by the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

“There are all sorts of different tricks that are pulled on them; they are told they would have their pick of jobs, or that they are coming to get an education,” says Sari Heidenreich, at Project 189, an organisation based in Germany that promotes the rights of migrant workers in the Middle East. “Very few of them are told they will be working in [private] homes.”

Sierra Leone is increasingly a leading source of trafficking to Oman, according to the IOM.

“The majority of calls I receive from women needing assistance in Oman are from Sierra Leone. There are a lot of traffickers in Sierra Leone,” says Dana Al-Othman, external relations and projects assistant at the IOM in Kuwait. “The women want to earn money to take care of their families, and they’re presented [by local recruiters] with what they think is a golden opportunity.”

Much of the trafficking to Oman comes via neighbouring United Arab Emirates, according to Human Rights Watch.

Migrants from west Africa on board a rescue vessel in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya. Sierra Leone became a hotspot for trafficking after the civil war and the Ebola outbreak.
Migrants from west Africa rescued in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya. Sierra Leone has become a hotspot for trafficking. Photograph: Ricardo Garcia Vilanova/AFP/Getty

Some victims are highly educated and are told they have been recruited for professional jobs.

Dija, 24, a new graduate with a degree in nursing, believed she had a job waiting for her at a hospital in Europe. She had decided to travel abroad for work to support her family, including her young daughter, after losing her partner to Ebola in 2015.

Instead, she is trapped in a house in Salalah, near the Yemeni border. Her recruiters sent her on a journey from her home in Freetown, overland to Guinea, then on flights to Addis Ababa and Muscat. She had no idea she was going to Oman.

“My agent said I would have my own apartment, and earn $500 [£360] a month,’ she says. “When I boarded the flight, I still thought I was going to Europe. I did not think I was coming here. This place is just like hell for me.”

Isha is among those now stuck in Oman. “My employers took my phone; they beat me up,” she says. “There was no time to rest, and they would not give me food unless they felt like it.”

After she had not received her $180 monthly salary for three consecutive months, she ran away.

Sierra Leone has no embassy in Oman so Isha had nowhere to turn and her employer eventually tracked her down. He said he’d let her leave him if she repaid the $1,560 fee he had given the recruitment agent. Since she had no money, he decided to sell her on.

“He said there is another man that wants me to go to work; I was told to go with him and take my bag,” says Isha. “I didn’t know what to do. I really want to find a way to go back to my family.”

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By 2050, a quarter of the world’s people will be African – this will shape our future | Edward Paice

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In 2022 the world’s population will pass 8 billion. It has increased by a third in just two decades. By 2050, there will be about 9.5 billion of us on the planet, according to respected demographers. This makes recent comments by Elon Musk baffling. According to him, “the low birthrate and the rapidly declining birthrate” is “one of the biggest risks to civilisation”.

Fertility rates in Europe, North America and east Asia are generally below 2.1 births per woman, the level at which populations remain stable at constant mortality rates. The trajectory in some countries is particularly arresting. The birthrate in Italy is the lowest it has ever been in the country’s history. South Korea’s fertility rate has been stuck below one birth per woman for decades despite an estimated $120bn (£90bn) being spent on initiatives aimed at raising it. Japan started the century with 128 million citizens but is on course to have only 106 million by 2050. China’s population will peak at 1.45 billion in 2030, but if it proves unable to raise its fertility rate, the world’s most populous country could end the century with fewer than 600 million inhabitants. This is the “big risk” alluded to by Musk. The trouble is, his statement seems to imply that “civilisation” does not include Africa.

The populations of more than half of Africa’s 54 nations will double – or more – by 2050, the product of sustained high fertility and improving mortality rates. The continent will then be home to at least 25% of the world’s population, compared with less than 10% in 1950. Expansion on this scale is unprecedented: whereas the population of Asia will have multiplied by a factor of four in this timeframe, Africa’s will have risen tenfold. “Chronic youthfulness”, as demographer Richard Cincotta has termed it, is the result: 40% of all Africans are children under the age of 14 and in most African countries the median age is below 20.

African mothers will have about 450 million children in the 2020s. This is projected to rise to more than 550 million in the 2040s, about 40% of all children born worldwide in that decade. Overall, low or rapidly declining birthrates remain the exception rather than the rule in most of Africa. Globally, the number of births are at their highest level ever – 140 million a year – and are unlikely to fall by much in the course of the next two to three decades.

graphic

That is some bow wave underpinning future population growth, for good or ill (or both). With continuing high fertility in east, west and central Africa, the continent will contribute 1.3 billion of the 2 billion increase in the global population between 2019 and 2050. By then, the populations of east and west Africa will each exceed that of Europe. Thereafter, Africa’s varied demography will be one of the principal determinants of whether the global population will peak in the second half of the 21st century or continue growing, a vexed and contested issue with added significance in the age of the climate crisis.

Elon Musk’s population implosion narrative is not original. It echoes that of Dr HB McKlveen, warning of the “depopulation of civilised nations” in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1895; and that of many western economists in the 1930s, John Maynard Keynes among them. More than 50 years after the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s bestselling The Population Bomb, explosion narratives also burst forth at regular intervals. To date, human adaptability and resilience have overcome demographic crises (such as the Black Death in the 14th century), and periodic alarmism. This is not intended to sound complacent or Panglossian, merely to caution that alarmist narratives are invariably touted for ideological or some other specific reasons. Beyond two or three decades, demographic futurology is fraught with pitfalls, although not nearly as hazardous as medium- and long-term economic or weather forecasting.

