Kampala, Uganda | URN | Ugandan migrant workers who have recently returned home are cautioning those still seeking job prospects in the Middle East to think twice.
Aisha Namawejje, 26, a resident of Kampala recounts how she landed in the hands of human traffickers in 2016, after she was tricked that there was an available waitress job slot for her in Dubai. At the time, Namawejje had just completed high school and could not resist the two-year contract which came with a monthly pay of 1.2 million Shillings.
She recalled happily filling out an online application to be accompanied by a free visa offer. Naïve and unsuspecting, Namawejje’s paperwork was ready within seven days and subsequently flew out of Uganda destined for Oman, instead of the originally planned destination, Dubai.
She says her traffickers convinced her that she needed to first work in Oman as a domestic worker and gain the requisite experience, before taking on the waitress job in Dubai. Upon arrival, she was locked in a room alongside other girls who were equally trafficked from Uganda.
Her master kept her for four days before a suitable buyer showed up and subsequently confiscated her phone and passport. She had three homes within which she had to run daily chores each day.
The first home according to Namawejje, had five family members, the second had 18, and three people in the third home. She washed several cars, cooked, did laundry and did general cleaning of the houses among other things without rest or off days.
Namawejje explains that she was required to wake up every morning at 3 am to be driven to each of the three homes, all far distances to do demanding chores. Along the way, her health deteriorated, yet she was being paid 700,000 Shillings only, instead of the 1.2 million Shillings she was promised.
She explained that over time, she became very ill, helpless and on the verge of dying before her master, out of worry hurriedly arranged for her flight to return and possibly ‘die’ in Uganda, for fear of the high cost of transporting the body.
Around the same year, Joanita Ndagire, 29, a resident of Kawempe was faced with a family problem that required an urgent financial bailout. She equally applied for a waitress job in Dubai through a registered Ugandan company that told her that her visa came back indicating Oman as her destination where she would work as a housemaid.
Left with no option, Ndagire says she agreed and was later trafficked from Uganda to Kenya on a motorcycle. Upon arrival in Kenya, she recounted being kept in a dilapidated hotel where she was starved for four days before boarding a plane from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport through Dubai to Oman.
Upon arrival in Oman, Ndagire joined other people from the Philippines, Vietnam, and Kenya, and was placed in a shop selling maids for four days before an Arab man bought her and deployed her to look after a vast livestock farm – the size of Kololo Independence Grounds under harsh conditions without rest.
Another victim, Susan Akumu, 32, a tour operator, abandoned her company in Gulu in 2019 for a teaching job slot that would pay her monthly salary of 2.5 million Shillings in Oman. She was offered a free air ticket and embarked on the journey through Kenya to Oman.
Akumu disclosed that she suffered the shock of her life after being offered a housemaid job for two years and having her passport confiscated. After she attempted to resist, she says her employer demanded she refunds about 10 million Shillings that were used to buy and transport her.
After completing her two-year contract period without any pay, Akumu escaped from her master’s home and spent two weeks on the street before landing in an established Ugandan community in Oman that contributed some money for her air ticket.
The ordeals narrated by the trio represent hundreds of other domestic workers who have endured horrible experiences in the Middle East.
Uganda’s Ambassador to UAE, Zaake Kibedi said between August to October 2022, the Embassy working with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development repatriated 1,500 illegal migrant workers whose passports were either destroyed or confiscated by their employers. The deportees were granted a 90-day amnesty period by the UAE authorities.
Separately, during the same period, the National Unity Platform-NUP party leadership, Uganda’s main opposition party mobilized financial resources and facilitated the return of 153 Ugandans who were illegally living in the UAE.
Last month in October, the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control under the Ministry of Internal Affairs revealed that 75,000 out of over 100,000 Ugandans living and working in the UAE were trafficked.
Aggrey Kibenge, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Gender observed that the majority of the migrant workers who travel to the Middle East without official clearance have often fallen victim to human trafficking, and worst of all illicit human organ trade.