Kenyan Domestic Workers’ Doomed Voyages to the Gulf

Trafficked, kept prisoner in Saudi Arabia Wanjiku Njoki was lucky to escape unharmed. She has since found work serving tea for a government parastatal. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

By Joyce Chimbi
Nairobi, Kenya, Jan 14 2022 – Distress calls from vulnerable Kenyan women in Saudi Arabia experiencing mistreatment and torture at the hands of their employers went from 88 in 2019/2020 to 1,025 just one year later.

And this fear is all too familiar for 28-year-old Wanjiku Njoki. The young woman’s whose search for greener pastures in the Gulf landed her in the hands of a physically, mentally, and verbally abusive employer.

In 2018, she travelled to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

That year, Wanjiku was one of an estimated 57,000 to 100,000 Kenyans who travel to Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain annually, for unskilled and semi-skilled work, according to the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Services.

“I heard stories of suffering and death, especially from Saudi Arabia, but the recruiting agent told us they only work with employers who have no history of abuse,” she tells IPS.

“They also lied about the salary. I received $180 per month and not the $700 promised. My employer would pay me, make me sign a document confirming the payment and then steal the money back. When I told them about the missing money, the man and his wife would slap me and refuse to feed me.”

Her life as a shagala, which she says is Arabic for house helper or servant, became a year-long nightmare. With her passport and mobile phone confiscated by her employer, cutting her off from the rest of the world, she saw no way out.

“I worked from 5 am to midnight every day. I spoke only when spoken to and was very depressed. With time, I befriended the gardener who allowed me to secretly use his mobile phone,” she says.

Eventually, she connected with Kenyans in Saudi Arabia through social media, who told her how to escape, get arrested and deported. In 2020, Wanjiku returned to her village in Kagongo, Kiambu County, empty-handed but alive.

Saudi Arabia has a modern slavery prevalence rank index of 138 out of 167 countries as per the Global Slavery Index. The index also estimates that 61,000 people live in modern slavery and that 46 out of every 100 people are vulnerable to modern slavery.

Confronted by unemployment rates that are among the highest in the world as per the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO), hundreds of vulnerable women like Wanjiku continue to take, more often than not, a doomed voyage to the Gulf.

The parliamentary committee on labour and social welfare indicate the number of Kenyans working in Saudi Arabia has risen from 55,000 in 2019 to 97,000. The number of deaths and distress incidences has also increased.

In 2019, three deaths were reported to the Kenya embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, rising to 48 deaths in 2020 and, as of September 2021, 41 deaths.

Thus far in 2021, three deaths have been reported in Qatar, one in the United Arab Emirates, two in Kuwait, nine in Oman and two in Bahrain.

“There are at least a hundred backstreet agencies linking workers to the Middle East. Only 29 agencies are government approved and licensed. Many agencies are very greedy and are least concerned with the safety and security of their recruits,” says Suzanne Karanja, a Nairobi-based recruitment agent.

“There is money to be made because a prospective employer will pay me $1,800 to $2,000 per head to facilitate travel to their country. Most agents do not intervene when trouble comes. Their work is done once they receive the commission.”

Karanja says the slave and master scenario presents itself among female domestic workers and employers in the Middle East mainly because employers incur the entire cost of processing travel documents, training, and travel.

She tells IPS that a potential employer pays at least $2500, split between a recruitment agent in the country of origin and the destination country.

If the recruited domestic worker leaves before the contract is completed, employers insist on a refund.

She says the government must step up and crack down on backstreet agents for violating terms of operation, not registering their businesses at a cost of $5000 or paying the $5000 to $10 000 once-off bond.

The $5,000, she says, is supposed to be used to rescue distressed women who, so far, are rescued by Kenyans of goodwill when their distress stories circulate on social media.

Additionally, Karanja speaks of Kenyans illegally detained in the Middle East for challenging poor working conditions and others stranded and living on the streets hoping to be arrested and deported.

“All the deaths are among young women, and their employers say they died of cardiac arrest. How is this possible? Young, energetic women who went through and passed mandatory medical tests dying within one to four years of being in the Middle East?” Karanja questions.

Wanjiku says that the Kenya Embassy in Saudi Arabia should be scrapped because it is notorious for turning a blind eye.

“Families of women who died in the Middle East have video and text message evidence of their loved ones crying for help, but the embassy and agents did nothing to rescue them. The women record themselves on mobile phones and send these videos to their families and social media but help only comes through ordinary Kenyans.”

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Labour and Social Welfare travelled to the Gulf region in April 2021 to find solutions to the crisis.

Karanja stresses that the situation is dire, prompting the Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau to write to the Ministry of Labour in July 2021, strongly recommending a temporary ban on recruitment and export of domestic workers to Saudi Arabia until protection measures are in place.

Thus far, no concrete actions have come from the recommendation or others made by politicians after the Gulf visit. Meanwhile, blinded by poverty and desperation, vulnerable women continue to make their way to the Gulf.


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Fully Ready to Kill, Shockingly Unprepared to Save Lives

Credit: Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jan 14 2022 – While absolutely ready to kill, with the biggest military powers spending in 2020 nearly two trillion US dollars on weapons, the world is shockingly unprepared to save the lives of millions of unarmed, innocent civilian victims of wars… and other man-made catastrophes.

The military spending data come from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which also reports that global nuclear arsenals grow as states continue to modernise, thus sharply increasing the dangers of an unimaginable number of victims of the most devastating death machinery.

