Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East

Return to research Posted on Sep 12 2011

Two weeks ago, Asha Ali, a Kenyan woman working in Saudi Arabia, sent the following SOS message to her mother:

“Mom, yesterday my boss asked me if I want to be sold or not. I fear he might kill me. If it is God’s plan that I die in Saudi Arabia, there is nothing I can do. Bye mom”

The family of the 22-year old, who had been in Saudi Arabia since March, have not heard from her since.

Violations such as sexual harassment, violence, torture and starvation are very real risks for Kenyan migrant women working in Saudi Arabia, according to this article in The Standard (Kenya). Around 40,000 Kenyans work in Saudi Arabia, and 400 were deported from the Kingdom in the past 12 months alone – many of them bringing disquieting stories home with them:

They paint a picture of a kingdom where upon entry; most workers have no choice but to surrender their travel documents along with their human rights and dignity to employers.

The most common violations include sexual assault; overwork with no pay, torture, lack of privacy and starvation. Chilling murders sum it all, with the recent discovery of a body of a Kenyan girl locked up in a freezer adding to statistics of unexplained murders of migrants in The Gulf. Fatuma Masoud, a mother of four from Kisauni, also sent an SoS to Mombasa last weekend. She recently fell off a ladder while cleaning her boss’s home at Al Khudar, Saudi Arabia and suffered a fracture to her back. But she continues to be overworked and cannot access any medical help.

“I am always locked in; eat smelly food or leftovers, one meal a day. I am a Kenyan, please help me get out of here, alert my embassy. You are my last hope,” she wrote. When contacted, her employer, Hussein al Doussary, claimed to be unaware of the situation. Ms Fatuma is yet to receive any help. Most survivors make it back to Kenya with broken limbs. And although their accounts mirror scripts akin to gruesome movies, they are the reality.

The majority of Kenyans that migrate to Kenya are young Muslim women aged between 22 and 35 years, according to Khalid Hussain, Executive Director of Kenyan NGO Muslims for Human rights (Muhuri)  .

Many are from middle-income backgrounds and have some tertiary education. Every year large numbers of women end up being tricked into paying large sums of money by corrupt recruitment agents, believing that they are destined for well-paid positions as saleswomen or hotel attendants, only to be diverted to what one observer described as a human ‘warehouse’ on arrival in Saudi Arabia. From there, the most likely outcome is that they will be sent to work as housemaids in slave-like conditions.

See full story by Joe Kiarie here.

The Kenyan Embassy in Saudi Arabia frequently receives pleas for help from migrant workers, who claim that they are treated ‘like animals’ by their employers, according to this article from Africa News.  Some, like 28-year old Salma Noor, a domestic worker, face regular physical and sexual abuse, but have nowhere to turn to for help, according to journalist Joyce J Wangui.

These examples from Kenya illustrate the gravity of the risks that migrant women in Saudi Arabia face.




Research, Saudi Arabia, Trafficking, Women

28 thoughts on “Kenyans in Saudi: Modern Day Slavery

  1. emma says:

    first we don’t sales women working in Saudi at all and if she really send that she maybe misunderstand him or her
    second Saudis all of them are Muslims and in Islam any boss have to treat his working or employees very good
    and do not try to make my country as a bloody place that any one goes there is going to die .

  2. Sophia says:

    Dear Emma, thanks for stopping by. This post was not intended to portray Saudi as a brutal place. I’m sure that many Saudi employers treat their staff well, in accordance with Islamic teaching, but unfortunately this is not always the case, since we receive regular reports of migrant workers being abused by employers in Saudi. Please don’t take this post as ‘anti-Saudi’ in any respect, this was not our intention. In any country or religious system there will, unfortunately, always be some individuals who abuse their power and take advantage of the weak. Migrant rights exists to be a voice for those who are exploited

  3. Am also a gal aged 19yrs, i was also in the process of going 2 Saudi but when i heard all this, i stayed back.My worry is, my agent is still holding my original passport and my birth certificate.I don't know wot 2 do because i am being told 2 pay back the says:

    I hate saudi

  4. Marto says:

    I’m very dissappointed by this horrible story.i was planning 2 go in afghanstan bt i’m filled wth fear.

  5. jay says:

    Saudi Arabia is a country of modern day slavery, they suck, they are pests. vampires who drink and eat the blood of innocent kenyan girls, i wonder what heaven is there for you, Emma stop you non-sense and face the facts.

