The Nation (Nairobi)

Kenya: How Kenyans Are Sold Into Slavery

Nairobi — Thousands of Kenyans are being driven into modern slavery abroad in their desperate attempts to escape from worsening economic conditions at home.

Nation investigations show that nearly 20,000 Kenyans fall prey to human trafficking cartels yearly and are living in appalling conditions in North America, Europe and the Middle East.

The case of a 14-year-old girl rescued in the United Kingdom is a stark reminder of the growing trade in humans.

She had been moved to Liverpool by a man who locked her in a house and forced her to have sex with numerous people. Luckily she escaped and she is now under the care of a charity in the UK.

Her plight came to light on July 8, when UK Conservative Party MP Peter Bone of Wellingborough told Westminster Hall.

"(She) was a black girl from Kenya. She came in on a passport that did not have her name or photograph on it, but was allowed into the country."

Apart from the revelation by Mr Bone, little information is available about the girl. The Kenyan High Commission was not forthcoming when this writer used a London contact to seek more information about the girl.

Yet what emerges from this case is that Kenya has become a key operation base for cartels that are turning 17,500 Kenyans (according to estimates by Randy Fleitman, until recently the US Labour Attache, in Nairobi) into bondage abroad -- about one in 40 people trafficked worldwide.

The cartels have also been bringing into Kenya Ugandans, Tanzanians, Indians, Chinese, Pakistani, Bangladeshis and Congolese, who are forced to work in construction industry and the EPZ factories, and as prostitutes in brothels in Nairobi.

After rescuing two Kenyan children in Tanzania last year, police believe another 40 minors and six adults are living there as slaves.

Police sources say investigations have also moved to The Netherlands and Ireland where five children are believed to be living in similar circumstances.

Bought or stolen

And the African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse (Anppcan), Kenya Chapter, is pursuing investigations on reports that children bought or stolen in Kenya are held in Busia Town homes veiled as schools before they are ferried to Burundi, southern Africa and Europe.

It has emerged also that some of these children are being trafficked "for purposes such as removal of organs, religious rituals or witchcraft", according to Child Rights Advisory Documentation and Legal Centre (Cradle -- The Children's Foundation) in its 90-page report, "Grand Illusions, Shattered Dreams" published three months ago.

"Kenya is a source, transit and destination for trafficked children," says Mr Ahmed Hussein, director of children's services, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development.

In a report "Human Trafficking in East Africa: Research Assessment and Baseline Information in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Burundi", published three months ago, the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) says Kenya and Tanzania are transit routes for Ethiopian women being trafficked to Europe and the Middle East and Somalis trafficked to South Africa.

Chinese women have been trafficked for sexual exploitation and Bangladeshis for forced labour through Kenya.

"In all of the countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi) the majority of trafficked respondents indicated that traffickers used either promises of jobs and/or promises of jobs with a good salary to persuade them."

Victims pay between Sh80,000 and Sh700,000 to the cartels for either right of passage abroad or jobs that hardly exist in Kenya, according to Cyrus Omooria, the officer in charge of investigations and prosecution, Immigration Department, Mombasa.

For those able to get to their destinations (Kenya, Europe, North America, South Africa, Middle East), the cartels seize their identification documents, hold them incommunicado and could turn them into sex slaves, according to Noah Chanyisa Chune, the Cotu director of Education who is trying to fight slavery in the EPZs.

"The most common form of recruitment is deception, followed by abuse of power or coercion. Most of the victims were given false promises of jobs, better life and even marriage to rich people abroad and at home," the Cradle report says.

Following two months investigations, this writer can reveal that about 20,000 people in Kenya are pushed into slavery in Europe and Middle East each year while another 30,000 get into slavery locally, working as house-helps or as involuntary prostitutes in Nairobi and at the Coast.

The situation has become so bad that the Government is repatriating 80 foreigners each month (about 1,000 a year), according to a top Immigration official.

In its publication, US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2008, the American Government places Kenya in "Tier 2", the classification of a country that is a "source, transit and destination" for people trafficked for purposes of forced labour and sexual exploitation.

Those vulnerable are people hungry for foreign jobs. Mr Omooria, who has been in Immigration Department for 15 years, has rescued hundreds of trafficked victims, the latest being 28 Somalis discovered at the Miritini Vehicle Inspection unit on May 8.

The van that had gone for mere check up happened to be carrying human cargo destined for Tanzania. It was at this checkpoint the Immigration and Police stumbled on a big story -- the 25 Somalis on board had no identification on them and were headed to South Africa.

In another case in May, a group of 20 Somalis and Ethiopians were seized by police in Msambweni abandoned on an island next to Shimoni.

Human smugglers and traffickers have become so impudent that they advertise their services in local daily newspapers.

They invite applications from cabin crews, nurses, beauticians, waiters and sales executives to work in foreign lands, mostly Middle East and Asia.

"Jobs guaranteed in Dubai", "Jobs in Dubai and Canada", "Jobs in America/Dubai", "Jobs in Kuwait", "Live and work as an Au Pair in Europe and Canada", "Kenya, Sudan, Dubai jobs", they advertise. And the gullible apply.

But a close scrutiny reveals the "recruiters" only offer cell phone numbers and do not indicate their location. Those with premises tend to shift every few months to avoid people they would have duped.

An agency in Nairobi's South B claims to hire house-helps for Syria and Turkey. But a counsellor in the Turkish embassy in Nairobi denied issuing work permits to Kenyans recently.

The South B agency is not registered with the Government and the Kenya Association of Private Employment Agencies (Kapea).

"That agency is illegal," says Kapea secretary-general Margaret Mugwanja. Kapea has only 25 members, yet "hundreds of such agencies operate in the country," Cotu's education director Noah Chanyisa Chune says.

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