The omission of African demography from Musk’s pronouncement is symptomatic of colossal shortcomings in the understanding of Africa and its constituent countries in the west. African delegations are bit-part players at global gatherings like Cop26, despite the ramifications of the climate crisis for the continent (and its potential for countering deleterious effects). Western governments have been slow to cooperate with African counterparts in the battle to contain Covid-19, and have done woefully little by way of assistance. Africa remains fundamentally marginalised, including in stereotypical depictions in most western media and the imaginations of most western citizens. This lamentable state of affairs cannot – will not – endure.

Sheer weight of numbers must bring about a reimagining of African countries and their populations. This alone will impact geopolitics, global trade, technological development, the future of the world’s dominant religions, patterns of migration – almost every aspect of life. More widespread familiarity with the continent’s diverse demographic characteristics and trajectories is a good entry point to this reimagining. Oh, and it might also help to be ever-cognisant of the fact that the landmasses of China, the US, Europe, India and Japan can all fit inside this continent that will loom ever-larger in the lives of its neighbours and the world.

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MEPs keen to speed up green-transition fund for poor

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The EU should start paying out its €72bn fund for helping poor households shift to green energy in 2024, instead of 2025 as previously planned, according to a European Parliament proposal seen by Reuters. “The green transition should be feasible for everyone,” Dutch centre-right MEP Esther de Lange said. “The fund should not be used to buy Teslas …. but rather small- and medium-sizes cars for everyday families,” she added.

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Hope and pride: Zimbabweans put the country on the map in world of wine | Global development

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Like many young Zimbabweans before and since, Tinashe Nyamudoka left the economic chaos of his country to find work and a better life for himself in neighbouring South Africa.

When he left in 2008, Nyamudoka had never tasted wine. Now, he ranks among southern Africa’s top sommeliers and has his own wine label with international sales.

“We have a lot going against us as Zimbabweans, and you might think there is nothing good coming out of the country,” says the 36-year-old. “So, for me to be recognised as the [top] sommeliers in the world, being African and Zimbabwean, instils a sense of hope and pride.”

Nyamudoka began his career as a waiter in a Cape Town restaurant, where he learned about the different varieties and tastes of the wines his customers drank. He moved on to become a hotel wine waiter, working alongside some of the city’s leading sommeliers.

After studying his trade, he won the best wine steward award in a competition for luxury hotels in the Western Cape in 2013.

Tinashe Nyamudoka sniffs a glass of wine
Tinashe Nyamudoka first learned about wine tasting while working as a waiter in Cape Town. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

His talents received international attention when, in 2017, he and three other Zimbabwean sommeliers were selected to take part in the World Blind Tasting Championship in France. The team was the first from Zimbabwe to take part in the contest, in which competitors have to use just their palate to identify the variety of grape, country of origin, appellation, vintage and producer of the wines.

The Zimbabweans did not win – coming 23rd out of 24 teams – but their story became the subject of a documentary released last year, Blind Ambition, which Nyamudoka says brought him “a sense of pride”. The team returned to the competition the next year and this time came 14th – beating the UK and the US teams.

His wine label, Kumusha – “home” or “roots” in Zimbabwe’s Shona language – has benefited from his celebrity, producing 200,000 bottles a year, up from 1,200 when it was launched four years ago. “People started embracing it,” he says.

“I conceptualised it [the label] around 2014,” he adds. “Xenophobia was hitting home [in South Africa] and we were all missing kumusha.”

The eight Kumusha wines – three reds, four whites and a rosé – are all produced in South Africa. They are sold in the US, the Netherlands, Kenya and Zimbabwe – “my exciting market”, he says. This month, he is starting to export his wines to the UK.

“I started this brand from scratch with no aid or financial handouts. It has been pure grit, passion and dedication,” he says. “I want people to understand that you can make it without prejudice.”

But Nyamudoka says he has encountered racism on his way to the top of a white-dominated industry.

“There are instances where you get to a tasting, and it is all white [people], you kind of feel out of place. At work, you cannot get the position you want because you are black. It comes in different forms. It is not obvious, it is much more subtle,” he says.

A bottle of Kumusha red wine
Kumusha’s cabernet sauvignon and cinsault, from the Slanghoek region of the Western Cape. It will be launched in the UK this month. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

“When I was in my last days on the floor [in a restaurant], people would recognise your talent, but they would not give you your flowers [recognition] because you are not like them. It is like you must work twice as hard to prove yourself. It is always going to be there, I suppose.”

Nyamudoka, who sits on the board of the recently established Sommeliers Association of Zimbabwe, hopes that his achievements will encourage other Zimbabweans to enter the wine industry.

“There’s been an emergence of black sommeliers in the world as the industry becomes more diverse. We see the hospitality offering in Zimbabwe improving and there will be a need for sommeliers.”

A fellow sommelier, Takura Makadzange, agrees. Also from Harare, Makdazange, 38, trained in Australia, working his way up from hotel porter to restaurant owner. Now, he is back in Zimbabwe.

“I came back home because there are plenty of opportunities. There is plenty of space in hospitality. Recently there has been more of an explosion in the food and drink sector in Zimbabwe, especially speciality wines that are being made now.

“The industry has grown, the fish industry has grown and we can have access to wildlife and game meat. Promoting the local food and beverage industry is a no-brainer. We have something that no one else does. National pride is important but also we have beautiful products,” he says.

Makadzange qualified for last month’s Ubuntu Sommelier Trophy in South Africa, but had to withdraw when he caught Covid-19.

“There are instances where a less-qualified white person is trusted with looking after the wine list over any person of colour, but you have to keep moving,” he says.

“It is very unusual for a Zimbabwean to do well in this field. We want to continue that trajectory.

“I think it’s time we have more women sommeliers from Zimbabwe so, hopefully, I will train someone to get to the standard of competing.”

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