Victims of abuse in Saudi want governments' compensation

"For one year and six months I worked in Saudi Arabia, I worked under very harsh and demeaning conditions. I was physical assaulted, subjected to hard labour, burnt with hot water, sexually assaulted and raped at gun point many times till I lost count," said Shimila.

Her crushing point was on March 22, 2021 when she woke up burdened by the hard work but when she informed her employer, she was burnt by hot water and forced at gun point to record a statement that she had burnt herself.

Shimila swore that she was more traumatised when she sought help from her agent and the Kenyan Embassy in Riyath who instead of helping advised her to become a commercial sex worker like other girls.

"I retain very ugly scars as proof of atrocities meted on me in Saudi Arabia while my agents and my embassy stood on the sidelines. It was more traumatising when the Kenyan embassy advised me to become a commercial sex worker instead of helping me," swore Shimila.

Shimila left the country a bubbling and energetic woman, full of optimism but returned a shattered woman with scars that reminds her of the suffering she went through in Saudi Arabia.

She is among a group of survivors of human rights abuses by employers in the Middle East who have filed a petition at the Employment and Labour Relations seeking to compel the government to compensate them for turning a blind eye on their sufferings.

They filed the suit through the help of Kituo cha Sheria (Legal Advice Centre) and Haki Jamii Rights Centre lobby groups.

The lobbyists' lawyers led by Kituo's Executive Director Annette Mbogoh, John Mwariri and Caroline Karwitha want the government held accountable for allowing rogue recruitment agencies to take advantage of desperate jobless Kenyans who end up being abused in the Middle East.

"The agencies take advantage of high unemployment rate to lure individuals who end up being abandoned in low quality jobs and abusive employers with some ending up dead, others sexually abused, tortured and being sent to prison," said the lobbyists.

They argued that despite the widespread violation of human rightsfor migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates, the government and its agencies are doing nothing to stop the abuses.

The civil society groups have asked the court to suspend all labour migration to the Middle East until the government conduct fresh vetting of all recruitment agencies, establish the status of migrant workers and conduct a rescue mission for those stranded.

"As a result of the state's failures, reckless and negligence; many victims in the Middle East have been injured and their rights violated. They have suffered great loss financially, physically, mentally, emotionally and psychological trauma which the government should pay," said Mwariri.

The lawyers added that failure of the government to take action amounts to modern day slavery, human trafficking and violation of the constitution.

According to the lobby groups, returnees and families of victims have given horror revelations on how migrant workers are subjected to slavery, servitude, sexual abuse, torture, denial of medical attention, long working hours, restriction on movement and communication.

They blamed the Kenyan Embassy in Saudi Arabia for being notorious in turning away stranded Kenyans seeking help while aware of the perilous work environment the migrant workers go through.

Celestine Musavakwa in her affidavit swore that she was raped, impregnated by her employer's son, poisoned and taken to prison before she was rescued and brought back to Kenya.

According to Musavakha, she went to Saudi Arabia on December 25 2019 but just two weeks into her employment, the man of the house started harassing her sexually.

"The sexual harassment graduated to rape and he threatened to kill me if I reported to anybody. He would come to my room with a gun, rape me and threaten to shoot if I resisted or reported to his wife or authorities. This happened from February 2020 to November 2020," she swore.

Rape ordeal

She managed to escape the ordeal and ran away to the Kenyan Embassy where she found another agency which hooked her with another employer where things turned from bad to worse.

After one month at the new work place, she stated that the son to her boss started raping her and when she couldn't hold it anymore started to fight him.

She was badly injured during the fight and taken to hospital where a doctor informed her that she was pregnant and that she had been poisoned.

Because the family could not bear the news that she had been impregnated by their son, they took Musavakha to detention where she sought help and was deported back to the country.

For Jane Wanjiku, she claims that she was thrown from fourth floor of her employers' house and put in a coffin on assumption that she was dead.

Wanjiku swore that she went to Saudi Arabia in December 2011 where she was subjected to hard labour, working for over 16 hours a day with little or no food.

She developed health problems when her wounds from the caesarean delivery she had gone through opened up due to excessive work but instead of helping her, the employer threw her down from fourth floor.

"They threw me from fourth floor and left me for the dead while unconscious. When the police came they put me into a coffin and that is when I regained consciousness and they removed me from the coffin," swore Wanjiku.

Eunice Wangui in her affidavit stated that she travelled to Saudi Arabia on December 19 2021 and met her employer Hajia Youssef Al Khaibiri who subjected her to hard labour where she was forced to work for over 18-hours a day with only one meal.

Wangui had left her three children when going to Saudi Arabia but while she was away, one of them passed on which opened another can of worms as the employer refused to release.

"It was so traumatising when my employer told me that he had been informed that Kenyans mourn their dead for only seven days and that I should forget the death of my son and move on," swore Wangui.

For John Muigai, her daughter Lucy Wambui left the country in August 2019 in search of greener pastures.

According to Muigai, her daughter was deported just three days after arriving in Saudi Arabia and handed to another employer in Baghdad, Iraq.

Muigai swore that her daughter communicated with her brother on December 20, 2020 informing him that she was in Baghdad and will be travelling back home soon.

As fate would have it, that was the last conversation they heard from her as they received a message from a stranger on December 28 2020 that Wambui had been mysteriously killed by her employer.

"We are left with an empty grave at our home hoping that we will bring her back home to bury her. Our efforts to seek assistance from the government in the last two years have been unsuccessful," swore Muigai.

Brenda Anyango stated in her affidavit that she has developed mental illness for the torture she went through during her six months experience in Saudi Arabia after being lured with a fake promise of a good paying job as a domestic worker. She claimed that the employer confiscated her documents and subjected her to work for 15 families in different homes where she was forced to work in shifts, and that the work was too much which made her develop non-stop bleeding and chest pains.

Health condition

"I requested to be taken to the hospital but my employer told me that Africans do not get sick. She said I should stop pretending and get busy. I was not taken to the hospital. I worked day and night under my condition without treatment and my health deteriorated," swore Anyango.

Fearing that she could bleed to death, Anyango swore that she escaped to the Kenyan Embassy but was turned away on account that she was an illegal migrant.

Catherine Muturi claimed that she was turned into a sex slave in United Arab Emirates after being duped by an agent to pay Sh160,000 for a job opportunity. According to Muturi, she met the agent in January 2018 and after paying the Sh160,000, she was booked a ticket to travel to UAE with a promise that her employer would pick her at the airport.

"I was picked by a man who took me to his house and locked me up for two and a half months. He made sure I could not escape the house and turned me into a sex slave. He raped me on many occasions with threats to kill me if I tried to escape," swore Muturi.

The lobby groups argued that the government has failed to protect young Kenyans from being trafficked and exposed to human rights violations while seeking jobs in the Middle East.

"As a result of the state's failures, reckless and negligent acts;many victims in the Middle East have been injured and their constitutional rights violated. They have suffered great loss financially, physically, mentally, emotionally and psychological trauma," said Mwariri.

Apart from seeking compensation for the victims, the lobby groups also want the government compelled to ratify international labour treaties to protect its migrant workers and to suspend all travel to Saudi Arabia until the Middle East country also ratifies the treaty.