The government maintained limited efforts to protect trafficking victims. It published information pertaining to trafficking indicators on relevant government websites, and distributed leaflets with similar material to all official stakeholders, but it did not have a standardized mechanism to identify victims and refer them to care. During the reporting period, officials identified and referred to government-run shelters 113 trafficking victims. This is compared to 121 trafficking victims—including 20 victims of forced labor—the government identified during the previous year. Of these, there were 34 child trafficking victims during the reporting period, one of whom was a Saudi national; the remainder were Yemeni. Victim nationalities included Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Somalia, the Philippines, Ghana, Yemen, Bangladesh, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka. In March 2019, officials pledged $2.2 million to an international organization in order to systemically strengthen protection and assistance to vulnerable migrants, to include trafficking victims. In contrast to the previous reporting period, the government did not provide information pertaining to its financial allocation to the Ministry of Labor and Social Development (MOLSD) for victim protection and assistance of trafficking victims specifically. MOLSD remained responsible for the operation of shelters across the country for vulnerable populations and abuse victims, some of whom were likely trafficking victims. These included shelters for child beggars in Mecca, Jeddah, Dammam, Medina, Qassim, and Abha, in addition to welfare centers for female domestic workers in at least 10 locations throughout the Kingdom and for male domestic workers in Riyadh. Each shelter provided accommodation, social services, health care, psychological counseling, education, and legal assistance. All 113 government-identified victims received these services from the government during the reporting period. Diplomats from labor-sending countries had regular access to their nationals residing in government-run shelters and reported conditions and quality of services in the shelters varied slightly across the Kingdom, but were overall satisfactory and safe. Some embassies and consulates—including those of the Philippines, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka—also operated shelters for their respective nationals.
Among migrant workers there were persistent complaints of unpaid wages, passport retention, physical or sexual abuse, or substandard working conditions, all of which were trafficking indicators. During this reporting period, officials detained and deported more than one million foreign nationals—including more than 300,000 Ethiopian nationals—for violating work, residence, and entry rules; some of these may have been trafficking victims. The HRC reported law enforcement agencies were trained in screening vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators. Labor-sending diplomats reported the government punished trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Furthermore, since the government did not routinely screen for potential trafficking victimization among vulnerable populations, and police frequently arrested and/or deported undocumented migrant workers, authorities likely arrested and deported many unidentified victims during the year.
The government extended to all identified trafficking victims the option of remaining in the country—either in a shelter or via transfer to a new employer—during judicial proceedings, or alternatively an immediate exit visa; these benefits did not require a successful prosecution or cooperation with law enforcement personnel. Officials reported granting more than 880,000 laborers the right to transfer their work permits to alternate employers but did not specify how many trafficking victims were included in this figure. The government reportedly encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, and the law entitled trafficking victims to legal assistance, security protection, translation services, and the right to immediate repatriation or continued residence in-country until resolution of the case, in addition to medical and psychological care, shelter, and recovery; as in previous years, it did not report how many victims accessed these provisions during the reporting year. Officials permitted victims to obtain restitution from the government and file civil suits against trafficking offenders; however, such settlements generally occurred outside of civil court proceedings, through government-supported mediation efforts, and did not entail criminal prosecution or, in most cases penalties or interest on the amounts of unpaid wages in dispute. The government reportedly often informally reimbursed workers for back wages and/or assisted in their repatriation to speedily resolve cases of labor violations, including those likely involving trafficking concerns.