Enslaving Kenyans in Middle East
A crop of new breed of brokers is redefining modern day slavery by luring thousands of desperate jobseekers into a life of servitude in foreign lands
Some of the jobseekers have been sweet-talked into selling their assets to finance their journeys into a life of servitude in a foreign country where they cannot communicate with their masters.
And in other cases, a recruit is just required to submit her national identity card, her parents’ national identity cards, a certificate of good conduct and undergo medical tests, which include HIV and Aids tests and other venereal diseases.
Upon passing these tests, one is guaranteed a passport and a one-way ticket to Riyadh to begin slavery under the disguise of working as an ‘expatriate domestic worker’.
Some of them are turned into sex slaves since they have been tested and found to be free of any infectious diseases.
Their sojourn in Saudi Arabia averages between several days for the unhealthy and strong headed to two years for those who complete their contracts.
The bogus agents, most of them based in Nairobi and Mombasa, are minting millions at the expense of gullible jobseekers, majority of them women.
Investigation by The Underworld reveals that the agents are getting as much as Sh500,000 for each Kenyan worker who boards a plane to Saudi Arabia.
The recruited girls are transformed into objects of trade where they help agents mint millions of shillings in exchange of misery and poverty.
In the intricate transnational trade, the broker on the street receives at least Sh4,000 fee for every able bodied worker successfully recruited.
Although Saudi Arabia’s prospective employers fully finance the trips in a special arrangement to facilitate issuance of visa, some crafty agents are maximising their profits by demanding money from some jobseekers, promising them posh jobs with big salaries.
Our investigation shows that the bogus recruitment agents have infiltrated the Ministry of Immigration where they process their clients’ passports with ease and speed.
At times, the passports are processed within two days.
But when they arrive in Saudi Arabia, the Kenyans realise they were sold as slaves.
A number of women have returned with tales of misery.
A contract obtained by The Underworld shows how lopsided the terms are in favour of the employer.
"The second party (employee) has accepted to work for a probation period of three months. At the end of this period, and if proved to be unfit, the contract will be cancelled without notice or compensation.
The second party shall assume the cost of his /her travel to his/her country and shall have no right to work with any other party, whether paid or not and if found shall pay all costs and be deported at his or her own expense," reads the contract in part.
The contract provides that if the employer is dissatisfied with the services, he has the right to annul the contract and demand cost of recruitment from the employee.
A nonperforming employee can be "sold" to another employer, at a salary to be determined by both masters so that the first boss can recover his or her expenses.
Unaware of such shenanigans, many Kenyans have fallen into the trap and are recruited to slavery in Saudi Arabia.
Jemima Wairimu, a 24-year-old tailor from Githunguri, fell victim and sold her assets to pay Sh35,000 demanded by a Nairobi agent.
She jetted out of the country on March14, 2009 for Riyadh in the company of seven other girls.
On arrival, she discovered that she was to work as a domestic worker and the pay had been slashed to less than half of what she had been promised.
"The broker told me I had to pay Sh35,000 for the air ticket. I pleaded with him to allow me to pay after securing the job. He agreed and I left Kenya on December 8, 2008," Wanjiru recalls.
She says when her two-year contract expired, her boss detained her for another six months, refusing to release her passport or pay her ticket back.
Wanjiru explains: "I came back to Kenya on June 28, this year without a passport. I used an emergency exit permit after slaving for two and a half years in Saudi Arabia. My boss refused to release it insisting that he still required my services. I was tired of being overworked."
Winie Wambui Munoru, a 29-year-old mother of two, was not as lucky after she was recruited as a housekeeper.
Munoru left Nairobi for Riyadh on May 24, this year together with many other Kenyan workers headed to Riyadh.
But her dreams were crashed when her master picked her at the airport, detained her passport and revealed the pay would be half of what she had been promised.
"I had no job contract and so I could not argue. I accepted the offer but soon found out my job included working for a very large family. My body could not cope with the heat in the country. I developed an allergy for dust, which congested my chest," she recalls.
When Munoru declined to work, protesting the harsh conditions, her employer withdrew food and for days, she claims she survived on stolen bread and water until she was returned to a recruitment bureau in Riyadh.
The mother of two returned to Kenya on August 20, without pay although she had worked for two and a half months. At one time, she says she had to fight off sexual harassment from a man working in a recruitment bureau where she went to complain.
She laments: "I would be forced to clean a freezer. My hands froze. Later I was forced to clean the toilets with my bare hands. I could not take it anymore."
However, Grace Icharia, a former Kenya Broadcasting Corporation actress, worked in Saudi Arabia for only 36 hours.
"I expected to work as a teacher but they tricked me. When I landed in Riyadh on August 11, I learnt that my job would be housekeeping. The salary was paltry," she says.
Shortly before departing Nairobi, Grace had demanded a contract at the airport and given one designating her as a housekeeper. When she protested, she was promised it would be changed. She was shocked to learn that this was just a ploy to get her into the plane.
"I threw tantrums and refused to work as soon as I was driven into my new work station. I gave them hell for three days until I was returned to a recruitment agent. I refused to be posted to another home," Grace says.