When jobless female Kenyans get contracted to go and work in the Middle East as domestic workers they are normally very excited and their expectations very high.
They normally think that they have been given an opportunity to change their lives. But Alas! What a shock that hits them when they reach in their host countries.
Most of them go through harrowing experiences at the hands of their employers where they are subjected to inhuman treatment like being raped, denied their freedoms after their passports and telephones are confiscated and even treated like slaves where they are denied food and sleep. One of the most notorious countries where these atrocities are mainly reported is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Interestingly, all these violations continue to take place yet Kenya has signed a Bilateral Labour Agreements with countries like Saudi Arabia where most of the complaints are coming from. The BLA is supposed to protect the domestic workers labour rights.
And even with increased reports of Kenyan migrant workers in Saudi Arabia saying they are being mistreated, the Government still offers interested migrants with pre-departure training and orientation, validates and approves their travelling documents.
The migrant workers have consistently raised complaints about their poor working conditions and violation of their rights and lack of a standard contract. Some of them say the contract forms issued to them are not aligned to the Bilateral Labour Agreement (BLA) and lacks critical provisions in the labour laws of the two countries. Due to this, most workers have had their jobs substituted as they are forced to sign different contracts on their arrival to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The government, through the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has been reluctant to implement the provisions in the BLA. Most workers have reported cases of delayed or unpaid wages, which if the government acts faster may be dealt with.
The agreement also suggested an increase in the monthly remuneration to Ksh 40,000, but due to the delay in the implementation of the BLA, majority of the workers have been forced to run from their employers to look for better pay to support their families.
“Some of these girls get there and want to run away immediately because their friends lie to them that another employer will pay them better. When they leave Kenya, they know very well that they should stay with one employer for at least two years. Even you, if you are an employer, you can get very annoyed after you have spent so much money to bring her to Saudi,” a local recruitment agent who did not want to be named said.
Kenya has only three attachés to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The one labour attaché in Saudi Arabia has not been able to cover the entire Kingdom to oversee the progress of the over 70,000 Kenyans working there as domestic workers.
Recruitment agents say the Kenyan embassy in Saudi Arabia has no proper support system for the workers. Cases of mistreatment and violation of rights take along to resolve. A recent case is that of Brenda Wafula, who has been admitted in the hospital since last year and has not been able to be discharged and transported back Kenya due to severe condition. Wafula has to be put on a Supporting machine, and probably a private jet for her to arrive safely.
Despite the National Employment Authority vetting and registering private agencies to help in the recruitment process, there have been claims that there still exist inexperienced agencies that give false promises to the girls. The agencies facilitate the issuance of ‘free visas’ and passports faster at a fee through coordination with other ‘false agencies’ in Saudi Arabia. Once the girls arrive, they are turned into slaves and have to work their way out to survive in the unknown country or face deportation, as Saudi Labour Laws have no provision of free visas.
“In the Eastern Province alone, there are dozens of companies that exist only on paper. On the basis of their being registered and licensed, they apply for visas and then sell them, “stated Arab news in a report filed by Human Rights Watch.
“They say: ‘You don’t want to wait for a training course, an official visa, a passport? Pay me, and I can get you to the Middle East right now,” added Paul Adhoch, an agent, “These rogue labour brokers traffic workers abroad with fake visas, false promises, and no way to get home.”
Another report found out that there is a “lack of proper policies and regulations in place for both the skilled and the unskilled workers recruited and exported abroad, policy issues between the governments because of different laws, different constitutions and different cultures and religious affiliations; and lack of enforcement of existing labour laws.”
Shani Hassan, a former domestic worker in Saudi Arabia, recounted how she ended up breaking her leg. Hassan was thrown down the stairs by her employer’s son following one year of abuse, before she got deported.
“The government may be well-meaning, but I do not think it can change the attitude those people have towards domestic workers from Africa or Kenya. They view us as slaves,” she told The Guardian newspaper.
Suffering in Middle East Countries has also been attributed to the different cultures. Saudi Arabia has its way of doing things, dressing, different foods, religion, and constitution. When Kenyan workers find it difficult to conform to these cultural differences, they land themselves in problems.
However, according to Jimmy Gait, most of the girls suffer in the Middle East countries because of indiscipline.
“The main reason you see some people get mistreated in the Middle East is because of indiscipline. Most Kenyans go there and they start doing immoral things and that leads to them being mistreated,” Gait said.
The musician added that such cases of suffering that lead to eventual deaths of some workers, also result from workers who run away from employers in search of decent and greener pastures.
Gait who had just ventured into the business as an intermediary, noted the girls do not give reasons resulting from their mistreatments.
“When all these ladies come out and say they were mistreated, they never say why they were mistreated. There is always a reason. There are so many Kenyan men working in the Middle East in Saudi, Qatar, Dubai the reason you don’t hear about men being mistreated is because they do not go sleeping with their bosses’ wives,” he said adding that some of the girls are mistreated because of theft.
Recently, the Ministry of Labour revealed that about 93 Kenyan migrant workers died in Saudi Arabia between 2019 and July 2021. According to the report by the Labour CS, Simon Chelugui, the cases were caused by natural death such as cardiac arrest, Covid-19, cancer, childbirth, respiratory complication, tuberculosis, and meningitis. Other causes included accidents and suicide.
This was however disputed by some members of parliament including Godfrey Osotsi, nominated MP, who claimed that deaths occur due to mistreatment and torture, referring to a case that was tabled before the parliament.