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Heartrending tales of victims, survivors of abuse in gulf nations

By Grace Ng'ang'a | December 1st 2021

Members of the National Assembly listened to heartbreaking tales from victims and survivors in Middle East in the ongoing probe on domestic workers' conditions.

Appearing before the labour committee, the girls shared harrowing tales of torture, sexual and physical abuse from employers in Riyadh, South Arabia.

The high demand for domestic workers from Kenya by countries in the Middle East has led to numerous recruitment agencies in Nairobi and its outskirts.

Many families have buried loved ones whose only crime was poverty that drove them to seek greener pastures in the gulf nations only to return in a coffin.

One victim narrated how she was forced to take care of eighteen children in unfavourable conditions.

She told the MPs of how she endured beatings, starvation, death threats and sexual harassment.

“Most of the time I slept hungry and on the kitchen sink since there was no place for me in the house,” she said.

She told the committee she was often mercilessly beaten for asking for her pay at the end of the month.

She said she was lucky to return home alive.

Infographics: The Standard Checkpoint

Another survivor said she was introduced to prostitution without her consent.

Some however blamed Kenyan agents for preying on their hope and thriving on their desperation. Mama Winnie, a parent said she is yet to know the agency that took her daughter to Saudi Arabia.

She narrated home some agencies lure girls then go missing when it’s time to ask about the whereabouts of their children.

“She only identifies herself as Anne and whenever I ask about my children she threatens me that if I continue inquiring she will come back in a casket,” she said.

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

This even as the script seems to remain the same. The body arrives, the media covers the emotional occasion, families demand action, a postmortem is done and finally, the victim is buried. The matter ends there.

One Susan said her sister died at the deportation centre but as a family, they are yet to get answers and justice.

While tabling the report, the committee accused the agencies of riding on the absence of formal agreements or memorandum of understating between the parties to manipulate desperate Kenyans.

The committee, chaired by Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, emphasized the need for the recruitment of migrants be undertaken by registered agencies that comply with set regulations.

While recommending immediate suspension of all labour migration of domestic workers to Saudi Arabia, the committee detailed the loopholes used by the agencies to exploit Kenyans.

Kesses MP Swarup Mishra has drafted a new Bill to safeguard migrant workers from abuse.

The bill makes it an offence for any person who recruits for non-existent work or changes the job description midstream without knowledge of the emigrants.

Mishra said the purpose of the Bill is for the state to commit to protecting the human rights and welfare of an overseas worker before departure, during transit, while abroad and after returning home.

Should MPs approve the Bill, recruitment agencies involved in deploying Kenyans to fake or slave-like jobs overseas face a Sh10 million fine or a five-year imprisonment.

There have been numerous complaints of change of job descriptions by job seekers after landing in foreign countries.

The fine will also be bestowed upon persons who fail to submit reports on the status of employment, placement vacancies, terminations and departures.

This as parents and relatives of victims claimed that most time after their children leave, communication is cut and they struggle getting in touch with them.

The proposed Bill also seeks to establish a welfare fund to provide assistance and welfare services to oversee workers including paying death, disability and burial benefits.

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