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Senators want Kenyans stopped from seeking jobs in Saudi Arabia

NATIONAL
By Allan Mungai | November 3rd 2021

Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The Senate Committee on Labour and Social Welfare has recommended immediate suspension of migration of domestic workers from Kenya to gulf countries until their safety is assured.

The report tabled by Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja yesterday, came out of a 10-day visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in April to investigate challenges migrant workers face in the Gulf.

It is now up for formal approval and if ratified by the House, it could see Kenyans cut off from a destination that employs close to half a million Kenyans.

The report seeks to compel the Ministry of Labour to find out the status of Kenyans currently in prison and deportation centres in Saudi Arabia such as Malaz Prison and Tarhil Deportation Centre in Riyadh.

Labour Minister Simon Chelugui will also be required to establish current status of all domestic workers in Saudi Arabia and set up a database including their contacts and places of work.

The Senate team says such a database will open a line of communication between the migrant workers and the Labour offices at the Kenyan embassies in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

"While labour migration is viewed positively given its contribution to development through skills transfer and remittances, there is an urgent need to streamline processes and governance to guarantee, secure and protect the constitutional rights and wellbeing of all Kenyans," the report says.

According to reports by the Ministry of Labour, at least 80,000 Kenyans live and work in Saudi Arabia with the majority serving as domestic workers.

But the senators say the contribution of migrant workers to the economy has come at a heavy price - torture, mistreatment and even death.

"It is needless to say that in the last three years, with the rising number of Kenyans leaving the country for domestic jobs in the Middle East, there has been a corresponding increase in distress calls by those alleging torture and mistreatment by their employers," the report states.

The Labour Committee reports of gaps that have allowed exploitation and abuse of Kenyans, especially those working as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, leading to deaths and injuries.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Labour reported that 93 Kenyans died in the Middle East, attributing the deaths to diseases, accidents and suicides. 

The Senate wants an investigation into cases of Kenyan workers who died in Saudi Arabia.

"This report must among other things demonstrate the linkages between the Labour Attaches and the recruitment agencies in the handling of distress calls and other complaints by migrant workers," the report said.

Sakaja said Kenya lacks a comprehensive policy and legal framework to guide, govern and create stability in the migration processes.

It also noted that the Labour Migration Policy and Labour Migration Bill, despite being central in reinforcing existing labour legislation were either before the Cabinet or are being finalised. This, he said, hampered proper governance in labour migration issues.

The report also noted that labour migration to key labour destinations in the Middle East has been ongoing in the absence of formal agreement or memoranda of understanding.

Sakaja also wants repatriation of current and former domestic workers currently in distress and stuck in Saudi Arabia. 

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