The embassy of Saudi Arabia denies claims that the country is a torture chamber for domestic workers.
Saudi Ambassador to Nairobi Ghorm Said Malhan said there were only “isolated cases” where employees are mistreated.
“Domestic workers can be mistreated even in Kenya or any other part of the world. But it is not in our culture to oppress foreigners because we regard them as family,” he said.
The ambassador said the embassy has identified only 29 recruitment agencies with which they work. However, he could not explain how they identified the agencies.
Normally, the Ministry of Labour registers these bureaux and forwards the names to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Agencies are required to provide details, including a physical address, identities of operators and the nature of their business before they are allowed to operate.
But it is difficult to trace operators who open offices in urban areas targeting desperate job seekers.
Domestic workers are said to be paid about 800 Riyals (Sh17,600) per month, an attractive figure by Kenyan standards.
There is another problem too. Mr Asuman Hubesi of the Al-Razak Ya Razak agency, which has an office at Nairobi’s Olympic House, admits that while they select job seekers in good faith, they do not have direct links to employers in Saudi Arabia.
“We follow correct procedures, but these days we only forward recruits to other agencies in Saudi Arabia.
"That means that we are competing with other Asian countries like India who also want to place their workers with the agencies,” he said.
Other countries that take Kenyan domestic workers are the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar,Iran and Lebanon. Professional job seekers have better terms but some of them also work under harsh conditions.
“We work very long hours without breaks. I have seven lessons a day non-stop for seven straight days.
"I cannot go on sick-off and, if I have to, money is deducted from my pay. I cannot travel home when I would like to and, as with everyone else, my passport was held once I arrived at the airport,” a teacher in an international school in Saudi Arabia who sought anonymity told the Sunday Nation. (READ: The ordeal of Kenyans in Arab ‘slave markets’)
He said that the school he works for locks up teachers in the compound for the day. According to the Foreign Affairs ministry, there are more than 80,000 skilled and semi-skilled Kenyans working in the Middle East. Forty thousand of these are in Saudi Arabia.
In the first three months of this year, the Saudi Government processed over 8,000 work permits for Kenyans, compared to 17,000 last year.
Earlier this year it emerged that an international human trafficking ring was working with employees of some embassies in Kenya to recruit unsuspecting Kenyans into forced labour in the Middle East.
The cartel lures Kenyans by placing advertisements of well-paying job opportunities in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Kuwait in local newspapers.
Other countries that have frozen recruitment of foreign domestic workers – or at least regulates them strictly – are Sudan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.