Human trafficking remains high despite war against it

Prolonged drought, displacement by clashes are increasing vulnerability

In Summary

• Mary* was looking for a job when an agent linked her to housekeeping one in Qatar

• What followed is an ordeal of physical, sexual exploitation, luckily ending in rescue  

HAART founder and CEO Dr Radoslaw Malinowski on February 21
HAART founder and CEO Dr Radoslaw Malinowski on February 21

Mary* (not her real name), 28, lost her mother a year after she completed her secondary education. She then thought that it was time for her to look for a job.

So she started asking around and finally came across an agent, who facilitated her travel to the Gulf.

“I was told I was going to Qatar for a housekeeping job, and I was okay with that. I was given my contract documents with translation from Arabic to English, which I signed in Kenya before I travelled,” she says.

Her excitement would only last the duration of the flight. When she landed in Qatar, which was the destination according to her contract, she was shocked that the person she was to go work for, who was also supposed to pick her from the airport, was not there.

“I landed in Qatar and stayed at the airport for three days without anyone coming for me,” she says.

“I then lodged a complaint but I still stayed in the airport for another two days before a man picked me up on the sixth day.”

The promise of a good life then vanished. All she recalls was being moved from one office to the other for another week. She would later be informed that the woman she was going to work for was in Lebanon, contrary to her contract.

“I was again booked for a flight from Qatar to Lebanon, and when I landed there, they got a chance to exploit me,” she says.

“They knew clearly that I had no one to complain to there because my agent was in Qatar and the other one was in Kenya.”

They knew clearly that I had no one to complain to there because my agent was in Qatar and the other one was in Kenya


Mary braved the difficult new environment and worked for three months. However, she felt the pressure at work was overwhelming, prompting her to run away with no specific place in mind, eventually finding herself on the streets.

At that moment, she had less than $10, with which she took a taxi. The taxi driver would later abandon her by the roadside due to a communication barrier.

“I used to sleep under a bridge. All I had was a bag that had few clothes. I had nowhere to bathe, eat or go to,” she says.

“One day, a man approached me and asked what problem I had. He agreed to accommodate me in his house.”

While being offered accommodation and a job was a relief to Mary, she was once again vulnerable to sexual assault as they were only two people in the house. This saw her getting pregnant by the man.

Unaware of what move the man she only describes as of Arabic origin had in mind after she delivered her baby, she started plans to travel back to Kenya with her baby.

“I was required to produce my passport and if I was to travel with the baby, his father had to sign an agreement form, allowing me to travel with the baby,” the mother of one says of exit plan difficulties.

Mary did not have her own passport, and the father of her baby also did not want her to travel with the baby. However, the immigration office in Lebanon intervened and summoned the father of her baby, who later consented to her travelling with the baby on condition that he was not going to support her and the baby back in Kenya.


Upon landing in Kenya with her four-month-old son, Mary was lucky to be received by Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART) Kenya, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to fighting human trafficking in Eastern Africa and to supporting survivors of human trafficking and building community resilience.

“I was first taken in for therapy until when I could speak about my experience in Lebanon without high emotions,” she says.

“I was also trained on economic empowerment and supported through a hairdressing course, which I completed last year.”

HAART Kenya research manager Dr Fatuma Mohammed
HAART Kenya research manager Dr Fatuma Mohammed

HAART Kenya research manager Dr Fatuma Mohammed describes human trafficking as an act that involves the use of human beings for selfish gain or, in simple terms, the trade of humans. She says it is synonymous with exploitation.

There are different forms of human trafficking, she says, including being exploited sexually, forced labour, forced begging, especially for those with disabilities, child labour as well as early child marriage within or outside the country.

“Human trafficking can also start from here, with the recruitment agencies or the middle people who connect them there,” Dr Fatuma says.

“Maybe they are not registered with the government, so they’ll cheat the girls and upon arrival, they are taken to do work that was not agreed upon, and that is also a form of human trafficking.”

HAART has data on 900 survivors of human trafficking. Most of them are the ones who have gone outside the country and have come back, while some are internal ones in Kenya and from neighbouring countries.

To build the resilience of human trafficking victims, HAART has an outreach programme and works together with the government, the immigration department, Counter-Trafficking and local police.

“Once a victim is detected at the airport, we are contacted and we approach them,” she says.

“We have a temporary shelter, where we put them for some time. For those who are going through court cases, we have legal aid for them. Those who are back home and want to go to their family, we help them integrate.”

Their support system also includes economic empowerment for the respective victims’ areas of interest.

While some victims of human trafficking like Mary are finding ways to earn a living and get back on their feet, the prolonged drought and clashes between different communities in the country are making other Kenyans vulnerable to human trafficking.

Women will be more exposed as they are taken to work inside the domestic sphere or sexual exploitation, while men will be exploited mainly in terms of working in construction sites
Dr Fatuma Mohammed


A report on ethnic conflict-affected migrations in Marsabit county, released on February 21, found that residents, who are primarily pastoralists, are more vulnerable in the process of moving.

Traffickers can easily persuade them due to their need for shelter and food, particularly along highways and in urban areas during forced displacements, it stated.

“Both men and women are exposed to human trafficking,” Dr Fatuma says.

“But women will be more exposed as they are taken to work inside the domestic sphere or sexual exploitation, while men will be exploited mainly in terms of working in construction sites.”

According to the report, the older a displaced person is, the more vulnerable they are to human trafficking because traffickers prefer strong, energetic and skilled individuals.

As a result, HAART advocates that counter-trafficking measures be recognised when responding to forced displacement as a prevention measure.

HAART founder and CEO Dr Radoslaw Malinowski called for robust training of law enforcement agencies on human trafficking and prosecution of traffickers.

Based on the high level of vulnerabilities in the researched groups, law enforcement needs to be highly aware of trafficking risks, especially for displaced persons, he says.

Dr Radoslaw said when people are displaced, they automatically become vulnerable to trafficking, hence the report’s recommendations on the need to consider the protection of victims of trafficking in persons while investigating and prosecuting traffickers for legal actions.

“To effectively prosecute traffickers, law enforcement agencies must be equipped with proper skills on investigating human trafficking,” he said of the report’s recommendation.

This would help them differentiate it from human smuggling and other types of migration, he said.

Dr Radoslaw also called for the rights and responsibilities of different people involved in trafficking and counter-trafficking response to be implemented.

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