Nyamweya is an investigation journalist currently working with a leading media house in Kenya.
“From my experience, I think some Kenyans have reached a level of the biblical four men with leprosy who decided to move out of the city and look for food despite the risks rather than stay within the city and die of hunger, that is why we never fail to get clients in our agency” Recruitment agent
It is no longer a secret that many of the Kenyans who seeking employment opportunities in the Gulf countries come back with harrowing tales of mistreatment and torture. However, what is baffling many is why these people keep seeking work there despite these experiences which are in the public limelight.
Interestingly, Middle East countries have a high demand for domestic workers especially from Kenya. Margret Abonyo, a recruitment agent based in Ongata Rongai attests that the reason for preferring Kenyan workers is that “they are cheaper and easy to maneuver”. In other words, you can easily turn a Kenyan domestic worker into your slave since after all, you bought her. This is not possible for the host workers as they understand their rights and cannot accept too much work.
The writer has learnt that a lot of Kenyans are hell-bent on seeking work in the Middle East due to desperation, hopelessness, and distortion of the reality by these recruitment agents.
Take Rhoda Mwangi, aka Chana Steve for instance. The mother of two from South Kinangop went to Saudi Arabia in 2014 to seek for greener pastures. While at the village, gospel artist had been lured by stories about the Middle East and how people who had gone there had made good money and even bought plots back home. One day, she made a decision to visit a recruitment agent in Nairobi CBD who also promised her “good fortunes” in Saudia. The agent was ready to process everything for her and the only thing that was required was her identification document.
“After walking in one of the recruitment offices and telling them my interest, the agent agreed to take care of everything including passport processing, and fare. I only presented myself with my ID”.
Ms Rhoda Mwangi
However, things got a turn after connecting with her employer in Saudia. The employer was an older widowed woman who had 9 children. However, she was living with the eldest daughter and her husband since the rest were living on their homes. This daughter was quite harsh and abusive. Things turned to worse when the older woman passed on in 2016.
“I started experiencing mistreatment after the old woman passed on. The woman’s older daughter took me in as her servant. She gave me a lot of work to the point that I became ill due to fatigue” she says adding “this daughter whom I was staying with after their mother died was inhuman. After I became ill, she told her husband to go and kill me in the desert....but her husband feared God ad so he left me far in a desert”
However, it seems Rhoda’s days on earth were not yet complete since somebody passed through the desert and found her after three days. The good Samaritan bought her some refreshments after which he took her to the Kenyan embassy in Saudia.
“While in the desert for 3 days, A Pakistan driver passed from a distance, I tried to stop him ......he first passed in a high speed and then came back after realizing there was a human being trying to stop him. As we shared and I told me what had befallen me, he pitied me, took care of me as a good Samaritan, bought me juice and a cake, and then took me to a Kenyan embassy in Saudi. While in the embassy, you are guaranteed to come home for free...and so from there I came back home....”
Rose Malombo 35 is another victim of torture in Saudi Arabia. The mother of three who went to the country in 2016 also through a recruitment agency in Nairobi says that she found life unbearable and literary escaped to Qatar to try her luck there.
“Boss wangu alinitesa sana, na hata wakenya wenzangu pia walikuwa wanateswa na waajiri wao, niliona haya nikaamua kutoroka ili nisife (My employer really tortured me and even my Kenyan colleagues were being abused by their employers. I decided to escape lest the worse happen to me”. Ms Rose told this writer.
“Like one of my friends by the name Chao who was working in the neighboring homesteads, she was being literary beaten by the boss lady almost every-day. It reached a point where she disappeared and I don’t know to and I have never heard of her again. In-fact, about two Kenyan house-girls disappeared this way and all of them had their phones confiscated so they couldn’t communicate with their friends and family. My Kenyan friends were also complaining of heavy workload, with most of them being allowed to sleep for less than three hours” Rose Malombo narrated to this writer.
Rose was lured by her relative who was in Nairobi at that time to enroll for a “very lucrative” house help job through a Nairobi agency. Despite having heard reports of torture and victimization in the gulf, the friends assured her that no such incident will happen to her if she exhibits good behavior. She opted to try her luck, hoping for the best. The agency processed everything for her including visa, passport and even air ticket.
