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COVID-19 has spread across the globe, claiming over 43,000 lives and infecting more than 860,000 people.

Kenya

Agony of human trafficking victims trapped in countries over coronavirus

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 2 – With coronavirus ravaging countries across the world, the fate of victims of human trafficking trapped in different nations is dim and efforts to respond to their plight in future are endangered with projections of increased vulnerability due to the economic meltdown. 

Whereas the coronavirus pandemic has slowed cross border human trafficking and smuggling, its negative impact on the economy will in future lead to an upsurge of victims as projected by Trace Kenya.

The turbulent Kenyan economy which was in crisis even before the COVID-19 outbreak is worsening as more Kenyans report massive job losses emanating from the partial lockdown and social distancing measures announced by the government in efforts to contain the outbreak of the virus that had killed one person and infected 81 people by Tuesday. Two people have already recovered and discharged from hospital, in what President Uhuru Kenyatta described as a major milestone for the East African country, the only recoveries so far in the region.

Paul Adhoch, Executive Director at Trace Kenya is worried that the unfolding global economic recession will see an increase in the number of victims yearning for an escape from joblessness.

“The effects may be seen much later when life will get a little harsher following economic meltdown that is anticipated. Human traffickers will definitely find new grounds as more populations will be made vulnerable,” she said.

With poverty and unemployment being the underlying catalysts of human trafficking in most African societies, the hope of reducing it has dwindled as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rip through countries hurting the economy and increasing the vulnerability of young people likely to lose their jobs. More than 800,000 cases of coronavirus had been reported globally by Tuesday, with 44,210 deaths. Italy is the worst hit with 12,428 deaths followed by Spain with 9,053.

Kenya had recorded one death and 81 positive cases by Tuesday. Two of the initial people diagnosed with the virus were discharged from hospital on Tuesday after recovering.

Two recovered patients, Brenda Cherotich and Brian Orinda, appeared publicly for the first time on Wednesday during a live video conference with President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The outbreak of the virus has affected prevention and resilience-building efforts employed by police and organisations such as Trace Kenya.

Recently, police were called in to rescue victims of human trafficking abandoned by their agents in Kenya.

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Two days after Kenya recorded the first case of coronavirus on March 13, detectives from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) responded to a distress call from youthful women held against their will.

Investigations led the detectives to a hideout in Nairobi’s populous Dandora where 29 women had been detained.

The rescue came on time for the desperate women held hostage for a fortnight and abandoned following the coronavirus outbreak. 

Though the entire world and closer home, Kenya was grappling with fighting the highly contagious COVID-19, the human trafficking syndicate involved in the incident was hanging on hopes of making money using the women irrespective of their safety in the wake of the virus that has so far affected 200 countries.

At Peyanya House in Dandora, police found the women aged between 21 and 40 confined into two tiny rooms waiting to travel to the Middle East where they were promised jobs.

Despite the dangers and constraints presented by coronavirus, the cartels didn’t care about the welfare of the ladies who at the time of rescue were found in a sorry state.

They were locked up with no identification documents and no hope of escaping or traveling abroad as many airlines and countries had canceled flights and issued stringent travel restrictions. Kenya is among countries that closed their airspace for international passenger flights, and is only allowing cargo flights, in measures aimed at preventing a further spread of the virus.

But that did not worry the ‘agents’ enough to set the ladies free. 

*Jane*, is one of the 29 ladies.

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She was unwell but had not received medical attention for over a week.

“I fell ill on a Saturday, I informed the matron but she didn’t care. By Monday I got worse. The other girls called her (matron) but she warned them against taking me to hospital even though I was seriously ill. But since I was very sick I decided to sneak out to go to hospital but now I can’t leave because I have no money to clear the bill,” Jane recounted, revealing that she was diagnosed with pneumonia.

She had been promised that she would be trained before being sent to work in Saudi Arabia.

On arrival in Nairobi, she was appalled that her hope for a job had turned out to be a life of a ‘prisoner’.

“They used to lock us up in the rooms. They would tell us that we have toilets and bathrooms inside so we must not get out of the house. Since I got here, we are not allowed to get out of (pointing) that gate. I have really suffered here in Kenya, I am now wondering if I am suffering this much in my own country, what happens when I go to Saudi Arabia,” she pondered.

Jane (not her real name) and the other ladies were lucky to have been rescued before the virus stretched its spread in the Kenyan society that has so far recorded 50 cases and one death.

And like a blessing in disguise, the pandemic saved the women from what would have turned out to be a long and harrowing experience in the hands of traffickers who would have seen them dispatched to countries in the Middle East.

Numerous reports show that victims of human trafficking are subjected to inhumane treatment that includes domestic servitude, forced labour and sexual exploitation in massage parlours and brothels.

According to the 2019 Global Trafficking in Persons report, Kenya is listed as a recruitment, transit and destination hub for human trafficking.

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In its four tiers of classification – based on the governments’ commitment to eliminate human trafficking – the report placed Kenya on the second tier. The first tier is the highest that indicates a government meets the minimum standards of the U.S Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

The report further established that legal and illegal agencies recruit Kenyans who are later dispatched to different regions with majority sent to the Middle East particularly in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and UAE.  

Rescuing victims trapped outside Kenya is a headache that Trace Kenya which exists to counter trafficking in persons is grappling with in the wake of coronavirus that has grounded international flights globally.

“We are pressing forward with intermittent reports of outbound individuals abandoned by their labour agents and brokers. We had old cases of individuals stuck in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Lebanon. They cannot travel anywhere. Internally, we have been able to facilitate the safe return home of 9 cases, who were en route to various destinations with promises of work and better lives,” Adhoch says.

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