RIDING ON JOBSEEKERS’ DESPERATION: HUMAN TRAFFICKING RED FLAGS

In January 2012, *June Akello was approached by a dear friend who convinced her to move to Saudi Arabia in search of greener pastures. Life had knocked them down, and for a second, Akello believed that what was out there was much better. She agreed. All she had to do was get a passport; the recruitment agency acquired a visa and flight ticket on her behalf.

A month later, Akello, and ten other girls set out to the Gulf, amidst a lot of excitement. She had been promised a salary of Ksh 30,000, working as a domestic manager. Things fell apart the moment she arrived. She was handed over to a cruel couple who physically and sexually assaulted every chance they got. The barely fed Akello, and the husband not only raped her, but threatened to tell his wife if she refused his advances.

She needed a way out. It had been a year and eight months of nothing less than torture, and was only paid Ksh 7,000, way below what she was promised. She was torn between going back home, and staying in Saudi where she at least earned a living. Leaving  a trafficking situation is often hard, but Akello knew that her mental well-being came first, and she fought to leave. Shylly, she approached the boss and asked for a brief leave-of absence so she could “rest for a bit”. To her surprise, her captor agreed, and Akello went on to convince her to pay half the price of the air ticket. 

In October 2013, Akello was free, at last. The thought of going back never crossed her mind. She found a small house in Dandora and started doing casual jobs. She reckons how lucky she is to have escaped, as many girls are still being held captive.

Trafficking in Persons remains a thorny issue in Kenya, which has been identified as a country of origin, transit and destination for human trafficking. This year, the World Day against Trafficking in Persons seeks to highlight the importance of government action in the interest of victims of trafficking.

The UN defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

UNODC

UNODC

Types of exploitation experienced by Kenyans

National Crime Research Centre

National Crime Research Centre

Different recruitment agencies in the country have been linked with human trafficking. To try and establish how people are duped, I carried out a social experiment where I reached out to three agencies to find out their requirements for job placements overseas. I was very specific; I wanted a teaching job, as my alias has a Bachelor’s degree in Education, English & Literature. I randomly picked the agencies to call from the National Employment Agency’s list of accredited recruitment agencies.

The first agency asked whether I had a passport, to which I responded “no”. The recipient of the call proceeded to tell me that while they didn’t have any teaching jobs, he would only be in a position to assist me if I got a passport first. I inquired what the application fee was, which I was informed was Ksh 10,000. The second agency simply said they didn’t have teaching jobs, and hastily ended the call. They might not have needed my business that much. 

The third call got interesting. The lady who picked up identified herself as the director of the agency. In a sad voice, full of desperation, I identified myself and my credentials, and went ahead to ask if they were recruiting any teachers. She said that they had none at that moment, but it was very likely that there would be openings in September in Qatar. Supposing I picked the agency, what would the requirements be? I would need Ksh 4,000 as the registration fee, an additional Ksh 10,000 for medical tests, and a passport. They would take care of the visa application. But that was not all. If the agency in the recipient country was not offering her a commission, I would have to part with Ksh 150,000 before leaving the country. I was silent for a moment. Isn’t this monetary requirement too much for someone who is desperately seeking for a job? Before I ended the call, I asked whether there were any further requirements. “I would need to see you in person to determine if there are any other requirements we need,” she responded. So much for a teaching job. It was at this point that I decided to put an end to the experiment.

This in no way implies that the agency’s intention is to traffick anybody seeking jobs with them, but asking to see me in person to determine what else she would require from me certainly raised an eyebrow. Job seekers, whether trained to university level or only primary school certificate holders, have become easy targets due to desperation. According to the Human Trafficking in Kenya, (2015) report by the National Crime Research  Centre, 15.6% of trafficking victims have reached University level, 24.2% have middle level college education, 29.9% have attained secondary education, 21.1% have attained primary education, while 3.5% have no formal education. 

Educational attainment of Kenyan victims

National Crime Research Centre

National Crime Research Centre

UNODC

UNODC

Statistics by The 2018 Global Slavery Index show that 70.59% of the Kenyan population is vulnerable to Modern Slavery, which includes human traffickifng, forced labour, child slavery, debt bondage, early marriage and descent-based slavery. Unemployment, above anything else, makes Kenyans more vulnerable to trafficking. Estimates by the World Bank indicate that Kenya’s unemployment rate was at 9.31% in 2018, majority of whom are youth.