According to her, her employer, a real estate dealer in Tabuk was too abusive and inconsiderate.
“Mwajiri wangu alikuwa ananipea kazi mingi sana na mara nyingine, nilikuwa napewa chakula imeoza ( My employer was overwhelming me with work and sometimes I was given expired food to eat). Rose informs the Nairobian adding that “Ilifika mahali sipewi chakula kabisa, na hata mshahara pia hakuna kwa miezi mitatu sasa maisha gani hayo” (It reached a point where they did not bother about buying food in the house and even denied my salary for three months making my life unbearable).
These experiences made Rose to run to a police station to report her employer who had already confiscated her mobile phone. However, she had spare line and borrowed a phone from one of the officers to make a call to one of her friends in Qatar. The friend sent her fare to go to Qatar.
Unlike Saudia, she found work-life in Qatar to be a bit conducive.
Gladys Wangari from Kiambu County (photo attached) and who is currently living in Ngong is also a victim of slavery in Saudi Arabia. She went there in 2014 after being promised to be getting sh70000 monthly salary for a house help job. Like her colleagues, she rubbished off negative reports of abuse after being informed that not all places have bad employers. She therefore went there hoping to get a good boss. “I went there ready that if I found a bad employer I could look for a way of escaping and if I found a good employer, then good for me”.
Her experience for the first year was not that bad as she was treated well and paid her salary. However, it was when the older male children of the boss started abusing her sexually when she became fed up with the job. The employer, a civil servant working in the government of Saudi Arabia could initially treat her like any other servant, with normal food and salary coming on a regular basis. However, things started changing for the second year when the boss’s male children demanded sexual favors from her.
“Each of the three boys was approaching me for sexual favors. When I tried telling the mother about it, she brushed me off telling me to stop harassing her sons instead. However, there was no way I could become a sexual toy for all the three boys and I decided enough is enough. The good thing was that my employer had not confiscated my documents and since I was being paid my remittances, it happened that travelling back was not a big issue for me”. Gladys tells this writer.
(Below, Wangari Gladys)
Margret Oyule’s decision to go to the Saudi Arabia was largely fueled by desperation and hopelessness.
“Yes I had heard stories about mistreatment of Kenyans but I had also lost hope in Kenya. I had failed to secure reasonable employment and even all the businesses I had started collapsed. Life had become really tough considering that I am a single mother of one”
Margret Oyule affirms that she didn’t care about the eventualities in her new destination since she was hopeless anyway.
Ms Margret Oyule
Although she claimed that her boss, an army officer was a bit reasonable, she became fed up with incessant insults and emotional abuse from her wife.
“Like for me nilikaa 6years with a very good boss kile iko makelele kibao na matusi sana sana kutoka kwa mama but cha muhimu ni pesa nimejenga nikanunua plot with the money last nikija salary yangu ilikuwa 62k” “I have stayed there for six years, the boss was good except his wife who was arrogant, insultiful and abusive. However, my concern was money and right now; I have managed to buy a plot with a sh. 62000 monthly salary” she tells this writer.
However, after making connections for a company job in Kuwait, she decided to quit the house-help job in Saudi Arabia and go to Kuwait where she says life is a bit comfortable.
Bogus Recruitment Agencies minting money from Desperate Kenyans
The high level of unemployment and desperation of Kenyans have seen many unscrupulous businessmen using the opportunity to con unsuspecting Kenyans, who are yearning to work in the middle East Countries.
While some recruitment agencies charge exorbitant fees as hook up services to plausible employers, there are those that process everything for a job seeker including passports, air ticket, etc.
Our investigation reveals that some agencies charge up-to sh 80000, for one to get hooked to an employer in the Gulf. This is excluding passport, medical, travel and all other expenses.
They justify these figures by indicating appealing salary offers, which normally range from sh. 100000 to sh. 200000 and “positive testimonies” which subsequently draws potential recruits.
