Kenyan workers stranded in Angola

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Jacob OdunguAt least 11 Kenyans are stranded in Angola, where they had gone in search of jobs, after their employer confiscated their passports.

Most of them are working under deplorable conditions in construction sites. Although, they are professionals, they claim they have been forced to do manual work.

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They were taken there by an international construction company based in Nairobi, which is owned by an Ethiopian woman.

Those the Saturday Nation spoke to said they work from 6am to 6.30pm every day, including holidays and weekends. Since they do not have work permits, they have been confined in a construction camp.

Mr Jacob Odungu Okoth is one of them. A graduate of Architecture from The Technical University of Kenya, Mr Okoth went to Angola in 2013 after working for the firm in Kenya for a month. In Kenya, his duty was to prepare architectural drawings.

“We are 11 Kenyans of different professions. We have an engineer whose work is manning a busy condominium of about 300 plus houses of a shopping mall, school and club houses.

“We also have an electrician who does a very dangerous job. He is alone and does not have a helper. Our requests to the HR have fallen on deaf ears,” Mr Okoth says.

Another Kenyan, who declined to be named saying he feared for his life, said he went to Angola thinking he was going to work as an engineer, but to his shock, he was told to be a foreman at the construction site.

“This is like the manual work done at construction sites back in Kenya,” he said.

PASSPORT TAKEN

His passport was taken away and he has never been given a work permit, he claimed.

“This is a well-connected lady here in Angola,” he says of his employer. “There is a colleague who lost his brother and the lady declined to grant him permission to come to Kenya.”

The woman normally tells her recruits that they are being taken to Angola for an exchange programme, but changes tune and becomes brutal once the employees arrive, according to the man. “Trust me, we are going through hell.”

Mr Okoth said his nightmare began after the plane carrying him touched down at Angola’s international airport in Luanda.

‘‘I was told to surrender my passport so that a work permit could be processed,” he says in a text message to Saturday Nation. “I have never seen the work permit or the passport since then.”

He says he is a prisoner. “To make matters worse, we do not have a Kenyan embassy here where I can seek refuge.”

His family, which is worried about his wellbeing, had linked the Saturday Nation with him.

His sister, Ms Lina Atieno, said her brother was sick and wanted to come back home but could not as his passport had been seized.

In the SMS, Mr Okoth says he is stuck in his house, starving, as he has exhausted his food allowance of $100 (Sh9,100) yet he has not received his December salary.

And because he no longer goes to work, his employer informed him that he would not be paid.

“My 10 by 10 house is my kitchen, living room, bedroom, and toilet. I need a ticket to Kenya. Kindly help me.”

SAVED BY A TWEET

Another Kenyan, Mr Onesmus Kyanui, a logistics expert who did manual work with Mr Okoth for 10 months, was saved by a tweet he posted using a borrowed smartphone.

The tweet was seen by East African Legislative Assembly member Peter Mathuki.

“His is just one of the many cases I have dealt with, which confirm that indeed human trafficking is a thriving business in the country,” Mr Mathuki, who is the assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee chairman, told the Saturday Nation on Friday.

Mr Kyanui said he had been saved from hell. “When you step inside, getting out is a struggle.”

The woman who took them to Luanda is powerful and well-connected, he claimed.

She confiscates her employees’ passports and, when one asks to go back home, she demands for a $6,000 (Sh546,000) fine, he added.

“I got saved by a tweet I managed to send using another person’s phone and said I am suffering. The MP saw it and came to my rescue,” Mr Kyanui told the Saturday Nation by phone.

He said he hoped those still stuck in Angola would also get help.

OUT OF COUNTRY

When we visited the firm’s offices in Westlands, we were told the chief executive officer was out of the country.

However, the firm’s spokesperson, when contacted, denied the claims of human trafficking.

“It is not true that we take passports from our employees…. We can’t speak on phone, we need to meet,” he said before hanging up.

Initially, the Saturday Nation visited the office posing as potential employees. Attendants told us the company hires based on experience, and asked for our CVs. ‘‘You can be in Angola as early as Monday,’’ one said.

The oil and diamond-rich Angola is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, and its construction sector is booming.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said Kenya would open an embassy in the country in February to address the problems faced by Kenyans in that country.

“The role of any embassy is to protect and give information to Kenyan citizens.

“What I advise those who say their passports have been snatched is to go to the authorities and report the matter,” Ms Penninah Gachogu of the Immigration department said.

Labour Cabinet Secretary Kazungu Kambi warned that licences of recruitment firms that place Kenyans in difficult circumstances would be revoked.

-nation.co.ke

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