Foreign Secretary Amina Mohammed wants a complete ban on the exportation of Kenyans to work as domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and in particular Saudi Arabia.
Ms Mohammed said a task force she appointed to look into the issues affecting Kenyans working in Saudi Arabia and the UAE had returned a shocking report that revealed Kenyan workers were suffering like “slaves”.
Ms Mohammed told the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs that despite a ban on the exportation of domestic labourers to the Middle East, several Kenyans were still being smuggled and recruited to work under harsh conditions.
She said that despite government closing all recruitment agencies in Kenya, young women were still being lured to work in The Gulf.
“This is a very emotive issue because despite a ban on recruitment of domestic workers, we are intercepting more than a thousand young Kenyans who are signing contracts without interpretation to go and work in the Middle East,” she said, adding that domestic workers there are not paid any more than what they would be paid locally.
“The ministry of Labour last year banned the export of domestic labour to Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately there are recruitment agencies still exporting domestic workers. We have turned back several young workers at the airport,” she said.
Ms Mohammed indicated that the task force has until July to present its report to the ministry while working with that of Labour and Interior to engage stakeholders on dealing with the issue.
In the recommendations, Ms Mohammed said the ministry will include the requirement that employers who confiscate passports from workers surrender the passports to Kenyan embassies.
“I will not allow export of domestic workers to go to work in Saudi Arabia. I won’t allow my child or any other child to go and work in Saudi Arabia. We have banned the export of domestic workers completely,” she said.
She told the committee chaired by nominated senator Fatuma Dullo that the ministry was looking for a market to send young people to work in super markets, malls and security instead of domestic work.
“We meet Kenyans in malls, hotels and supermarkets abroad where the pay is decent and their passports are not confiscated. There is no value added for domestic workers leaving this country except for recruiting agents who benefit from them,” she said.
According to Ms Mohammed, 30,000 Kenyans currently live and work in Saudi Arabia but only 17,000 of them are registered with the Kenyan embassy.
“We have launched a diaspora portal to help those outside Kenya register. Even those who don’t have papers should register for us to help them,” she said.
The committee had invited Ms Mohammed to explain measures that the country was taking to help Kenyans stranded in Saudi Arabia. The Senators also sought to know if Kenya has a policy on registration of recruitment agents and tracking Kenyans in the diaspora.
“The issue of Saudi Arabia has been left unattended making Kenyans suffer there. Our people need to be protected from unscrupulous people who mess up our young girls and then deport them,” Laikipia County Senator GG Kariuki said, adding that local recruiting agents were making money by luring Kenyans to slavery in other countries.