  6. Maggie says:

    I 2 hate saudi bt am here i only wantd money badly bt ts God wil am here tho they ovawork me i sleep at 2am n wakeup at 7am wea the bos doesnt sim 2 kea wen i get sik napewa panadol siendi hosi i hate it here bt wat am i gona do jst wait the 2yrs contract n land my way bak home wea il b fre even 2 speak wit my relatives nway only God knows

  7. Ann says:

    It sucks!!!!, am in saudi but lyf is lyk hell, ova hia, they treat pple lyk animals. Am also stuck but waiting 4 my contract 2 end n kam bak 2 kenya. Ave been forced 2 hav sex with my boss son in order to get a chance 2 post this article.

  8. da---v says:

    this are real zombies they dnt av mercy on their employees, how can a person tel u, u av to work 24hrs coz they bought from our country. phuck u bitches en bastard

  9. Eve says:

    Emma u r very stupid…..i don’t care who u r nd whr u come frm……saudi arabia is da most worst country in dis world……i’m working nd i know a lot a bout ur country than u……but i thank God my employer is gud to me….but u Emma stop ur non-sens cos God will punish u for dat i diot.

  10. Patien says:

    Mi also in Saudia.nimebaki kidogo nimalize ma contract.saudia bila prayers dadangu hautatoboa.put god first.nina pains na da way treat ma dia kenyans bt what 2 do.Mi nko poa nachapa kaz nalipwa so far cjapata taabu bt hawa watu ni vigeugeu any min wanaweza leta. Compe.ilov Kenya.nilkam kuhasle god b wiht me

  11. mkenya bdu says:

    hata mm niko huku nataka kurudi wamekataa ati niwalipe gharama yao najaribu kupigia embassy wanisaidie wanadai nikae hapa hapa na wananitisha watanifanyia ubaya sijui nitapata vipi usaidizi nitoke hapo.plz mtu yoyote msamaria mwema anisaidie

  12. Evans says:

    i regret but its to late, my wife have 4 months there but i regret because i have heard you can even be forced to have sex with the boss or even his son, are yu there to work or to be abused sexually, i realy regret…

  13. Peter says:

    Am really sory ma dya friends who r saudia. May the Good Lord protect u and always His grace be wid you. I was thnkin of going to Qatar but thse thoughts hav escaped me. Afadhali Mjengo xaxa. Na niulize maboy wanafanyiwa nny

  14. Martin Ndegwa says:

    my girlfriend left fo lebanon last week am nao woried abt tha noise av heard from thea

    • beatrice says:

      Bull,take heart.i was there for almost three years,through the idiots called Zakhems.We wer three kenyans and we never went out of the gate untill the three years wer is slaverly.and do you know how much they wer paying us?100$.that was those days equevalent to seven thousands kenya shillings every month.cann you imagine?no off day,no over time,no sunday.anyway people go there because of problems but i believe,there is no biger problem than working for somebody all that long and live poor.i thank God that affter straggling for long,am now in Germany,where am free and my children are well provided for.i always say God is paying me for the lost time,energy and missuse that i faced in lebanon.

  15. Florence says:

    I am just heartbroken, watched Bukedde TV online (Ugandan channel) a couple of days ago and a woman’s 24 year old daughter who left to work in Saudi Arabia in July 2014 died just two weeks after she started work there as a maid. Now, the body was returned in a cargo box with her name scribbled on it (looked like luggage, they could not even have the decency to put the body in a coffin). The letter that accompanied the body stated that she had died in a road accident, but postmortem done at the local hospital indicated torture! What has the world come to? God help us!

  16. LAWRENCE says:

    The horror that some domestic workers go through in Saudi Arabia is incomprehensible, it is heartwrentching to even think it happens in the modern world. Please read the latest one.Merchants of death: On the trail of Nairobi ‘slave’ buyers to brutal Arabs. Please read the story on via Standard Digital Entertainment

  17. Kiura says:

    Arabs are demons
    Bitter racists than lemons
    Saudis Arabs are morons
    How dare do that to my humans
    See, see the way they are slaying our sisters
    Our blood daughters
    Their domestic workers
    Daily a plane lands from Riyadh
    In it death
    A body in bier
    A body of our daughter-dear
    A domestic worker dead in hands of her employer
    Eyes gorged, tongues chopped, private parts plundered