“As fighting continues to displace tens of thousands while disrupting access to nutritious food for millions of people, over half the population – 16.2 million people – are facing acute hunger, with 5.1 million people at risk of famine. Half of all children under 5 – 2.3 million – are at risk of malnutrition this year.”

Parallelly, the world’s politicians continue to subsidise fossil fuel with six trillion dollars in just one year, being fully aware that such fuels harvest the lives of millions of humans, while devoting a tiny portion of such huge amounts to public health care systems.

In fact, 27 December 2021 marked the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness.

According to the United Nations, “global health crises threaten to overwhelm already overstretched health systems, disrupt global supply chains and cause disproportionate devastation of the livelihoods of people, including women and children, and the economies of the poorest and most vulnerable countries.”


Otherwise, more epidemics to come

“In the event of the absence of international attention, future epidemics could surpass previous outbreaks in terms of intensity and gravity.”

The UN adds that “we need to recognise the primary role and responsibility of Governments and the indispensable contribution of relevant stakeholders in tackling global health challenges, especially women, who make up the majority of the world’s health workers.”


The poorest, hit hardest

For his part, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said “While we have all undoubtedly been impacted by the pandemic, the poorest and most marginalised have been hit hardest – both in terms of lives and livelihoods lost.”

Tedros said scaling up production and equitable distribution remains the major barrier to ending the acute stage of the pandemic. “It is a travesty that in some countries health workers and those at-risk groups remain completely unvaccinated.”

As countries move forward post-COVID-19, it will be vital to avoid cuts in public spending on health and other social sectors. Such cuts are likely to increase hardship among already disadvantaged groups, said the WHO chief.

“Instead, governments should target spending an additional 1% of GDP on primary health care, while also working to address the shortfall of 18 million health workers needed globally to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.”


An appeal to the world’s billionaires

“A perfect storm of conflict, climate crises, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising costs for reaching people in need is causing a seismic hunger crisis,” the Nobel Peace Laureate World Food Programme (WFP) for its part announced.

And launched a one-time appeal for the world’s billionaires: 6.6 billion US dollars would help stave off starvation for 42 million people across 43 countries.”


A breakdown

Of this required funding, 3.5 billion US dollars are needed for food and its delivery, including the cost of shipping and transport to the country, plus warehousing and “last mile” delivery of food using air, land and river transport, contracted truck drivers and required security escorts in conflict-affected zones –fuelled by warlords– to distribute food to those who need it most.

Another 2 billion US dollars are required for cash and food vouchers (including transaction fees) in places where markets can function. This type of assistance enables those most in need to buy the food of their choice and supports local economies.

As well, 700 million US dollars would be devoted to country-specific costs to design, scale up and manage the implementation of efficient and effective programmes for millions of tonnes more food and cash transfers and vouchers – adapted to the in-country conditions and operational risks in 43 countries.


The case of Yemen

For its part, UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children has launched an appeal to help support the agency’s work in war-torn Yemen as it provides conflict and disaster-affected children with “access to water, sanitation, nutrition, education, health and protection services.”

Specifically, UNICEF requires 484.4 million US dollars to reach 8 million children among 11.3 million infants in need.

Meantime, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has appealed  for 170 million US dollars in 2021 to meet the increasing needs of displaced, conflict-affected and migrant communities in Yemen.

As of today, only half of these funds have been received. The 3.85 billion US dollars Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen is also only funded at 50 percent.

Yemen’s grim picture takes place in a moment in which the World Food Programme (WFP) warns that seven years of conflict show no sign of abating, nor does rising hunger.

“As fighting continues to displace tens of thousands while disrupting access to nutritious food for millions of people, over half the population – 16.2 million people – are facing acute hunger, with 5.1 million people at risk of famine. Half of all children under 5 – 2.3 million – are at risk of malnutrition this year.”


Infectious diseases: not only COVID

COVID-19 continues to demonstrate how quickly “an infectious disease can sweep across the world”, pushing health systems to the brink and upending daily life for all of humanity, the UN chief said on Monday, marking the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness.

“It also revealed our failure to learn the lessons of recent health emergencies like SARS, avian influenza, Zika, Ebola and others”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message on the World Day.

“And it reminded us that the world remains woefully unprepared to stop localised outbreaks from spilling across borders, and spiralling into a global pandemic”.


Halting infectious diseases

Noting that infectious diseases remain “a clear and present danger to every country”, Guterres maintained COVID-19 would not be the last pandemic for humanity.

“Even as the world responds to this health crisis, he spelled out the need to prepare for the next one.”

This means scaling-up investments in better monitoring, early detection and rapid response plans in every country — especially the most vulnerable, he said.

“It means strengthening primary health care at the local level to prevent collapse… ensuring equitable access to lifesaving interventions, like vaccines for all people and…achieving Universal Health Coverage.”


Spreading like wildfire

Meanwhile, as cases of the new Omicron variant continue to spread like wildfire, 70% of COVID vaccines have been distributed to the world’s ten largest economies, while the poorest countries have received just 0.8%, according to the UN, calling it “not only unjust, but also a threat to the entire planet.”

To end this cycle, the United Nations underscored that at least 70% of the population in every country must be inoculated, which the UN vaccine strategy aims to achieve by mid-2022.


Deaf ears… again

Although this will require at least 11 billion vaccine doses, it is doable so long as sufficient resources are put into distribution.

In short, the three above-mentioned funding appeals represent an astonishingly irrelevant fraction of the giant amount of 2,000,000,000,000 US dollars of the world’s spending on killing machines.

In spite of that, such appeals for saving lives fall, once again, on deaf ears.


AscendEX Lists the Marvelous NFT Token, MNFT

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