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Kenyan workers undergo physical abuse in the Middle East

A popular destination for Kenyans seeking greener pastures overseas, the Middle East has become hell on earth, especially for domestic workers. And Saudi Arabia has gained notoriety for the suffering of Kenyans at the hands of callous employers.

In the past few days, the focus has been on a Kenyan woman who had been trapped in Saudi Arabia. But as she arrived back home, some of her jobless compatriots were travelling to the same country.

Thousands of Kenyans have benefited from employment in Saudi Arabia but many suffer untold pain and agony. The Foreign Affairs ministry says nearly 100 Kenyans, mostly domestic workers, have died in Saudi Arabia in the past two years in suspicious circumstances. The Kenyans often suffer abuse, including physical assault and rape. Although the Saudi authorities claim that most of the deaths were due to cardiac arrest, abuse of foreign domestic workers is rampant. What is often seen as a ticket out of poverty turns into one to the grave.

In June, there was a viral video of Kenyan women huddled up in a room in Saudi Arabia, appealing to be brought back home. Women recruited as nannies and housekeepers have complained of being turned into sex slaves.

The biggest culprits in this scam are the recruitment agencies, which lure Kenyans to the Middle East with promises of paradise only to deliver them to veritable torture chambers. As soon they arrive, their phones and travel documents are seized. And the suffering begins. But who allows these suspect agencies to operate and why? There is a need to ensure proper agreements are signed before the workers leave the country.

American and European diplomats often issue advisories to guide their citizens abroad during crises. Our government, particularly the Foreign Affairs ministry and the Kenyan embassies abroad, must not ignore the plight of suffering Kenyans. Their job is to protect every Kenyan outside the country.

The knee-jerk reactions and promises that are most probably abandoned as soon as the dust settles must come to an end. Kenyan workers overseas must be protected at any cost.

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