    And you say Saudis are not evils
    Arabs are not devils
    And the Royal Riyadh Embassies denies this
    As false allegations and accusations
    While our fellows fatally die
    Or brutally bid life bye
    Many more silently in royal palaces jails for hopeless help cry
    They are silently suffering unable to summon help
    They are locked in dark unlit rooms like guard dogs
    And living in deplorable conditions-chronic human rights abuses!
    Doing donkeys’ work day and night
    In her jail the rations are thrown in a bitch bowl

    My sister
    She is to scrub their marble and pebble floors bare hands
    She is to scrap their furry muffins carpets on breaking bended backs
    She is to clean and dust their golden paintings, drawings and carvings
    She is to do dishes till late night-when owls howls, foxes bowls……..
    She is to stand in this palatial jail bare foot the whole day
    And better part of the night
    Till her kings, queens, princes and princess retires
    No slave sleeps before its master!
    She has no off days till she dies or miraculously manages to escape

    She returns home battery bruised or to be buried
    The Saudis rapes, molests, maims, assaults, starve, torture…….my sisters
    And the Saudi embassy says its untrue
    My sisters in Saudi are suffering
    They are silently suffering Saudis slaves
    Who will save their sufferings?
    They went there in promise of heaven-gold and silvers
    Better working conditions and pay
    But many of my sisters whereabouts is irretraceable
    And those traceable their pay is negligible or none
    They are just returning one after one in carried coffins
    And my government is blind
    It doesn’t see all the caskets from Saudi the airports are recording

  18. David k muita says:

    pliz help my wife to come out of Saudi

  19. Ngugi says:

    some of the women in Saudi Arabia leaves their husband not becouse of poverty but just for fun to be carried by an aeroplane. some even leaves their children below 5 years and therefore let them get punished to the end, as they are as well punishing not only their husbands but also their innocent childrens.
    My wife left me just like that and went to Saudi, I had even built her a good house in Nairobi and there was no any financial problem. these people brings about a slight disagreement to find their way to Saudi Arabia.
    God punish them to the end.

  20. kush says:

    hi guyz….name the agents so that we pin them down….it all starts with this corrupt recruiting agents…..we need to stop it from here.

  21. the problem starts with the agents who are recruiting our Kenyan girls. Instead of telling the truth to them they are luring them with good jobs in the animal heart country” saudi arabia” little did they knew the torture they are going to endure. the agents aim is to make big amounts of money. God is watching you. you will rot in hell forever. thanks for the agents for being devils friend. the devil is rejoicing for winning u, the agents. I hate the agents with interest and passion. All the agents family wil rot in hell. U won’t escape God’sPUNISHMENT

  22. My sister is also in Saudi Arabia. My family members and I are praying for her that all be well with her until 2 years contract is over.May God sent His Angels to protect her. May God fight for her. Without God nothing is possible. All my sisters who are in that heartless country may God Lord protect u with His blood.

  23. Ngugi says:

    Once again I would wish not to blame the Agents cos our women have been hearing all about the others at Saudi Arabia and later makes their own decision to go there. This is actually foronti non fit injuria. they are doing it volunterily knowing very well what would happen to them, after leaving their husbands and children in dilema. It is a high time for God to punish them spherely as well.

  24. simon kiragu says:

    Hi, am in Kenya but my mum is in Saudi Arabia. mum went there on January this year 2014 she worked for three months even without communication but however she send some money of which si yeye alituma ni mwajiri wake. from there up to this month Nov she didn’t call we thought she died then this month she called my grandmother where she said she was mistreated but now she is okay. I was told by my grandmother that she was given 5mins to talk with her family, that when she called my grandmother. then her employer mzee mkuubwa send me some money worth 18000 but the problem is he didn’t send all the documents i need in the bank like his name password and all that so the money is in the bank but i cant withdraw it. how can i be helped. thank you

  25. Jacinta says:

    Ngugi pliz dnt b rude i left my husband in search of greener pasture as per the problem we had. Am stuck here. These ppl hate africans so much. U shd b thinking of the way out for campaing we b gvn exit not talk shit.

  26. RASHID says:

    am sorry for u my fellow kenyans,smtimes we shud be alert wen the goverment caution pple about saudi araibia.anyway thos who av not gone there dare not.and them who are there put GOD first

  27. Ralph says:

    Very sad. Do you know anyone who returned back home to kenya, and was seriously injured and is currently in need of medical help? Buzz me if you know..

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Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East