Home World News In Kenya, the risky bet of emigration to the Gulf countries

In Kenya, the risky bet of emigration to the Gulf countries


They are recurrent in the Kenyan press: calls for help from desperate parents, without news of their children who have left to work in the Gulf countries. They would thus be between 100,000 and 300,000 Kenyans employed on site. But if for some this emigration is an economic boon, for others it turns into a real nightmare. Confiscated passport, forced labor, physical or verbal abuse… Human rights organizations have repeatedly denounced the inhuman treatment faced by some migrants. No great results so far.

“I was locked up”

Bingen faced this mistreatment. Now back in Kenya, she has tried the adventure three times. First in Saudi Arabia, where she worked as a domestic worker for two years, for €150 a month. The young woman keeps a very bitter memory. “I couldn’t leave the house, I had no key, no mobile phone. They allowed me to make a call to my family once a monthshe says. When they were on vacation, I was locked up. »

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After a break in Kenya, Bingen sets out again. “Life is hard here” she justifies. In Dubai this time, she becomes a domestic worker for 225 € monthly. This time the experience is more positive. She then found herself in Oman, where she would only stay for three months. “There, I was afraid, she remembers. I was taking care of a child, but the father had a gun and was threatening to kill me. » She flees. This will be his last experience in the Gulf.

Modern enslavement

Malcolm Bidali, a young Kenyan who worked in Qatar as a security guard, did not hesitate to denounce these abuses on social networks. Under a pseudonym, he describes twelve-hour days of work, sometimes standing in the heat, without a day off… “There is a very present racism, he underlines, other nationalities are better paid for equal work, have more comfortable jobs and better housing conditions. » In a recent report, Amnesty International denounced discrimination based on nationality or language in Qatar. Tunisians are often better paid than Filipinos, who are themselves better paid than Kenyans.

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Slavery has certainly been abolished for decades in the Gulf countries – in Qatar in 1952, in Saudi Arabia in 1962 and in Oman in 1970 – but the system of Kafala, a form of employer-employee sponsorship in force in several states in the region, is often denounced as a form of modern enslavement. While some, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have reformed it, difficulties persist in enforcing the law in practice. “Migrant workers often remain dependent on their employer to leave the country or change jobs,” explains Alexander Mbela, from the Haki Africa association.

Insufficient effort

The government in Nairobi is well aware of these problems. Between 2019 and 2021, 89 Kenyans died in Saudi Arabia, and the explanations provided by local authorities are questioned by Nairobi. The government even banned private recruitment agencies between 2014 and 2017 from sending workers to six Gulf countries. Then bilateral labor migration agreements were signed with the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, reopening the migration route. The workers were going through neighboring countries anyway,” emphasizes Simon Chelugui, the Kenyan Labor Minister.

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Nairobi prides itself on having introduced new measures to try to improve the situation. Workers must now undergo training before leaving the country. The National Employment Authority, a government agency, has also been set up to supervise the departure of future emigrants and control local recruitment agencies.

Efforts considered encouraging but insufficient by Paul Adoch, director of Trace Kenya, an NGO for the protection of migrants: “There are still illegal recruiters, and the victims on the spot find themselves left to fend for themselves. » At a forum organized in Nairobi at the end of March by the International Organization for Migration, representatives of eleven East and Horn African countries, including Kenya, pledged to reflect on a common response to better protect the candidates at the start. The road will be long.


The diaspora, an economic windfall for Kenya

In a difficult economic context, money transfers from abroad are a valuable source of income for many families in Kenya. It is also an important flow of foreign currencies for the country.

In 2020, the sums received were equivalent to more than 3% of Kenyan GDP, according to figures provided by the Central Bank of Kenya.

In 2021, the total of these money transfers amounted to more than 3.7 million US dollars.

Behind the United States and the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia came third from source countries with the equivalent of US$185,006 sent to Kenya in 2021.

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