Nairobi, Kenya, 14 Jan (IPS) – Emergency calls from vulnerable Kenyan women in Saudi Arabia experiencing abuse and torture at the hands of their employers went from 88 in 2019/2020 to 1,025 just one year later.
And this fear is all too familiar to 28-year-old Wanjiku Njoki. The young woman whose search for greener meadows in the Gulf came into the hands of a physically, mentally and verbally abusive employer.
In 2018, she traveled to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
That year, Wanjiku was one of roughly 57,000 to 100,000 Kenyans who travel to Gulf countries each year, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, for uneducated and semi-educated work, according to the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs Security and Services.
“I heard stories of suffering and death, especially from Saudi Arabia, but the recruiting agent told us that they only work with employers who have no history of abuse,” she tells IPS.
“They also lied about the salary. I got $ 180 a month and not the $ 700 promised. My employer would pay me, make me sign a document confirming the payment and then refund the money. When I told her about the missing money, the man and his wife would hit me and refuse to eat me.
Her life as a derived, saying she’s Arabic for maid or servant, became a year-long nightmare. With her passport and mobile phone seized by her employer, cutting her off from the rest of the world, she saw no way out.
“I worked every day from 5am to midnight. I only spoke when I was talking and was very depressed. Over time, I befriended the gardener who was allowed to secretly use his mobile,” she says.
She eventually connected with Kenyans in Saudi Arabia via social media, who told her how to escape, be arrested and deported. In 2020, Wanjiku returned to her village in 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 https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/resources/downloads/ index also estimates that 61,000 people live in modern slavery and that 46 out of every 100 people are vulnerable to modern slavery.
Confronted with unemployment figures among the highest in the world according to the UN International Labor Organization (ILO), hundreds of vulnerable women like Wanjiku remain, more often than not, taking a condemned trip to the Gulf.
The Parliamentary Committee on Labor and Social Welfare indicates that the number of Kenyans working in Saudi Arabia has increased from 55,000 in 2019 to 97,000. The number of deaths and emergencies has also increased.
In 2019, three deaths were reported to the Kenyan embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, rising to 48 deaths in 2020 and, as of 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 backstreet agencies linking workers with the Middle East. Only 29 agencies are approved and licensed by the government. Many agencies are very greedy and are the least concerned with security and safety of their recruits, ”said Suzanne Karanja, a Nairobi-based recruitment agent.
“There’s money to be made because a potential employer will pay me $ 1,800 to $ 2,000 per head to facilitate travel to their country. Most agents do not intervene when problems arise. Their work is done when they get the commission. “
Karanja says the slave and master scenario presents itself among female domestic workers and employers in the Middle East, mainly because employers incur the full cost of processing travel documents, training and travel.
She tells IPS that a potential employer pays at least $ 2,500, divided between a recruiting agent in the country of origin and the country of destination.
If the recruited housekeeper leaves before the contract is completed, employers apply for a refund.
She says the government needs to stand up and crack down on backstreet agents for breaching operating conditions, including failing to pay a government-set $ 15,000 bail and a $ 5,000 registration fee each year.
The $ 15,000, she says, should be used to rescue needy women who have so far been rescued by Kenyans of good will as their emergency stories circulate on social media.
In addition, Karanja talks about Kenyans being illegally detained in the Middle East for challenging poor working conditions and others living on the beach and on the streets hoping to be arrested and deported.
“All deaths are among young women, and their employers say they died of cardiac arrest. How is this possible? Young, energetic women who have passed and passed mandatory medical tests, die within one to four years after being in it. Middle East were? Karanja questions.
Wanjiku says the Kenyan embassy in Saudi Arabia should be scrapped because it is notorious for turning a blind eye.
“Families of women who have died in the Middle East have evidence of videos and text messages from their loved ones crying for help, but the embassy and agents did nothing to save them. The women recorded themselves on mobile phones and send these videos to their families and social media, but help comes only through ordinary Kenyans.
The Parliament’s Standing Committee on Labor and Social Welfare traveled to the Gulf region in April 2021 to find solutions to the crisis.
Karanja stresses that the situation is dire, prompting Foreign Secretary Macharia Kamau to write to the Ministry of Labor in July 2021, strongly recommending a temporary ban on the recruitment and export of domestic workers to Saudi Arabia until safeguard measures are in place .
So far, no concrete actions have come from the recommendation or others made by politicians after the Gulf visit. Meanwhile, vulnerable women, blinded by poverty and despair, remain on their way to the Gulf.
This story is part of a series of features from around the world on human trafficking. The Airways Aviation Group supports IPS coverage.
The Global Sustainability Network (GSN) strives for the United Nations ‘8th Sustainable Development Goal with a special emphasis on Goal 8.7, which’ takes immediate and effective action to eradicate forced labor, end modern-day slavery and trafficking in human beings, and ban and eliminate the least forms of securing child labor, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and ending child labor in all its forms by 2025 ‘.
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 gathered to work together “to defend human dignity and freedom against the extreme forms of globalization of indifference, such as exploitation, forced labor, prostitution, human trafficking ”.
© Inter Press Service (2022) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service