Journalism

Doubts Still Linger on Kenyans’ Safety in Middle East

This article was originally by The Daily Nation on July 29th, 2019, by Fuller Project correspondent Jillian Keenan and Njeri Rugene.

Agnes Wairimu takes her students, who are planning to work in Saudi Arabia as domestic workers, through homecare lessons at East Africa Institute of Homecare Management in Nairobi on July 15, 2019. Photo credit: Muthoni Njuki

When Neema Khamis, 31, was offered a job in Saudi Arabia in 2014 as a domestic worker, she thought it was a dream come true.

She had been unable to get work, yet she had two children and a mother to feed.

In Kenya, the average domestic worker makes less than Sh150 a day, so when a placement agency promised Khamis that she would make Sh23,000 a month in Saudi Arabia as a domestic help, she quickly said yes to the offer.

But Khamis quickly realised that moving to Saudi Arabia was a terrible mistake.

Isolated in a private home in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Khamis was regularly beaten by her employer’s son, a university student.

She was only allowed to sleep for two hours a night and given little more than noodles to eat.

Torture

Her new employer also refused to pay the salary she had been promised, arguing that her unpaid labour was repayment for the fee they paid to bring her to the country.

“My passport and visa had been paid for by the agency, which was then compensated by the employer,” said Khamis.

“In other words, I was sold; my employer bought me. That is why they despised me, and would not tire of reminding me that they bought me for lots of money, so I had to work.”

One morning, after more than a year there, Khamis was cleaning when her employer’s son accused her of being “too slow”.

He threw her off the stairs, breaking her leg. Ironically, the injury set her free: it was so severe that even after a trip to the hospital she simply could not work. Finally, she was allowed to return home.

Khamis is lucky. A number of women returned to Kenya in coffins. Others were subjected to brutal physical violence and sexual assault and their pay withheld even after working for months in slave-like conditions, returning home empty-handed.

Oversight Agency

Stories like these, illustrated with haunting viral videos of Kenyan women migrant workers pleading for help and means to return to their homes, led the Kenya government in 2014 to shut down thousands of unregulated recruiting agencies and banned Kenyans from migrating to Saudi Arabia for domestic work.

Earlier this year, however, more than a hundred registered recruitment agencies were allowed to resume practice under strict new guidelines.

The government says this time will be different: It’s new National Employment Agency (NEA), the bureau tasked with protecting workers abroad, was launched in May this year.

Roughly, 132 registered recruitment agencies are now authorised to send workers to the Middle East.

NEA acting Director-General Edith Okoki says each agency is required to pay a Sh1.5 million bond.

If an agency sends a worker into an abusive situation, the cost of returning her home will be met through the bond.

New workers also need to undergo a two-week certification course, within a syllabus developed by the government’s National Industrial Training Authority (Nita) and NEA.

It includes homecare training, life skills and pre-departure information taught by a handful of training institutions authorised and vetted by the government.

Read article here.

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