COTU Secretary-General Francis Atwoli called for the closing of labor agencies and middle-men sending Kenyans to the Middle East. [Photo/ K24 Digital]
COTU Secretary-General Francis Atwoli called for the closing of labor agencies and middle-men sending Kenyans to the Middle East. [Photo/ K24 Digital]

Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) Secretary-General Francis Atwoli has called for the government to ban export of labour from Kenya to countries in the Middle East and to reform the sector, citing numerous cases of harassment, assault, exploitation and death.

Atwoli described the situation for many Kenyan workers in the Middle East as ‘indirect slavery’ and wants it remedied. He demanded the shutting down of labor agencies and other middle-men who connect Kenyans with opportunities that often turn into nightmares, stating that international labor arrangements should henceforth be handled by the respective governments.

Atwoli accused the government of Kenya of being prioritizing diaspora remittances at the expense of rights and lives of Kenyans abroad.

“I would rather a country be poor but take care of its people,” he argued.

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Countries including Saudi Arabia and Qatar have for years been on the spot over the inhumane treatment of Kenyan workers, many of whom take on domestic roles. But despite representatives of their governments and Kenya’s promising action and reforms, change has not been forthcoming.

“What we are seeing with people going to work in the Arab world is indirect slavery. You see the government saying we’ve gotten this much money from foreign nations, but under what conditions?”

“Every day at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), planes from Qatar are carrying coffins of young Kenyans,” Atwoli stated.

Numerous horror stories have been recounted by Kenyans of their experiences working in various countries in the Middle East.

They paint a grim picture with many working incredibly long hours, facing sexual and physical assault, being denied food and other necessities.

There are over 97,000 Kenyan migrant workers in Saudi Arabia alone according to the Ministry of Labour. Many of them have reported cases of mistreatment, while at least 97 have passed away under different circumstances.

Faith Murunga, a Kenyan who escaped and returned home after suffering at the hands of an employer in Saudi Arabia, captured the attention of a nation in August 2021 when she recounted her experiences on Citizen TV’s JKL.

She disclosed how her passport was confiscated upon arrival, and how she was regularly beaten up and harassed by her employer. “At some point I thought I would die. My boss in Saudi Arabia poured hot water on my arm and that’s why I have this burn,” she stated.

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