Saudi Arabia has overtaken the United Kingdom to become the second largest source of diaspora remittances, underlining the growing queue of jobless Kenyans migrating to the oil-rich Gulf nation.
Cash sent by Kenyans from the Arab world’s largest economy amounted to nearly $27.12 million (Sh3.28 billion) in September, a 63 percent jump from the $16.61 million (Sh2.01 billion) a year ago.
The inflows were second to the dominant US which stood at $186.43 million (Sh22.55 billion) — or 58.62 percent of $317.98 million (Sh38.48 billion) total for last month— after zooming past UK’s $25.58 million(Sh3.1 billion).
Diaspora remittances from Saudi Arabia have been growing at fastest pace among the major source countries this year in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic shocks on household and business earnings that left thousands jobless with Kenyan firms cautious on growing their workforce.
This is despite the Middle East’s economic powerhouse increasingly gaining notoriety for the suffering of migrant labourers in the hands of employers in the Gulf region.
Data collated by the Central Bank of Kenya — based on cash flows through formal channels — shows inflows from Saudi Arabia have grown by nearly three-quarters in the first nine months of the year compared with a similar period in 2021.
A total of $215.91 million (Sh26.13 billion) has been sent by Kenyans in that country between January and September this year. That is 73.27 percent jump over Sh$124.6 million (Sh15.08 billion) in the prior year and nearly one-and-a-half surge over $88.32 million (Sh10.69 billion) in 2020.
Even though remittances from the UK for the nine-month period at $237.61 million (Sh28.75 billion) are still ahead of Saudi Arabia, they have been falling since June as households in the European country battle the sharpest rise in cost of living in 40 years.
The rising inflows from Saudi Arabia is happening amid growing pressure on Kenyan authorities to enforce measures to protect workers in the Middle East. Most of them are reportedly battling pain and agony in the Gulf after fleeing joblessness in an economy struggling to create jobs for her growing youthful population.
Kenya’s Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Cabinet Secretary nominee on Monday told legislators scrutinising his suitability for office that some 75 domestic workers have died due to harsh working conditions in three months largely in Saudi Arabia.
Another 1,000 workers have been repatriated, Dr Alfred Mutua claimed.
“I have looked into the matter and I have seen systematic failure in the systems from how they are recruited here and let to operate when they get to Saudi Arabia and other places. The Kingdom and government of Saudi Arabia are not involved in this,” he said.
The Labour ministry in June said plans were afoot to trace Kenyans suffering in the Middle Eas.