Straying into barracks ended Kenyan girls agony in Saudi

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SAUDI+0911ssOn the night of October 17, Jackline Wangari, her friend Mary Njeri and a third Kenyan only identified as Grace made a bold decision to run away from their employer.

When no one was watching, they stole away from the building where they had been confined by an employment agent who had promised them jobs as househelps in Saudi Arabia.

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Unknown to them, there was an army barracks on the route they had chosen for their escape. After walking for dozens of kilometres in the dark, they were exhausted and decided to rest.

As they lay there, they were woken by the noise of a military helicopter. Only then did they learn that they had strayed into a protected area.

A military officer ordered them to remain where they were and warned that they would be blown to bits if they dared to move.

“They had press photographers in the helicopter,” Jackline said in an interview with the Nation on Sunday.

According to them, the following day, some newspapers published the photographs. The three were described as criminals and were ordered to be sent back to Kenya under emergency measures.

“Our employers were forced to hand back our passports which had been confiscated,” said 26-year-old Jackline, the more talkative of the two.

According to them, the employers had resisted the order at first, claiming that they had paid a recruitment agency in Kenya more than Sh1 million for each of the girls.

If they returned the passports, that would be money gone down the drain.

However, they had no choice and had to hand over the passports. The girls’ dreams of freedom had come true albeit in a most unexpected way.

‘LIFE OF SLAVERY’

According to Jackline, who hails from Naivasha, a recruitment agency had promised to get her a job as a househelp in Saudi Arabia.

She was to be paid Sh25,000 a month. She left Nairobi in August, believing she had opened a new chapter in her life.

“We were told not to carry anything not even a change of clothes or pocket money,” she said.

To her surprise, once they landed in the Middle East, their passports were confiscated.

“It was a life of slavery,” she said, describing how she was handed over to a family she was to work for.

Though she was eager to prove that she was diligent, this turned against her.

According to her, her employer would take her to the homes of other relatives so that Jackline could demonstrate her scrubbing skills.

“I told her that I could not continue working like that,” she said. “I demanded to be stationed in one house”.

That was when her troubles started. Besides scrubbing during the day, she said, she was also ordered to massage the feet of elderly men in the evening.

Often, they demanded sexual favours. And although they paid for the massage, the money went directly to her employer.

Whenever she asked for pay, she would be told that her employer was still recouping her investment.

“At one point, I was looking for poison. I was willing to die rather than stay on,” she said.

Mary left Kenya in October to be a househelp. Sadly, she fell ill just a few days after landing at the Jeddah Airport.

She was kept for three days without food by her agent after which she was handed over to an employer.

“I would be made to work long hours, and after I was done with the house work, I was ordered to work at a construction site,” said the 25-year-old, who was still looking frail.

According to her, her employer was mean with food and would often switch off the gas when Mary was home alone to ensure she did not make food.

On some days, she slept on an empty stomach, save for a cup of black tea.

During her two months stay, she endured beatings, insults and other forms of ill-treatment.

Her Aunt, Mrs Alice Migwi, who lives in Kiambu County, told the Nation that she was distressed when Mary called her just three days after she arrived in Saudi Arabia. It was then that she learnt that her niece had not eaten for three days.

LOOK AFTER HER

Mrs Migwi called the Nairobi agency that had offered Mary a job. The receptionist told her that Mary was well.

“When I tried to follow up on the matter, a contact lady at the agency switched off her phone and it has never gone through again,” she said.

Her family credits Jackline for saving Mary’s life. When they were arrested for trespassing into the barracks, Mary was quite ill.

-nation.co.ke

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