Migrant workers sue recruiting agent for alleged abuses

The National Centre for Human Rights (NCHR) is preparing a lawsuit against a Jordanian recruiting agent on behalf of a group of Nepalese and Indian workers stranded in the country for eight months, according to a human rights lawyer.

The stranded workers – two Nepalese and six Indian nationals – were part of a group of some 280 migrant labourers illegally trafficked into Jordan last year. Now, without the employment promised them, they say they have no money to return home, each having paid close to US $3,000 to get into the country. They have also accumulated overstay fines of US $1.41 per day since their arrival because they lacked proper visas or work permits.

According to NCHR lawyer Atef Majali, the centre is awaiting responses from the Ministries of Interior and Labour to requests for more information. “This will serve as evidence for the legal case,” Majali said.

Many of the workers further allege that they had been recruited to transport oil in and out of Iraq, a charge that Majali called “unprecedented”. “This is the first case [of this magnitude] related to abuse and trafficking that the NCHR is handling,” he said.

According to the workers, six Nepalese nationals paid the agent US $2,333 in exchange for aeroplane tickets and the return of their passports. So far, however, only four have been repatriated. The civil suit will seek financial compensation for the workers, including wages, said Majali, who added that any other company found responsible for similar actions would also face legal action. Furthermore, the case could be referred to a criminal court in the case of illegal activity, he said.

The NCHR took over legal representation of the remaining Nepalese workers after they approached the centre in April. Nepal does not have an embassy in Jordan. The Indian workers said that their embassy had not assisted in their repatriation, despite repeated appeals for help.

Government officials, meanwhile, say the crisis is over. “The problem is solved,” said Labour Ministry Press and Information Officer Raja Talab. “The workers’ overstay fines have been cancelled [by the Ministry of the Interior] and their passports have been returned.” Talab added that the workers were supposed to have left three weeks ago.

Asked about the ministry’s plans to prosecute the recruitment agency, Talab pointed out that the ministry “isn’t in a position to prosecute”. “According to the labour law, we fine companies,” he said. In this case, the agency could be fined for keeping workers’ passports, bringing them in illegally and not having a proper licence.

In March, the Ministry sued the al-Masar Transportation Company for illegally trafficking 120 Nepalese and Indian workers into the kingdom through the port city of Aqaba.

SD/AR/AM