Slavery Is Real in Saudi Arabia, Prove Us Wrong

On October 11, I wrote in the Daily Nation about slavery in Saudi Arabia. On October 16, the Saudi Embassy spokesman Ali al Othman denied, through the same paper, that any Kenyan had been killed or mistreated by their employers. He also denied that there are Kenyans detained in immigration detention centres in his country.

The embassy has challenged me to provide evidence of Kenyans killed, assaulted or abused. The Foreign Affairs ministry has a catalogue of complaints from parents of girls being abused in Saudi Arabia. The media too have evidence.

A few weeks ago, a girl from King’eero, Kiambu county, was flown back home in a coffin. Her body was only brought back after Kabete MP George Muchai and Kiambu women’s representative Annah Nyokabi intervened.

About a month ago, the body of a girl from Kilifi county was brought back home with some parts missing.

Mary Achieng was killed by her employer.

A few years ago, a girl from Mombasa was thrown from the balcony and broke her hands. Her salary was withheld to compensate for the money paid to the placement agency.

Another girl called Naomi survived after she was stabbed eight times by the man of the house.

On October 21, Citizen aired the story of Anne Njeri Mwaura, who posted a video in YouTube pleading to be rescued. Her parents have been crying out for help for two months.

There are Kenyan girls detained in a facility in Sakakah in the North of Saudi Arabia. We hope the new ambassador to Saudi Arabia will keep his promise to address the girls’ plight.

The Saudi government is callously indifferent to the plight of Kenyans in the Kingdom. In fact, the outcry is not confined to Kenya alone. The media in Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Ethiopia and Madagascar are awash with stories of abuse of domestic workers from their countries in Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries.

Our children are sold by slave merchants politely referred to as Foreign Placement Agencies for upwards of Sh200,000. When a girl finds the situation unbearable and requests to be released, she is informed that she has to work for at least one year to compensate for the money paid to her agent.

The girls require written consent from their employers to change jobs or leave the country. Their passports, and in most cases mobile phones, are confiscated the moment they arrive in their employers’ house. They are permanently confined in the house, where they feed on leftovers when any is available. There is not enough food or beds in the Detention Facility.

Unless the Saudi Embassy spokesman can convince Kenyans that the girls brought back home in coffins were playing dead, he must be an egregiously dishonest person. Diplomatic protocol is not about telling outright lies, but telling the truth diplomatically.

The spokesman has threatened to sue me. I stand by my statement. Any legal action must, however, be under the Kenyan judicial system, and not Saudi Arabia. I have no intention of donating my head to anybody. I need it to continue exposing injustices, not just in Saudi Arabia, but wherever else they happen.

I will go to court armed with only two weapons: Justice for all irrespective of their race, colour, creed, religion or social status and my love for humanity.

Othman has stated that their Ministry of Labour, Interior or Justice act on any violations and abuse. He should provide evidence of any action taken against employers who have murdered, raped and assaulted our girls. What is the progress of the cases? If a Saudi kills a fellow Saudi, he is executed by firing squad. Why haven’t the killers of Kenyan girls and rapists been punished the same way, Othman?

By Matigari Ma Njirungi

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