Kenyan domestic workers ordered to travel to the Gulf — Global Issues

Trafficked, kept prisoner in Saudi Arabia, Wanjiku Njoki was lucky to escape unscathed. She has since found work as a tea lady for a parastatal. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS
  • by Joyce Chimbi (Nairobi, Kenya)
  • Inter Press Service

And that fear is all too familiar to 28-year-old Wanjiku Njoki. The young woman whose search for greener pastures in the Gulf landed her in the hands of a physically, mentally and verbally abusive employer.

In 2018, she traveled to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

That year, Wanjiku was among an estimated 57,000 to 100,000 Kenyans who travel to Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain each year for unskilled and semi-skilled work, according to the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Services.

“I have heard stories of suffering and death, especially from Saudi Arabia, but the recruitment agent told us that they only work with employers who have no history of abuse,” she told IPS.

“They also lied about the salary. I received $180 per month and not the promised $700. My employer paid me, made me sign a document confirming the payment, and then stole the money. When I told them about the missing money, the man and his wife slapped me and refused to feed me.

His life of distracted, which she says is Arabic for housekeeper or housekeeper, has become a year-long nightmare. With her passport and mobile phone confiscated by her employer, cutting her off from the rest of the world, she saw no way out.

“I worked from 5 a.m. to midnight every day. I only talked when people talked to me and I was very depressed. Over time, I befriended the gardener who allowed me to secretly use his cell phone,” she says.

Eventually, she contacted Kenyans in Saudi Arabia via social media, who told her how to escape, get arrested and deported. In 2020, Wanjiku returned to her village of Kagongo, Kiambu County, empty-handed but alive.

Saudi Arabia has a modern slavery prevalence index of 138 out of 167 countries according to the Global Slavery Index. The index also estimates that 61,000 people live in modern slavery and that 46 out of 100 people are vulnerable to modern slavery.

Faced with some of the highest unemployment rates in the world according to the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO), hundreds of vulnerable women like Wanjiku continue, more often than not, on a doomed journey to the Gulf .

The Parliamentary Labor and Social Welfare Committee says the number of Kenyans working in Saudi Arabia has risen from 55,000 in 2019 to 97,000. The number of deaths and incidences of distress have also increased.

In 2019, three deaths were reported at the Kenyan Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, rising to 48 deaths in 2020 and, in September 2021, 41 deaths.

So far in 2021, three deaths have been reported in Qatar, one in the United Arab Emirates, two in Kuwait, nine in Oman and two in Bahrain.

“There are at least a hundred underground agencies linking workers in the Middle East. Only 29 bodies are approved and accredited by the government. Many agencies are very greedy and care the least about the safety and security of their recruits,” says Suzanne Karanja, a recruitment officer based in Nairobi.

“There is money to be made because a potential employer will pay me $1,800 to $2,000 per head to facilitate travel within his country. Most agents do not intervene in the event of a problem. Their job is done once they receive the commission.

Karanja says the slave and master scenario presents itself among domestic workers and employers in the Middle East, mainly because employers bear the full cost of processing travel documents, training and travel .

She tells IPS that a potential employer pays at least $2,500, split between a recruitment agent in the country of origin and the country of destination.

If the recruited domestic worker leaves before the end of the contract, employers demand reimbursement.

She says the government needs to step in and crack down on clandestine agents for violating terms of operation, including not paying a government-stipulated $15,000 bond and a $5,000 registration fee each year.

The $15,000, she says, is meant to be used to rescue distressed women who have so far been rescued by kind Kenyans when their stories of distress circulate on social media.

Furthermore, Karanja talks about Kenyans illegally detained in the Middle East for challenging poor working conditions and others stranded and living on the streets in hopes of arrest and deportation.

“All the deaths are young women, and their employers say they died of cardiac arrest. How is it possible? Young, energetic women who took and passed mandatory medical tests and died within one to four years of being in the Middle East? asks Karanja.

Wanjiku says Kenya’s embassy in Saudi Arabia should be closed as it is known to turn a blind eye.

“Families of women who died in the Middle East have video and text evidence of their loved ones crying out for help, but the embassy and officials did nothing to rescue them. Women are recording themselves on cell phones and sending these videos to their families and on social media, but help comes only from ordinary Kenyans.

The Parliament’s Standing Committee on Labor and Social Protection visited the Gulf region in April 2021 to find solutions to the crisis.

Karanja points out that the situation is dire, prompting Principal Foreign Secretary Macharia Kamau to write to the Ministry of Labor in July 2021, strongly recommending a temporary ban on recruiting and exporting domestic workers to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia until protective measures are in place.

So far, no concrete action has come from the recommendation or others made by politicians after the Gulf visit. Meanwhile, blinded by poverty and despair, vulnerable women continue to head to the Gulf.

This story is part of a series of reports from around the world on human trafficking. The Airways Aviation Group supports IPS coverage.

The Global Sustainability Network (GSN) pursues UN Sustainable Development Goal 8 with a focus on Goal 8.7, which “takes immediate and effective action to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and ensure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labor in all its forms”.

The origins of the GSN come from the efforts of the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders signed on December 2, 2014. Religious leaders of various faiths came together to work together “to defend the dignity and freedom of the human being against extreme forms of the globalization of humanity. indifference, such as exploitation, forced labour, prostitution, human trafficking”.

© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service


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