Analysing the Experiences of the affected by the Human Trafficking Problem

Some of the symposium attendants in a group photo

A Presentation by Kamau Joseph inspired by an experience of indulging in rescuing a person involved in this immoral trade. 22nd November 2011

Overview:

Today, millions of lives around the world are in the grip of a massive violation of their human rights which amounts to a heavy magnitude of injustice.

More children, women and men are held in slavery today than over the course of the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade: Millions toil in bondage, their work and even their bodies the property of an owner. They are robbed of their dignity and rights.

Trafficking in humans generates profits in excess of 32 billion dollars a year for those who, by force and deception, sell human lives into slavery and sexual bondage. Nearly 2 million children are exploited in the commercial sex industry. The AIDS pandemic continues to rage, and the oppression of trafficking victims in the global sex trade contributes to the disease’s spread.

In many countries around the world, paedophiles find that they can sexually violate children with impunity. And though police should be protectors, in many nations, their presence is a source of insecurity for the poor. Suspects can be held interminably before trials, imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.

The land rights of women are violated on a massive scale worldwide, but with particular ferocity in Africa, leaving widows and other women in vulnerable positions unable to care for themselves or their children. Around the world, women suffer the double indignity of rape and seeing their perpetrators face no consequences for crimes of sexual violence.

Often lacking access to their own justice systems and unable to protect themselves or their families from those more powerful, it is overwhelmingly the poor who bear the burden of these abuses.

Family disintegration, separation, divorce, drug and substance abuse have also left a number of women vulnerable as they take care of their families single handed while their husbands waste themselves away in the menace. Such are the women who fall prey to the human traffickers tricks as they are promised better opportunities to uplift their family status.

 

Discovery of a would – be trafficking case:

In the month of July this year, I happened to have accompanied a friend to town to visit a person whom she claimed intended to facilitate her travel and job acquisition to one of the countries in the Middle East. It was the mention of the Middle East that gave me the motivation to accompany my friend because I had a desire to know what exactly would come out of this encounter.

After going to the city centre here in Nairobi at an area near the Koja mosque, we met with a lady who was the would be recruiter, she did not have an office and all that transpired was carried out along the corridor. This raised my eye brows and developed an even inner desire to want to know more about this lady and perhaps who she works for. However, my friend was helped to get a passport with the lady catering for all the expenses and even by helping to fill out the application form. As an observer, I was extremely cautious and from the beginning felt that something was wrong and therefore told my friend what I felt about the whole issue. We then decided to try and investigate the whole thing again just to be sure what she was being involved in. at the same time, my niece was being helped to travel by the same lady but was doing all the transactions without involving anyone and thus none of us at  the family knew what she was up to. By mid July she travelled together with about 30 other girls and women, going via Yemen and eventually to Saudi Arabia.

On arrival at the Yemen airport they were put in one room where they were to spend the night and they had know clothes to change on since they had been advised not to carry any clothes as they will be given new ones on arrival at their destination. The following day they again took a flight to Saudi passing through Jeddah and eventually to Riyadh. At the airport of Riyadh, they took several hours before they were picked up by their would be employers.

It is on her arrival that we realised that all was not well when she called to say that she was now in Saudi Arabia and then warned my friend not to dare going there because it was a terrible place. We were astonished because she had been there only a few hours and already she was finding it unbearable. Nevertheless, we took the warning seriously and my friend decided to forego her plans for travelling.

When my niece called, she also informed my friend that from then henceforth she would only be calling home only once per month and even though she had her phone with her she could not communicate freely because she was not allowed to and besides that, all her documents were also confiscated.

 

A perilous journey:

On discovering that my niece was faced with imminent danger, I made a decision to try and rescue her no matter the consequences and this marked the beginning of a very long and gruesome venture. I first decided to look for the lady which was easy because my friend had her mobile number and we knew that she was expecting to see her anytime to finalise her travelling. We arranged a meeting at the same spot in town but this time we did not go alone – we were accompanied by some Criminal Investigations Officers (CID) who then arrested the lady for further questioning. The lady was held up at the Central police station for several hours being interrogated and this was the last time we had from the officers. I later learnt that money in excess of Ksh 40, 000 exchanged hands and then someone “powerful” had called the station to inquire why the lady had been arrested. One of the officers later on told me that it was futile to follow up on the case since my niece was an adult and had gone to Saudi Arabia out of her own free will.

This did not deter me, instead it gave me new energy to keep going on until I manage to rescue her from her peril. I did not know where to start from and thus I called a friend who works in the media to ask for some advice. He told me that they could help by carrying out an investigation and then airing out in the media for awareness creation purposes and also to influence our leadership to do something for the many Kenyans who are held captive in foreign countries.

