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Girls from Saudi bondage arrive home while more fly out

National
 Diana Chepkemoi (centre) is received by her mother Clara Jerotich and other relatives at JKIA upon her arrival. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Tears flowed freely on Clara Jerotich's face as she tightly hugged her daughter after days of anxiety, pain and hope.

Diana Chepkemoi's arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) on Tuesday, September 6, ended the cry of a mother who has been praying to see her child alive after weeks of distraught calls miles away from her home.

"I'm so happy that my daughter is back. I am speechless," said an emotional Jerotich, who travelled from Bomet to receive her daughter who has been in distress for days.

Chepkemoi's plight came to the limelight after she exposed the misery she was going through at her employer's house and Kenyans took it up on social media, calling for her rescue and repatriation.

“She was in a very critical condition and I felt so helpless as a mother. It was so painful to see my child assaulted in a foreign country," said Jerotich.

Chepkemoi, a second-born child, sought a domestic job in Saudi Arabia to provide for her family, pay fees for her siblings and finance her university education.

She was a student at Meru University where she pursued a Bachelor's Degree in Food Science Management and Technology before dropping out in fourth year, following the financial crisis at home.

Although she supported her daughter's quest to migrate to Saudi Arabia, Jerotich affirmed her fears about the Saudi tides.

"It's way better to earn little money in your motherland and live in peace. I have heard cases about Saudi Arabia and I didn't like that place, but when she insisted that she was going there to change our lives, I supported her," she said.

Chepkemoi is one of Kenyan women who have sacrificed their freedom, are undergoing mistreatments and others paying the ultimate price to earn a living and provide for their families.

 Diana Chepkemoi (right) is received bey her mother Clara Cherotich upon arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

“I left the country with hopes that I could get a better life. Honestly, my case is just a tip of the iceberg. Kenyans are suffering there," said Chepkemoi.

“It’s such a shame that an employer can assault you and brag that our government cannot do anything about it. Please help them. Some don't even remember their homes because of the mental torture they're subjected to."

She explained how the agency that recruited her failed to listen to her plight after they disagreed with the employer.

"I was told that there's nothing I could do and that they had powers to take me to jail," Chepkemoi said.

Luckily, she was rescued when her employer was away on a journey.

Surprisingly, in the same plane that flew Chepkemoi from Saudi Arabia to JKIA, another Kenyan was aboard but as a cargo.

“We hear there's someone who died in Saudi Arabia. The body arrived in that plane. There are so many Kenyans brought here in caskets," said a worker at the airport who didn't want to be named.

About 60 other women arrived on the same plane, with a majority being deportees after a torturous experience in the Gulf.

 Saudi Arabia bound women at the JKIA on September 6, 2022. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Some of the girls had escaped from their employers' houses and sought refuge at safe houses and at the Kenya's Embassy in Riyadh.

That's the trend at JKIA. While distraught families are receiving the bodies of their kin who died in mysterious ways or welcoming back a severely damaged daughter from the Gulf, tens of other hopeful young women would be clearing at the airport to the same destination, for the same job.

Dorothy Mwita, a 22-year-old girl from Makueni, left for Saudi Arabia on the Day Chepkemoi arrived. None of the horrific stories of deaths and tortures could move her resolve to work in the irresistible Gulf.

'Anyone can die anywhere'

"I have heard about those cases but it doesn't mean it will happen to me. After all, anyone can die anywhere. We'll all die and it could also happen to me while in Kenya," she said.

Mwita chose to work as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia, with her motivation being the two-year contract guaranteeing her a monthly salary of 900 Saudi Arabian Riyal (about Sh28,800).

"I did catering in school but I've not secured a good job. I only earned Sh200 per day from the hotels I have worked in. This job in Saudi (Arabia) could be my luck. Nitaomoka (I'll sail through my fortunes)," she said.

 Loise Wairimu. Her body was frail and she could barely walk. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Loise Wairimu, who was among the deportees, narrated how she was mistreated by her employer for a year before she was rescued to a safe house.  

Her body was frail and she could barely walk.

“I have always prayed to God to keep her safe and I am happy to see her alive although her condition is bad,” said Wairimu's mother.

Teresiah Wangari, 46, went on her knees with her hands in the air to give thanks to God for returning to her motherland alive.

"I made a prayer to God that if I come back alive, I would kneel down and give thanks. I am happy to be back home. Kenyans are suffering in the Gulf and something needs to be done about it," she said.

Wangari was supposed to work for two years as indicated in her contract but she only managed one year and six months.

 Teresia Wangari, a deportee, says a prayer at JKIA upon arrival from Saudi Arabia on September 6, 2022. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

“My body was weak and I was sickly. I was subjected to long working hours without resting. Most of us sleep past 2am and you're expected to be up by 8am," said the mother of four.

Odhiambo Ojiro, a Rapid Response Officer at Haki Africa, said their organisation is handling two other cases of girls trapped in Saudi Arabia.

"The two girls are sending distress calls and are unable to communicate with their recruiting agents," said Ojiro.

Families, victims and human rights organisations are now calling on the incoming government to conduct an audit of the number of Kenyans working in the Gulf, the recruiting agencies and work on bilateral agreements with Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries.

Political leaders who were among the people who received Chepkemoi at the airport called for a ban on labour export to Saudi Arabia.

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