Mary Muriuki would not wish her experience as a victim of human trafficking in South Africa and Jordan on her worst enemy.
Like many young people, she was duped by a friend in 2000 into accepting a tempting employment offer in Botswana.
But upon her arrival there, she was forced to travel to South Africa since the country would not let her spend time there “doing nothing.”
“I worked for a company that not only underpaid me but also stressed me up till I lost hope and started to get very skinny.”
Speaking at a recent seminar held by Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART) in Butere to commemorate the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, she explained that because she did not have a work permit, she was unable to report her employer to the country’s Labour department or even the police.
“I was sorry I left Kenya. I thought of my two children and home, but I was unable to return because I had left my travel documents.”
She confided in a man who happened to be a preacher when she was walking her employer’s dogs. She vented her aggravation and revealed everything.
The man who ultimately proved to be more considerate, reasonable, and humane made an offer to help her and took her in as a house help.
According to her, it was like being released from a five-year prison of the other family who had reduced her to her lowest possible state.After around four and a half years of working for the pastor, the man of God connected her with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which offered to relocate her to Jordan as a refugee because they could not send her back to the country directly.
She spent three years working for various employers in Jordan who, like her previous employer in South Africa, took advantage of her when they learned she lacked a work permit.
Muroki said, “I was in a group of Filipino women who were harassed precisely because we lacked work permits.”
She turned to helping at a Christian missionary centre because she had become weary of providing her services for a meagre wage. She was able to receive greater compensation and even better employers who gave her better pay for her services after the missionaries helped her obtain a work permit.
“After going through the experiences, I would come across and assist more than 400 Kenyan girls who were trapped in Jordanian streets but needed to return to Kenya since they had been identified as victims of human trafficking. They were treated like trash.”
Last year, Ms Muroki travelled back to Kenya where she started advocating against human trafficking and reunited with her children.
Mercy Otieno, the Head of Protection at HAART, which fights the vice throughout East Africa, advises anyone leaving the country to inform their family in advance of the work offer and provide contact information of the potential employer and agent.
She says many human traffickers use false job advertisements on the internet as enticements to entrap victims and exploit them in foreign countries where they remain hostages and sometimes even perish.
“Our youth have been conned into travelling to Saudi Arabia in quest of greener pastures, and after a few days you see them venting on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms simply because they didn’t follow the proper procedures while travelling abroad,” she claims.
Innocent rural youth who are poor and unaware of the con artists’ ulterior goals are taken advantage of by human traffickers posing as employment organisations.