Nairobi, Kenya, January 14 (IPS) – Distress calls from vulnerable Kenyan women in Saudi Arabia who suffered abuse and torture at the hands of their employers increased from 88 in 2019 2020 to 1,025 just a year later.
And this fear is all too familiar to 28-year-old Wanjiku Njoki. A young woman searching for greener pastures in the Bay Area landed her in the hands of a physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive owner.
In 2018, she traveled to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
That year, Wanjiku was one of an estimated 57,000 to 100,000 Kenyans who travel to Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain every year, for unskilled and semi-skilled workers, according to the ministry. Labor, Social Security and Services.
“I have heard stories of suffering and death, especially from Saudi Arabia, but the recruitment agent told us they only work with employers who have no history of abuse,” she said. told IPS.
“They also lie about the salary. I get $180 per month not $700 as promised. My employer would pay me, make me sign a document confirming the payment and then steal the money. When I told them about the missing amount, the man and his wife would slap me and not feed me.”
Her life as a shagala, which she said was Arabic for housekeeper or servant, became a year-long nightmare. With her passport and cell phone confiscated by the president, cutting her off from the rest of the world, she has no way out.
“I work from 5am to midnight every day. I speak only when being talked to and am very depressed. Over time, I became friends with the gardener who allowed me to secretly use his cell phone,” she said.
Eventually, she connected with Kenyans in Saudi Arabia through social media, who told her how to escape, get caught, and be deported. In 2020, Wanjiku returned to her village in Kagongo, Kiambu County, empty-handed but still alive.
Saudi Arabia has a modern slavery rating of 138 out of 167 countries according to the Global Slavery Index. Index https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/resources/downloads/ It also estimates that 61,000 people live in modern slavery and 46 out of every 100 people are vulnerable to modern slavery.
Faced with one of the world’s highest unemployment rates according to the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO), hundreds of vulnerable women like Wanjiku continue to make a doomed trip to the Gulf.
The parliamentary committee on labor and social welfare says the number of Kenyans working in Saudi Arabia has increased from 55,000 in 2019 to 97,000. The number of dead and injured also increased.
In 2019, three deaths were reported to the Kenyan embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, increasing to 48 deaths in 2020 and 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 one hundred agencies that link workers to the Middle East. Only 29 agencies are approved and licensed by the government. Suzanne Karanja, a recruitment agent based in Nairobi, said many companies are greedy and have little regard for the safety and security of those employed.
“It was possible to make money because a potential employer would pay me between $1,800 and $2,000 per capita to facilitate travel to their country. Most agents don’t step in when problems arise. Their work is done when they receive a commission. ”
Karanja said the slave-and-employer scenario that emerged among female domestic workers and employers in the Middle East was mainly because the employer had to bear the full cost of processing travel documents. schedules, training and travel.
She told IPS that a potential employer pays at least $2500, split between a recruitment agent in the country of origin and the country of destination.
If the employed domestic worker leaves before the contract is completed, the employer insists on demanding a refund.
She said the government must step up and crack down on backstreet dealers for violating the terms of operation, including failure to pay a government-regulated bond of $15,000 and a $5,000-a-year registration fee. .
She said $15,000 was supposed to be used to rescue suffering women, who were rescued by Kenyan well-wishers when their stories of suffering went viral on social media.
Additionally, Karanja talks about Kenyans illegally detained in the Middle East for challenging poor working conditions and others trapped and living on the streets in hopes of arrest and deportation.
“All of the deaths were in young women, and their owners said they died of cardiac arrest. How can this be? Will young, active women who have undergone and passed the required medical examinations die within one to four years of being in the Middle East? Question Karanja.
Wanjiku said that the Kenyan Embassy in Saudi Arabia should be removed because it is notoriously ignored.
“Families of the women killed in the Middle East have video and text messages evidence of their loved ones calling for help, but the embassy and agents did nothing to rescue them. The women record videos on their own on mobile phones and post them to family and social media, but help only goes to ordinary Kenyans. ”
The Congressional Standing Committee on Labor and Social Welfare traveled to the Gulf in April 2021 to seek solutions to the crisis.
Karanja stressed that the situation was dire, prompting Minister of Foreign Affairs Macharia Kamau to write to the Ministry of Labor in July 2021, recommending a temporary ban on the recruitment and export of domestic workers to Saudi Arabia. Cook until protective measures are in place.
So far, no specific action has come out of the recommendation or other actions taken by politicians following the visit to the Gulf. Meanwhile, blinded by poverty and despair, vulnerable women continue to find their way to the Bay Area.
This story is part of a series of features from around the world about human trafficking. Airways Group supports IPS coverage.
The Global Sustainability Network (GSN) is pursuing Sustainable Development Goal 8 of the United Nations, with particular focus on Goal 8.7, which aims to ‘take immediate and effective measures to eliminate forced labour, end slavery and slavery. modern practices and human trafficking, while ensuring the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labor in any form’.
The origins of the GSN stem from the efforts of the Joint Declaration between Religious Leaders signed on December 2, 2014. Religious leaders of different faiths gathered to do the work. working together “to defend human dignity and freedom against extreme forms of indifferent globalization, such as exploitation, forced labour, prostitution, human trafficking”.
© Inter Press Service (2022) – All rights reservedOrigin: Inter Press Service