Death in the Gulf: How Kenyan women work like slaves and die in Saudi Arabia
By Duncan Khaemba | May 2nd 2021
They leave Kenya for Gulf countries in search of a better life with hopes of returning sound and safe.
For many a Kenyan girl, however, that quest for a happy life turns tragic by day.
There have been numerous cases of violence, torture, sexual harassment and now murder.
Slaida Vugutsa Talia is the latest Kenyan to die in Saudi Arabia in mysterious circumstances. And, her mystery and bad luck are following her even after death.
Listen to this: A piercing cry of a mother, a desperate mother who has lost her daughter who had travelled to Saudi Arabia in search of a happy life that would end up in tears for her family.
On this night, Robai Kagai Sayanga from Lumakanda, Lugari Constituency, was at the Jomo Kenyatta international airport to receive the body of her daughter Slaida Vugutsa.
She told KTN: “The employer mistreated Saida. He killed her but I wasn’t aware. He buried her. I got to know about it in March.
On March 25, Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the family that a report from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Government informed them that at 4 pm on Thursday, January 29 2021, a call was received from the Police regarding the presence of a body in a desert area north of the village of Mushrifa, partially covered by sand approximately 15 kilometres away.
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It was confirmed that the body belonged to an African woman.
An investigation established it was Slaida Vugutsa Talia who had left for Saudi Arabia on February 17, 2020.
Robai says on August 16, 2020, Slaida sent a message informing the family that her employers were erratic and that should she disappear from the internet, they had to explain where she was.
According to the mother, Slaida’s sister called her two weeks later to inform her that had violently fought off attempted rape by her employer and escaped to a police station in Saudi Arabia.
It is not known when exactly she was murdered. Her body was buried in a shallow grave and discovered in January.
Two months later her family was notified and even after making plans to ferry her back to her family, the body ended up being left behind in Germany last week forcing her family to wait for another two days until Thursday night.
Coincidentally the family was collecting the body for burial on Thursday, April 29 the same date and day in January when police in Saudi Arabia collected her body in the desert.
At the airport, shocked relatives, some too weak to stand on their feet were in denial after viewing the body.
Sadly, the mother says the daughter never informed her about her going to Saudi Arabia.
“I thought she was living with her sister in Nairobi.”
In Kwinet area, Moi’s Bridge lies a grave of another Gulf death trap victim. Blessing Nasimiyu Masika was buried on February 12. The news of her death gutted the family.
According to Gladys Masika, Blessing’s mother, “when the call came through, my husband was trembling. He told me to talk to the caller.”Blessing’s father, Anthony Masika, told her it was the Nairobi [employment agent] confirming that he was in touch with his Saudi counterpart.
Like many who have lost their lives in the Gulf, the causes of death are never revealed by the host country or the Kenyan embassy.
Says Blessing’s brother Eric Juma: “They were cagey with details about our sister’s death, only informing us that the body had been found in the streets of Riyadh.”
The family was left digging for truth on their own. A death certificate that accompanied her body and released by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior and Civil Affairs indicated the cause of her death as cardiac arrest and respiratory [complications].
A few metres from Blessing’s grave is her mother buried in thoughts. It is her daughter who was taking care of her cancer treatment but she is now gone; never to be seen again.
Blessing had promised to change the lives of her family members but now her death in the Gulf is ruining the same lives.
In the neighbouring Nandi County, we meet Rebecca Chesang at Kapkenyoloi village, a returnee from Saudi Arabia who was in the jaws of death, but narrowly survived.
“The boss had 11 children and grandparents. In the second month, the wife started mistreating me,” recalls Rebecca.
When things got unbearable Rebecca escaped.
“Before my escape, the son threatened to shoot me and the madam was urging my new employer to poison me,” says Rebecca.
With death hanging over her head, she sent a distress call back home after which her family reached out to the Standard Group to publish a story on her plight.
“I was tortured,” she says. Her story in The Standard on January 4 saved her life.
“After the story was out in The Standard the Arabs stopped torturing me. They were scared.”
In Lake View estate, Nakuru County, we meet Shadrack Nderitu, a father of four whose wife left for Saudi Arabia in February 2020 in search of a better life for herself and her young family but unfortunately, she died two months after arrival.
The agent who facilitated her travel to the Gulf told the family she died by suicide.
“Three months later they called to say she had died,” says Nderitu
What followed was strange. The same agent tried to persuade Nderitu to sign documents consenting his wife’s remains be buried in Saudi Arabia which made him suspicious.
Nderitu refused to sign the document. He is hopeful that one day he will get her body and lay her to rest. But to their first-born daughter, who sat her KCSE in 2020, the tragedy is unbearable.
“We were so close,” says Mary Wambui
Incidents of domestic workers enslaved in the Gulf region have caught the attention of international media with the New York Times highlighting their plight. Others have resorted to seeking solace on social media platforms such as Tik Tok.
But, even as the cases of Kenyans dying in the Gulf abound while working like slaves, young women in the country who are desperate for employment still find their way to the region.
“That will not scare me. I’m ready for everything,” says Everline Rehema Wanje who will soon leave for the Gulf.
“There so many problems. It wouldn’t make a difference if I dropped dead now. I’m not scared,” adds Ivy Chebet who is also about to leave in search of employment.
On April 15, government officials accompanied by police officers raided their hostel along Kiambu Road which acts as a holding ground before being flown to Gulf states. They undergo month-long training as agents process their travel documents.
“They coach us on how to behave and how to handle domestic appliances,” says Maureen Kira who is raring to go.
The agents have cast their net across the country, netting as many unemployed young women as possible.
The agents promise to cater for everything and such offers easily attract many desperate Kenyans knowing it will not cost them anything to leave for the Gulf region.
The Kiambu Road cohort is expected to leave for Saudi Arabia on Monday, May 3 and has been allowed to bid their families goodbye hoping to come back one day safe and sound.
As Robai and her family bury Slaida Vugutsa, she appeals to the government to ban Kenyans from seeking and working in the Gulf.
As she mourns, she still prays for her second daughter, who is still in Saudi Arabia, to return home in February 2022 when her contract ends … and God to punish Slaida’s killers.
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