There are also those agencies that do not charge a job seeker a penny but end up “selling” the said job seeker up to ksh 60000 to a potential employer or another recruitment agency in the Gulf. These agencies will also process all the documents as well as travel fees for the recruit.
However, according to an insider who works in one of the recruitment agencies located in Ngong drive, Nairobi, most of the agencies that charge connection fee are those who look for employers. Therefore, their clients will be sure what job they will be doing and which place.
On the other hand, those that claim to service all the passport and travel fees are those that get paid by employers or agencies in the Middle East for every employee they send them. However, most of these Kenyans end up working in harsh environments since they are not able to decide where to go or which employer to work for.
“This business is very lucrative, as brokers, we are given a minimum of sh. 5000 for every person we take to the recruitment agencies. On the other hand, our agency receives a minimum of sh. 60000 for every person they give an employer or agency in the Middle East. This is why they don’t charge anything for whoever who is interested in the job” attests our informer who currently works in one of these agencies located in Ngong drive.
“From my experience, I think some Kenyans have reached a level of the biblical four men with leprosy who decided to move out of the city and look for food despite the risks rather than stay within the city and die of hunger that is why we never fail to get clients in our agency” revealed our informer
Indeed, bogus agencies have been exploiting employment opportunities especially in the Middle East countries, luring desperate Kenyans with promises of well-paying jobs, only to offer them low quality jobs.
Most of the victims have been dumped in Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Jordan where they mostly serve as house helps.
In 2015, Kenya revoked the licenses of 930 agencies and banned its citizens from seeking work in the Middle East after a string of cases detailing abuse, especially of domestic workers.
The then Labour Cabinet Secretary Kazungu Kambi also announced the temporary ban of the recruitment of workers to the region.
“From now on, all private employment agencies will have to undergo strict auditing before acquiring new licences.
“[This] will enable the government to put in place adequate structures for the effective management of labour migration and the protection of our migrant workers,” Kambi told reporters”. He said at that time.
The ban was, however, lifted in March 2016 for people with professional qualification, even as prohibition on export of menial workers to Middle East was retained, pending the drafting of a legal framework. That framework is yet to be drafted. Professions such as accountants, hotel workers, and those on secretarial duties, can freely work in the Gulf States, as long as they apply through recruitment agencies that are properly vetted.
The move followed the signing of a bilateral agreement in 2017, between Kenya and Saudia which paved the way for structured recruitment.
In 2018, families of more than 70 Kenyans from Mombasa were stranded in Qatar for lack of travel documents and air tickets to return home after falling out with their employers.
They were forced to seek help from the government yet they had paid up to Sh120, 000 to different recruiting agencies in Kenya to secure jobs in Qatar.
What many did not know was that the agencies were not recruiting firms but travel companies ‘owned’ by Nigerians in Mombasa
When the Nairobian contacted Haki programmes officer Salma Hemed through phone, she confirmed that, for many years, Kenyans have been falling prey to conmen who promise good jobs in the Gulf.
She said they have lobbied for travel agencies to be closed, but some unscrupulous agents are still operating in the dark.
“These recruitment agents have been exploiting unsuspecting individuals by either deliberately conning them or giving them fake promises that there are promising job opportunities in the middle east only to end up suffering,” claimed Hemed.
She has requested the national government to conduct thorough investigations on travel and recruitment agencies.
“Many Kenyans are losing their hard-earned monies to these agents. We want action to be taken against any person found to be engaging in fishy business,” she said.
Haki executive director Hussein Khalid observes that the government agencies dealing with immigrant workers are sleeping on their job.
“We are concerned that every other day, due to lack of seriousness, especially at the Labor ministry, Kenyans have continued to suffer in the hands of crooked agents and as migrant workers in the Middle East,” Khalid said.
According to him, the Foreign Affairs ministry should put strict measures to curb the problem facing immigrant workers in the Middle East.
“Laws and policies need to be established to safeguard the safety of Kenyan migrant workers anywhere in the world. As such, parliament should draft Migrant Workers Bill to protect Kenyan workers against negative eventualities when in foreign countries”
Silas Nyamweya (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on February 13, 2021:
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