The plight of domestic workers in the Middle East

Written by: Judith Ddmbe

Written by: Judith Ddmbe

The Arab emirates like Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait etc are undoubtedly some of the world’s wealthiest economies which attract many immigrant workers who want to improve their lives by lending labor with hope to be compensated with more than what they would normally get in their home countries.

East Africa has been, and still is, one of the places from which these workers come from or are sent from. Living in countries stricken with poverty where even the educated cant find work, many young people are left with no option but to seek out opportunities in unchattered. One of the places these young people have fled to is the emirates where they are promised jobs as security guards, drivers, restaurant employees and domestic work helpers.

Unlike most European countries, the USA and other big economies, it is quite easy to get a visa to the emirates for third world citizens. Visas can easily be processed for workers and short time visitors etc. There are many companies, both registered and unknown, who have sprang up as middle men between job seekers and companies in places like Qatar, Kuwait, Dubai etc. In Uganda, for example, there are over 81 licensed labour exporting companies operating alongside other ghost companies doing the same. (2018 Report by The Ministry of Internal affairs Uganda). It is quite common to see advert after advert on media outlets like local televisions, radio stations and news papers with such companies inviting those interested to find jobs with great remuneration in the Emirates. Income from foreign labour is indeed a contributor to the East African economies, if operated legally and with integrity, they are economically viable.

The suffering of the women

However, promises for better income especially as domestic workers have in many cases been illusive and have caused the suffering of many people, especially women. Every now and then a story breaks on televisions or radios or on documentaries from concerned NGO’s with girls telling the horrific tales of life as workers in the middle East; unfortunately or worse, some have not lived to tell these stories as they commit suicide, disappear, die in prison or remain suspected as dead! Social media is also plastered with recorded videos of many unfortunate ladies enduring cruel treatment by their bosses. Big News Networks around East Africa like, NTV Uganda – Kenya, NBS have covered many of these stories. For example, The coordinator of the Anti-Human Trafficking Task force, Moses Binoga reported that 48 Ugandans trafficked into the middle East were confirmed dead from suicide out of despair in 2018.

Some of the common interviews have survivors telling how they are given different jobs from what they are promised in the contract. For example, one can go as a babysitter but ends up as a slave for the entire family with no freedom to leave the house or else be severely punished for it. They are often cut off from the outside world. Many survivors report that on arrival to the foreign country of work they are usually handed to an agent who contracts the girls to an Arab labour company and the girls are given to their bosses. Whilst they think it is a negotiation for a job, it is rather a sale being sealed. They cannot leave their placement or owners because their documents (passports or any form of identification) is taken away from them and they are to work for usually a minimum of two years before they are free to have a holiday or change “owners”. These women are beaten for anything their bosses deem irresponsible behavior at work, some are tortured, endure burning that permanently scars them as punishment on top of enduring sexual harassment from their male bosses who often believe they own these women and are property to them. Asan Kasigye, Director INTERPOL, confirmed some of these stories in an interview with UBC television Uganda but with no adequate solution to get to the bottom of this evil.

Perpetrators go unpunished

One would wonder why these girls have been left to suffer and let down by their embassies or the respective governments of these countries where these atrocities are happening and it is quite mind boggling given all the stories covered by journalists and the evidence collected that the perpetrators are not held responsible even though identified and named. Mbabazi Nice’s case where she was accused with compelling evidence by six victims is one of many incidences where perpetrators go unpunished. In other incidences the names of the allegedly traffickers are concealed by the police force to apparently help make the investigations smooth.

There has been some form of action taking place: a temporary ban on labour exportation was put in place but later lifted . Good labour exporting companies were also awarded a certificate of good conduct by Interpol. However, these were only few and far in between efforts. The East African Community(EAC) also issued an investigation into human trafficking and there are companies that have been implicated but many of these companies are still in ‘business’. For example the Middle East Consultants company. It seems that these company owners enjoy some sort of impunity and this leaves little or no hope for the victims to find justice and see their handlers dealt with by the law.

Many women are still being trafficked from Uganda, Rwanda through Kenya to places like Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Dubai as reported by The Platform For Labour Action Survey 2018. According to the Ugandan and Kenyan Police, several interceptions have to be done at Busia , Malaba borders as most traffickers use those avenues. The Uganda International airport Entebbe is quite strict and vigilant so traffickers have to whisk their victims through other East African Airports. In the case of Uganda, there are laws put in place to curb human trafficking but reluctantly implemented. There is surely adequate legislation to see to it that this evil is haulted. Existing laws such as: The Employment Act no.6, 2006 Recruitment of Uganda Migrant workers abroad The prevention of trafficking in person Act No.6, 2009 However, these laws are not effectively put into practice in part due to corruption, the poverty of the victims and the wealth of the offenders. In addition, authorities in the Emirates tend not to convict their own citizens for a felony against a foreigner. East Africa is yet to see change and justice served to the victims of human trafficking.

Judith Ddembe