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US designates Saudi Arabia one of worst countries in fight against human trafficking

State Department releases report accusing Saudi Arabia of failing to mitigate human trafficking
Report marks first time Saudi Arabia has been placed in lowest rating during President Donald Trump's administration (AFP)

The US State Department designated Saudi Arabia as one of the world's worst countries in the struggle against human trafficking, potentially subjecting the kingdom to some prohibitions on non-humanitarian assistance.

In its annual human trafficking report, which was released on Thursday, the US placed Saudi Arabia near the bottom for not being able to "fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and not making significant efforts to do so".

The report, named Trafficking in Persons (TIP), reviews the country's willingness to mitigate human trafficking on a tiered scale. It does not rank each country on the pervasiveness of people smuggling.

Saudi Arabia received a tier three – the lowest grade – because the State Department said the kingdom failed to make a concerted effort in prosecuting individuals conducting human and sex trafficking.

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This marks the first time Saudi Arabia has been placed in the lowest rating during President Donald Trump's administration. The country was previously ranked tier three from 2012-2014.

The only other Middle East countries ranked tier three in the report are Iran and Syria.

Having a tier three rank may prohibit Saudi Arabia from receiving unspecified assistance, as the US president "may determine not to provide US government non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance," the report said.

The State Department also cited Saudi Arabia for not providing adequate protection to victims of trafficking.

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", the report read.

Still, the report said that the kingdom had made some inroads in preventing trafficking, most notably in its "2017-2020 national action", which focuses on "monitoring, prevention, building government capacity, inter-ministerial coordination, effective law enforcement, and provision of protective services for victims".

That said, while the report does not rank the severity of human trafficking within countries, the State Department did say that Saudi Arabia has a serious people smuggling issue.

"Over the past five years, human traffickers have exploited domestic and foreign victims in Saudi Arabia," the report said.

"The kingdom's migrant labor population continued to be the largest group at risk to traffickers, particularly female domestic workers, because of their isolation inside private residences and subjection to employer abuse," it added.

The report, citing news articles and international rights organisations, also said that the kingdom has paid and assisted groups that use child soldiers, particularly in Yemen and Sudan.