DUPED BY RECRUITMENT AGENCIES

State attempts to save Kenyans from Gulf abuse

Many find themselves at the mercy of their employers, and are lucky if they come back alive

In Summary

-About 100,000 Kenyans are working in the Middle East's construction and domestic sectors.

-Woes include long working hours, working without pay, being denied food and horrific sexual abuses.

Migrant worker Isaac Kiprotich arrives back home in crutches
Migrant worker Isaac Kiprotich arrives back home in crutches
Image: Barry Salil

Stories of Kenyans being mistreated and others dying in the Middle East are not a new phenomenon.

Abuses reported include long working hours, working without pay, being denied food and horrific sexual abuses by both men and women.

Many of them are recruited to work for an amorphous company, only to realise they have been duped by recruitment agencies the moment they land in their destination.

Nandi county's Isaac Kiprotich, 23, could be one of those lucky to have lived to tell their tale in the hands of recruitment agencies and supposed employers in the Gulf.

For others, as they say, “dead men tell no tales”. Their families go the airport to receive the remains of their loved ones in caskets.

According to the Labour ministry, Kenya has about 100,000 migrant workers in the oil-rich countries in the Middle East, especially the Gulf region, working in the thriving construction industry and as domestic workers.

In 2017, Kenya had imposed a ban on sending workers to the region following many incidents of abuse in the hands of employers and others working without pay.

Just like Kiprotich, many had fallen prey to fraudulent agencies who work in cahoots with certain organisations and individuals in nations where the workers are sent and earn salaries on their behalf.

In December 2017, Kenya signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saudi Arabian government and set out rules and regulations on how workers recruited locally were supposed to be recruited. The bilateral agreement precipitated the sending of 100,000 skilled and non-skilled workers by Kenya to Saudi.

Another agreement was signed by the Labour ministry with the government of Qatar in November 2018, which also set out terms and conditions of recruitment by the agencies.

It included the depositing of Sh1.5 million as security bond by the agencies, with the government to act as security for those workers stranded and in distress in the host countries.

The money is used to repatriate stranded workers back home and cover other costs, including medical, for the migrant workers.

PROBLEMS PERSIST

However, according to multiple sources, with the Qatari visa system “Kafala”, a migrant worker is not allowed to change jobs without the consent of the employer “even if one is not paid”.

One can be charged with absconding and be liable to imprisonment if they abandon their jobs without clearance from their boss.

Nandi Governor Stephen Sang, who met the repatriation cost of Kiprotich, wants the government to carry out investigations on the recruiting agency.

Samoline Agencies, the firm that recruited Kiprotich, was expected to have used the security bond to bring back the injured migrant and meet the medical costs. However, he had to rely on well-wishers like Sang.

Josephine Muriuki, the operations director of Samoline, said there was a communication breakdown between her firm and the worker.

“We have recruited over 10,000 Kenyans and other foreigners working in various companies, organisations and for individuals and have never had a problem,” Muriuki told the Star on the phone.

“Isaac Kiprotich never reported to us or to the Kenyan embassy in Doha about his tribulations. That is why no one acted and only learnt through the powerful Kenyan social media.” 

Kiprotich was among many sneaked into the region without following due process of employment. He lacked basic documents, including social security and health insurance cards.

His salary was instead paid to an agent who “sold him as a slave” to a construction company, where instead of becoming as a security guard as promised he worked as a flagman.

The promise of heaven and other goodies was nothing but a ploy to entice him into accepting to sign a contract he and his group did not understand.