“Modern slavery” in Saudi Arabia

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Due to the financial crisis and high unemployment in Kenya, many women go to work in the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, where Kenyan women are in demand as domestic workers.

Saudi Arabia is known for its poor record on labor and human rights and is considered one of the most dangerous places to work in the world. Employers in the SA have been plagued by allegations of physical, psychological and sexual abuse of migrant housekeepers for years and a flood of complaints has not ceases to this day.

In Kenya, reports of abuse sparked new outrage earlier this month when online photos of a young Kenyan worker from Saudi Arabia, Diana Chepkema, looking frail went viral, along with claims that she faced abuse and humiliation at the hands of her employer.Under Under growing public pressure, the government repatriated her and several other domestic workers who found themselves in a similar situation in the SA.

The maids say they were forced to work surplus hours, deprived of food and rest. They also claim that employers could not pay wages under the pretext that “not enough work was done to demand payment”, or that they would not be paid within the agreed time, because the workers are “not going anywhere.”

“It's modern day slavery,” — said Fred Ojiro of HakiAfrica, a Mombasa-based human rights organization that advocates for workers' rights across the continent.

Until a few years ago, Saudi Arabia's kafal system required domestic workers to obtain permission from their employer if they wanted to change jobs or leave the country. Rights groups say the policy left them vulnerable to abuse.

This year alone, Haki Africa has received more than 51 complaints of abuse from Kenyan domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, several videos of distressed women asking for help, and at least 10 new calls for help after reports of violence resurfaced in September .

The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that more than 2.1 million female domestic workers across the region are at risk of exploitation.

The recruitment agencies through which Kenyan women get jobs are also abusing their position. Human rights activists have received information that agents often demand sexual favors in exchange for a job, and women who are waiting for appointments are kept locked up and starving.

The latest group of women who returned to Kenya after ordeals in Saudi Arabia were this can only be done by escaping from a recruitment agency and going directly to their country's embassy.

At least 89 Kenyans, most of them domestic workers, died in Saudi Arabia between 2020 and 2021, according to Kenya's foreign ministry report presented to the national assembly late last year. Saudi Arabia attributed the deaths to “cardiac arrest.”

Faced with these grim statistics, the foreign ministry has proposed a ban on sending Kenyan domestic workers to Saudi Arabia until until protection measures are in place. But Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Labor Simon Chelugi rejected these prizes you, saying that hundreds of thousands of Kenyans work there on “favorable conditions”.

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