Media and the Internet have been awash with reports of Kenyan workers suffering at the hands of callous employers in the Gulf States. It is estimated that more than 55,000 Kenyans work in the Arab world, most of whom are exploited in domestic servitude.
Only this week, families of 70 Kenyansstranded in Qatar sought help from government and well-wishers after it became apparent that their kin would not get air tickets and travel documents to fly back home.
The youthful workers, mostly maids, drivers, security guards and hotel staff, are at times denied food, medication and barred from making contacts with family. Women have increasingly complained of being turned into sex slaves.
Because of lack of jobs, labour migration from Kenya is on the rise. As a result, human trafficking is now prevalent. According to a 2018 report by International Organisation for Migration (IOM), human trafficking has increased at the Kenyancoast, as locals now look to Lebanon, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE for jobs through legal and illegal channels.
According to IOM, job seekers from the region are trafficked either to or through Kenya from neighbouring countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Counties worst hit by this migration are Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale.
We urge the government to address these abuses once and for all. It leaves a lot to be desired when Kenyans suffer abroad and authorities don’t act. Some of the worst abuses take place in countries where we have diplomatic missions.
When the government declared a blanket ban on employment agencies that hired and placed domestic workers in 2012, there was hope that every sticky issue would be addressed. It was never to be. In May 2018, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi led a delegation of MPs on a fact-finding trip to Saudi Arabia to look into the issues but nothing tangible came out of the trip. Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monicah Juma and her Labour and Social Protection colleague Ukur Yattani should engage foreign host nations to ensure migrant workers’ rights are protected.
If there are existing bilateral agreements with any countries where Kenyans work, let them be made public to enhance understanding.