Kenyan domestic workers destined for Gulf – global issue

Wanjiku Njoki has since found work as a tea lady for a governmnet parastatal. Photo Joyce Chimbi copy
Wanjiku Njoki, who was trafficked and held in Saudi Arabia, was lucky to escape unscathed. She has since found a job as a tea girl in a government parastatal company. Credit: Joyce Chimby/IPS
  • by Joyce Chimby (Nairobi, Kenya)
  • International News Service

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

In 2018, she traveled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

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

“I’ve heard stories of pain and death, especially from Saudi Arabia, but recruiting agents tell us they only work with employers that don’t have a history of abuse,” she told IPS.

“They also lied about my salary. I received $180 a month instead of the promised $700. My employer would pay me to sign a document confirming the payment and then steal the money back. When I told them The man and his wife would slap me and refuse to feed me when I lost money.”

her life as Sagara, which she said was a domestic helper or servant in Arabic, became a year-long nightmare. Her passport and mobile phone were confiscated by her employer, cut off from the world, and she saw no way out.

“I worked every day from 5am to midnight. I only spoke when I was talking, and it was very frustrating. Over time, I got to know the gardener who allowed me to secretly use his phone,” she said.

Eventually, she connected through social media with Kenyans in Saudi Arabia, who told her how to escape, be arrested and deported. In 2020, Wanjiku returned empty-handed to her village in Kagongo, Kiambu district.

According to the Global Slavery Index, Saudi Arabia ranks 138 out of 167 countries in the prevalence of modern slavery.index It is also estimated that 61,000 people live in modern slavery, with 46 out of every 100 people vulnerable to modern slavery.

Faced with some of the highest unemployment in the world, hundreds of vulnerable women like Wanjiku have gone on, often doomed, trips to the Gulf, according to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO).

The number of Kenyans working in Saudi Arabia has risen to 97,000 from 55,000 in 2019, the parliamentary Labour and Social Welfare Committee said. There has also been an increase in the number of deaths and distressing events.

In 2019, the Kenyan embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, reported three deaths, rising to 48 in 2020, with 41 deaths as of September 2021.

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 backstreet agencies linking workers to the Middle East. Only 29 agencies are approved and licensed by the government. Many are very greedy and least concerned about the safety and security of their new employees,” says Nairobi-based recruitment agent Suzanne Karanja .

“There is money to be made because future employers will pay me $1,800 to $2,000 each to facilitate travel to their country. When trouble comes, most surrogates don’t intervene. Once they are commissioned, their work It’s finished.”

Karanja said the situation of slaves and masters arose among female domestic workers and employers in the Middle East, mainly because employers covered the full cost of processing travel documents, training and travel.

She told IPS that potential employers pay at least $2,500, which is split between recruitment agents in origin and destination countries.

If the hired domestic worker leaves before the contract is completed, the employer insists on a refund.

She said the government must step up and crack down on backstreet agents who violated the terms of operation, including not paying the government-mandated $15,000 bond and $5,000 annual registration fee.

She said the $15,000 was meant to rescue struggling women, who so far have been helped in good faith when stories of grief from Kenyans circulated on social media.

Additionally, Karanja spoke of Kenyans being illegally detained in the Middle East for challenging poor working conditions, and others stuck on the streets hoping to be arrested and deported.

“All the dead were young women whose employers said they died of cardiac arrest. How is that possible? Will young, energetic women die within one to four years of going through and passing mandatory medical tests in the Middle East?” Karanja’s question.

Wanjiku said the Kenyan embassy in Saudi Arabia should be abandoned because it is notorious for turning a blind eye.

“Families of women who died in the Middle East have video and text message evidence of their loved ones calling for help, but the embassy and agents have done nothing to rescue them. The women recorded themselves on their cell phones and sent the videos to their families and social media , but only through ordinary Kenyans.”

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour and Social Welfare travels to the Gulf in April 2021 to find solutions to the crisis.

Karanja stressed the dire situation, prompting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Chief Secretary Machariah Kamau to write to the Ministry of Labour in July 2021, strongly recommending a temporary ban on the recruitment and export of domestic workers to Saudi Arabia until protective measures are in place.

So far, no concrete action has been taken on the advice of politicians or others following the Gulf visit. Meanwhile, vulnerable women blinded by poverty and despair continue to travel to the Gulf.

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

This Global Sustainability Network (GSN) is pursuing UN Sustainable Development Goal 8, with particular emphasis on Goal 8.7, which “take immediate and effective measures to eliminate 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, End all forms of child labor by 2025″.

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

© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service