Saudi Arabia ‘milestone’ in fight against human trafficking

The Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC) has also carried out a recent anti-human trafficking training program in Riyadh titled “Research and investigation procedures in trafficking cases.” (SPA/File Photo/Archive)
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Updated 31 March 2020

Saudi Arabia ‘milestone’ in fight against human trafficking

  • Collaboration marks breakthrough in war on ‘heinous practice,’ says human rights watchdog

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has stepped up its fight against people trafficking with the launch of a government initiative described as a “milestone” in international efforts to stamp out the practice.

The National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking’s National Referral Mechanism helps combat people trafficking by outlining best practice for handling individual cases. It also details coordinated roles and responsibilities for relevant authorities in the Kingdom.

The framework has been launched in cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Organization of Migration (IOM).

Government officials will be able to coordinate efforts to prevent trafficking, protect victims or potential victims in the Kingdom, and investigate and prosecute suspected perpetrators through the framework.

The National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT), together with the UNODC and IOM, has begun training members of the national anti-trafficking team to identify, refer and protect potential victims.

Key staff, including labor inspectors, health professionals and civil society representatives, will learn new skills to help spot warning signs of human trafficking and develop operating procedures to guide response staff.

Despite the coronavirus outbreak, the government is working closely with all parties to ensure that training takes place through the use of teleconferencing.

“The fact that the program continues even during the pandemic shows the commitment and determination of the Kingdom to improve the national response to people trafficking,” Hatem Aly, UNODC’s Gulf regional representative, said. “It is our pleasure and duty to partner with the NCCHT to help implement these important national reforms.”

Mohammed El-Zarkani, IOM Bahrain’s chief of mission, said: “The launch of the National Referral Mechanism is a milestone in the fight against human trafficking.

“We are working simultaneously with a leading UNODC program focusing on partnership, prosecution and data management. The international collaboration is a welcome and timely step against trafficking.”

The framework coincides with the launch of an anonymous digital reporting service, embedded in the NCCHT website, that will allow people to provide information on possible human-trafficking violations in the Kingdom. The referral service will be expanded to include a 24/7 hotline and mobile application, both now under development.

“Human trafficking is an affront to the dignity of all humanity,” said Awwad Al-Awwad, chair of the NCCHT and president of the Human Rights Commission. “It is our duty to eradicate this heinous practice and the launch of the National Referral Mechanism is a major step to that end.

“The mechanism will be complemented by additional human rights reforms which will further improve the quality of life of all citizens and residents of the Kingdom,” he added.

Saudis head out as lockdown eases

Updated 29 May 2020

Saudis head out as lockdown eases

  • First day of phased reopening sees visitors flock to waterfronts and malls

JEDDAH/RIYADH: As the 24-hour-curfew period ended, residents of Saudi Arabia headed back outside on the first day of the government’s three-phase plan to transition back to normality after the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as people rushed to take advantage of the newly relaxed measures, streets quickly became crowded and several observers noticed that many were failing to observe social-distancing measures.

Prince Abdulrahman bin Mosaad tweeted: “For there to be traffic in the streets is natural after canceling the 24-hour curfew, but what’s abnormal and unbelievable is the amount of people underestimating the necessity of putting on a face mask and a pair of gloves and keeping a two-meter space between people crowding at stores. This is only the first day. Unfortunately, I don’t think Shawwal 29 (June 21) will be the day we go back to normal.”

In a follow-up tweet, Prince Abdulrahman reminded people that the pandemic does not have a cure or a vaccine yet, and wondered whether people would need to lose a loved one before they came to appreciate the severity of the situation.

University lecturer, Abdulfattah Al-Qahtani (@fattah53), agreed, tweeting: “Sadly, not many understand the dangers of the virus, and what they could be doing to their loved ones. It’s very simple; don’t go out unless it’s necessary. If you absolutely have to, follow precautionary measures from wearing a mask to keeping an acceptable distance between you and others.”

Abdulaziz Al-Omar (@11a_alomar) also replied with suggestions. “It’s important to monitor and penalize facilities and shops that do not follow precautionary regulations, as well as fines against those who don’t wear a mask and don’t keep their distance from others,” he tweeted.

The hashtag #JeddahNow was quickly trending on Twitter in response to the number of people leaving their homes unnecessarily.

A number of users suggested that individuals neglecting social distancing and going out in public without a mask and gloves would be “more afraid of a SR10,000 fine than they are of the pandemic.”

However, many thought that people were overreacting to the traffic around the city’s corniche.

Sa’ad Mughram (@saad_mghrm) tweeted: “Don’t blame people for traffic. There are families that have been pressed together for three months in small apartments and reef houses. It’s their right to go out and see the sky on a short car ride.”

He added: “Overcrowding stores needs to be addressed, but things can be dealt with calmly, without overreacting and perfectionism from some.”

Sadly, not many understand the dangers of the virus, and what they could be doing to their loved ones. 

Abdulfattah Al-Qahtani , University lecturer

Some hailed the efforts made by several popular stores around the Kingdom that are enforcing social distancing, such as Madinah’s Starbucks, where a photo circulating on social media showed people lined up with the recommended space between them, demonstrating what was described as “classy behavior.”

Abdullah Al-Humaid, (@abn_humaid) commented: “It’s wonderful to see such awareness displayed in our society. These are people maintaining social distancing while wearing gloves and face masks.”

Meanwhile, many headed onto the streets of Riyadh looking to regain a sense of normality. “Of course, I went out. I took my mom and sister and drove to the nearest mall to run some errands,” 26-year-old Sarah Al-Jasser told Arab News.

However, Al-Jasser said she was unable to enter the shops inside the mall because of long queues. “I was surprised that people were out this early. We were at the mall by 9:30 a.m. and didn’t expect it to be this crowded,” she said.

By 2:30 p.m. most shops and malls were already closed and empty of customers and shopkeepers, abiding by the 3 p.m. curfew.

Rayed Mustafa, 33, told Arab News he believes the situation is still unsafe: “Just because the country is opening up doesn’t mean it’s safe to go out.”  However, that did not stop him from leaving  the house. “I pulled an all-nighter, put on my face mask and gloves and hit the streets at 6:30 a.m. to cruise the city.”

He added that he stayed in his car and was merely hoping to get some fresh air for his mental well-being. “I’ve been confined in a very small apartment for over a month,” he said. “I needed that change of scenery.” 

He said he made sure to abide by the safety and health measures put in place by the Ministry of Health, and refrained from mingling with people.

Mustafa was taken aback by the number of people he saw on the streets. 

“One of the main streets in Riyadh was filled to the brim — some celebrating, others going out for coffee,” he added.

Billboards have been placed around the Kingdom reminding people to comply with the recommended precautions in order to ensure their safety.