In moments of utter desperation, job seekers  might not be as discerning about job requirements since the need to earn money in order to survive is urgent. Regardless of the type of job being sought and academic qualifications, there are certain red flags that all job applicants should look out for. 

Michelle Koinange, the Coordinator for Stop The Traffik-Kenya, identifies four major red flags for any job applicant. One is when the deal is “too good to be true”.  Recruitment agencies or individuals, more often than not known to the person, lure the job seeker with promises of a better life and opportunity to make “good money”. What they leave out are the exact job descriptions, and payment details, which should be clear from the onset. 

Secondly, when a recruitment agency asks too many personal questions about your family, be worried. The only information they need to know about your family  is next of kin, in case of an emergency. Details about where your family members live, their occupations, and property owned should never be disclosed when seeking any job, whether locally or internationally.

“Be on the lookout for recruitment agencies that offer to submit travel application forms on your  behalf,”
Michelle Koinange

Ideally, all Kenyan citizens should be present when presenting passport application forms for collection of biometric details, and also present for visa applications, which require an interview.

One hard-to-identify red flag, is the Stockholm Syndrome. Often times, victims of trafficking begin to identify closely with their captors, and they develop feelings of trust and/or affection towards them. When the victims are finally free, they tend to share their experiences in a manner that makes it look too glamorous for any job seeker to miss out. Unbeknowst to them, they get lured into forced labour and sex trafficking.

“Sadly, some victims of trafficking who are lucky to come back home find themselves applying for similar jobs multiple times due to several push factors, such as poverty,”
Michelle Koinange

The search for greener pastures has also left young people vulnerable to trafficking, not only internationally, but also locally from one county (in a rural area), to another (usually in the urban centers) as well as regionally ie from one country in the region to another. Numerous stories abound of young girls who, promised to continue with their education are brought to the city by the relatives, only to end up as househelps, or locked up in brothels.

The Kenyan government needs to take charge and deal categorically with these two issues that are interlinked; unemployment and Trafficking in Persons. According to the 2019 Trafficking in Persons report, Kenyan authorities are accused of penalizing victims for crimes they have been compelled to commit by their trafficker due to inadequate screening for trafficking indicators among vulnerable groups.  That is why women who are trafficked and forced to work in brothels find themselves charged with prostitution, being in the country illegally or overstaying their visa etc yet they are the victims. 

To mitigate against the exploitation and trafficking of Kenyan nationals in Arabian Gulf States, the Ministry of Labor appointed labor attachés in Kenyan missions in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. It is not clear how many Kenyans —documented or otherwise— are working in these countries. What is however known is that numerous cases of Kenyans— particularly women— are still being taken abroad for ‘work’ which ends up being less than modern day slavery where they are paid little or no money and are at the mercy of their employers. 

According to the Trafficking in Persons report, only 142 trafficking related prosecutions were conducted in Kenya in 2018 resulting in 98 prosecutions. The cases included 19 for adult trafficking and eight for child trafficking.

It is sad to note that the only safe houses in Kenya are run by Civil Society Organisations, and none by the government.

Beyond accrediting employment agencies, the National Employment Authority needs to do due-diligence and ensure that all operations are legal. As it stands, the only requirements for accreditation are; a copy of the applicant’s Identity Card, Work Permit (if non-Kenyan), a lease of tenancy agreement, Certificate of Good Conduct, and a tax compliance certificate.

According to the Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act, 2010, the punishment for trafficking people attracts a jail sentence of no less than 30 years, or a fine of not less than Ksh 30million, or both. The charges are similar for people caught financing, controlling, aiding or abetting the commission of trafficking.

WHAT THE CONSTITUTION SAYS

Counter-trafficking efforts shouldn’t be the government’s task alone; the citizens should raise the alarm the moment they identify any sign of possible trafficking. When travelling - on land, water or air - each person should hold their own travel documents. Anybody who holds passports and visas for a group of people is a potential captor, and alarm should be raised immediately to the relevant authorities. Similarly, if one person is speaking on behalf of a group of people who are not minors, there is cause for worry.

“I am happy to be back home, but at the same time sad that there are more girls caged back in the UAE,” Akello says. Many remain in the fear of their captors or are too ashamed to tell their families.