Sarah Naigaga (not real names) 31, is among the many victims who have just returned from Middle Eastern countries such as Kuwait, Iraq, and United Arab Emirates, as well as European countries due to mistreatment and harsh working conditions.
She says she has been sexually harassed, beaten, denied food and overworked by her sponsor in Kuwait where she was sold to work as a house maid. Below is her story and background as told to Zurah Nakabugo.
“Due to rampant unemployment in Uganda, my friend introduced me to a person only identified as Brian, a Ugandan who works and lives in Nairobi, Kenya.
In July, my friend told me that Brian was a chief recruiting agent in Nairobi, who was going to get me a nice-paying job in Kuwait working in companies as an office messenger, or in supermarkets and hotels.
This really tempted me since I was fed up with being a food vendor in Kampala and yet I had studied up to diploma level. Brian started contacting me from Nairobi via telephone and requested me to give him an Interpol letter, yellow fever vaccination card, passport and Shs 1m to process my visa to Kuwait.
When I resisted paying the money, he told me that I was ejecting myself from the job since he was favouring me and yet others had paid Shs 4m to process their documents.
After paying the money and other requirements, he contacted me a month later and told me to go to Nairobi via Busia boarder since the visas had arrived. I used Easy Bus and when I reached Nairobi bus park, I was picked by a man only identified as Richard who took me to Brian’s home.
I realised that Brian did not have a permanent office but used a briefcase and his mobile phone as his office. At his home, I found eight other girls waiting for me to proceed to Jomo Kenyatta international airport for our flights to Kuwait.
When we arrived in Kuwait, they first held us at the airport, questioning our visas, until a recruiting agent in Kuwait who deals with Brian collected us from the airport. He took us to his office, confiscated our passports and distributed us to different homes to work as housemaids without signing contracts.
When we asked the agent about the jobs in companies as we were promised by Brian, he told us that housemaids were the only vacancies available. The agent called the sponsors looking for housemaids and they sold us there as slaves.
My sponsor was given my passport and told me that he would be paying me US$ 200 per month since he had already paid my agent 420kd (Shs 4.2m) in commission. He told me that if I failed to work, I would have to refund his money because he had signed a three-year contract with the recruiting agent.
However, when I reached his home, my Arab sponsor told me to clean his three-storeyed, 20-room house daily, clean the swimming pool, sweep the compound, cook and I was not allowed to rest or even go to church on Sunday.
One day I fell sick and they refused me to go to the hospital unless I refunded the money paid to my recruiting agent. The women would throw their used sanitary pads on the floor and force me to clean them without gloves.
They would also force me to wash their panties used during menstruation periods using my hands and when I refused they abused and beat me. My sponsor told me I was not allowed to leave the house until the contract was over and also not communicate on phone.
I would work from 6am upto 2am and take breakfast at 6:30 am and lunch at 4pm and at times we were not allowed to eat supper. I was also not allowed to sleep before everybody in the house slept, and I was the first one to wake up.
The house was full of cameras to monitor my movements. I was not allowed to rest at all. When you rest, they see you on camera and shout at you, abuse you or beat you. I was also not supposed to watch television or sit on the chairs.
My bedroom had no lock; they removed it intentionally and all the men in the house including the boss who had a wife would come to my bedroom at night and start harassing me.
I could not sleep because every time, I was expecting men to rape me. When I shouted to scare them away or seek assistance, the madam would instead abuse me saying I was lying.
Although I tried to fight most of them off, I was defeated by the big men in the house and they managed to rape me. My bathroom also had no lock and the men would open it and enter while I was bathing to sexually abuse me.
After serving for two weeks at this home, I resigned due to hash conditions. I was forced to go to another home which had problems worse than the first place. Since we don’t have an embassy or consulate in Kuwait, I finally managed to escape and went to a Kenyan embassy and reported my case. They contacted Interpol in Uganda and I was rescued.
But currently there are eight Ugandan girls all below 30 years of age pending assistance at the Kenyan embassy in Kuwait to be able to return home.
There is an 18-year-old who was taken to Kuwait by a one Matovu agency but she is currently missing and suspected to have been sacrificed by the family she was sold to.
At times these Arabs kill Ugandans who go to work as maids and remove their organs and sell them to rich Arabs.”
Tough battle to win
Naigaga said there are many Ugandan girls suffering indescribable abuse in those countries, but cannot escape because their passports were confiscated by their agencies.
If one, for example, got fed up of harsh working conditions and resigned, one would be beaten for losing that contract of 420kd since the agent would have to refund the money.
Even then, a girl who resigned at one home would be kept in the agency’s camps until she refunded the money she lost by not completing the contract. Some of these girls are also sued and charged for overstaying their visas and the sentence could be a year or six months. After serving the sentence, the Kuwaiti government deports you or detains you in a transit camp.
The coordinator of the national anti-human trafficking task force, Moses Binoga advised people to always use licensed companies when going to work abroad, because they are traceable and can be charged with harassing workers.
“Licensed companies can also be forced to compensate their clients in case of mistreatment because they have addresses and signed contracts with the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development,” he said.
Binoga said the government is in the process of developing regulations and guidelines against human trafficking and labour exploitation.
“In the meantime, the suspects are only charged with obtaining money by false pretence or making forged documents. We also have a challenge of losing many cases of human trafficking in court because the victims have stigma and others after returning home, lose interest in case,” he said.
A documentary about prostitution and trafficking in Dubai