At the same time I would try to call my niece who did not surrender her phone to her boss. Calling her was not cheap at all since I had to send her some credit and then call her. The calls could only be made at night to avoid exposing her to even more danger and thus she would flash me anytime she knew no one would be listening to her.

Most of the time she would be crying over the phone because of what she was going on. She could only eat what remained after her employer and his family had their full, and breakfast was served after someone had worked for several hours. This was tea without milk with no accompaniment. According to how she described the whole ordeal, the house was very big and you have to wipe the carpet more than once every day, and iron clothes for the entire family which was also quite big.

After complaining of long hours of too much back breaking work and calling the agency that took her their to no avail, I decided to visit the agency once more. I managed to even visit their office which is located near Antonnios café in town. I also demanded to see the contract she had signed but the lady declined claiming that it was in the Saudi embassy.

I was shown a copy of it and one that was signed by a person who was yet to go. This surprised me because the owner had used her finger print a clear indication that she could not sign and therefore most probably was not educated or had very limited education.

I told the agency that I wanted nothing short of my niece’s repatriation. On this they demanded that I pay Ksh 100,000 to facilitate the process but if I could not manage it then she had option but to stay there until her two year contract was over.

After pestering them for some time, they called my niece through her employer’s number and asked her to demand to be taken back to their office in Riyadh.

She was not supposed to complain about the work condition since this could even amount to her death. She however did as advised and told the man of the house that she did not want to work there any more. This was around August. Instead of the man taking her back to the agency’s office, he took her to work at his brother’s house in the same town. Here she met another Kenyan and they shared a bit about the experience since the other lady had been there for more than a year and each time she complained about work conditions she was threatened with death and thus she had decided to live it to fate. An Ethiopian lady had also been killed in that house after she beat up her boss for refusing to pay her salary.

The work in this new house was even more than the previous on, apart from the clean up, she was subjected to taking care of an old invalid who used to soil on himself and she would clean him without any gloves.

After some time, she requested to be taken back to her previous employer and when she insisted this was done and then she was taken back to the office because she refused to work at all. When the office took over the case, they tried to persuade her to work but she remained adamant. She was then moved to a house where she found other girls locked up. Many of them were Kenyans from Mombasa and Kakamega and some from Sri Lanka. One lady from Sri Lanka had been in this dungeon for more than six months. The agency only gave the ladies some noodles for food which they had to soak in some cold water before eating. Each day they would pick up the girls and drive them to the office and present them to potential employers and when they refused they took them back to the house.

After three weeks of struggling and being locked in the house the girls were eventually brought back home although not at the same time. During their stay at the lock up house they shared their experiences and some had gone through terrifying ordeals. One of the ladies had been stabbed several times on her breasts and chest by her boss and was given 500 Saudi Riyals in order not to tell anyone. Despite the duration one had worked they were not given any salary, all their money was paid up the agency’s office in Riyadh and the office claimed that it was using their money to facilitate they journey back home.

This whole issue gave me and my family several sleepless nights since we were not sure if at all we will ever manage to bring my niece back home.

 

Although poverty has been blamed as a leading factor to people being trafficked, many of the victims do so for lack of information. Those who traffic people are normally well known to the victims and so there is an element of trust, they could either be close friends, former school mates or even neighbours. These are people who would do anything for money. For each person they manage to lure into the venture, they get some money.

Many of the ladies who came back from Saudi together with my niece, had children whom they wanted to take care of hence the risk taken. One lady from Kakamega was chased away from home by her own mother when she came back because the mother claimed that she had refused to work instead of rejoicing to see her back and alive. Another one from Mombasa went back to the agency and was helped to procure an abortion in order to be taken to a different country.

Another group comprised of some Ugandans and some Kenyans had been taken to Iraq on the deception that they would be offered very lucrative jobs only to find out that they had been sold out as slaves, but lucky enough one Ugandan lady had a cousin working within the US camps and it through the intervention of the US officials that they were rescued.

Human trafficking is a crime against humanity, it involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring, or receiving a person through the use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them. Human trafficking is a multi – billion dollar criminal and immoral enterprise that targets vulnerable people for labour and sexual exploitation, destroying lives and tearing families apart.

Many victims of human trafficking do not even realise they are being trafficked, some realise it much later but are unable to do anything and thus remain as ‘happy slaves’ for a long time. Some still never make it back to their home countries.

 

Conclusion

The victims of human trafficking suffer psychological, social and emotional torture. Their families are forever restless and their countries are robbed of able bodied people who can help improve their own economies.

Our embassies do not help much in rescuing the victims of human trafficking, the most the do is to ask them to run away and they know too far well that women do not walk alone in many of the Arab countries and hence will not go far before they are arrested and put behind bars for no apparent reason.  a lot of advocacy and awareness creation, networking and collaboration need to be thought of in order to help many victims of human trafficking regain their freedom.

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