Stranded student Diana Chepkemoi lands from Saudi Arabia, reunites with family

Diana Chepkemoi returns

Diana Chepkemoi (centre) at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on September 6,2022 after returning from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia where she had been stuck following allegations of having been abused by her employer and denied medication.

Photo credit: Evans Habil I Nation Media Group

Tears, joy, laughter, hugs, some shrieking and dancing announced the arrival of Diana Chepkemoi at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport Terminal 1A yesterday at exactly 2:14pm, when she emotionally fell into the arms of her mother.

Donning a grey jumper, black scarf, blue jeans, black socks and black flat shoes, the 24-year-old, who has been in the hands of a terrifying employer in Saudi Arabia for the past 15 months could not hide her joy upon seeing dozens of her relatives and friends cheering and ululating at the terminal.

Her eyes, though, remained narrow, almost to a squint as she silently took in the faces, one by one, a faint smile playing at her lips every time she fully recognised who was looking back at her.

Though silent for the better part of the minutes following her welcome, one could tell she was still in disbelief. But why would she not be?

She had just escaped the ‘hell’ promised by her former employer in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, barely a week ago, when she had no possible means of coming back home.

Her words told it all. She is not unaware of what her escape from the lion’s den in the Middle East -- where others have gone and returned in caskets -- means for her.

“Mine is just to say, if I can be honest, people are suffering there; my friends are suffering there. It is just that my voice was heard and I found support. People are suffering. Just please do something. People there are being mentally tortured, psychologically tortured. And it is not fair,” she said.

The fact that her boss kept reminding her that the Kenyan Government could do nothing for her added to her torment, she said.

All she asked of the state is to ensure all Kenyans stuck in Saudi Arabia are safely returned back home because the torture they are undergoing is unbearable.

“It is a shame being told there is nothing you, or your government can do. Being told, ‘I have power over you’. It is a shame. Just, please, do something. They are suffering, I am just lucky I found support, people there are suffering. There are some Kenyans there who, when asked their names or homes, do not even know. As I left, they told me I am very lucky. They told me to speak on their behalf,” Ms Chepkemoi added.

Not long after landing in her employer’s home in Saudi Arabia, she knew her goose was cooked.

“Once the agent gets you there, the employer tells you there is nothing you can do. ‘You will stay here until you finish your contract period and I can do whatever I want with you’. They know they have power over you,” she said.

Her mother, Claire Maritim, standing by Ms Chepkemoi’s’ side at the airport, looked tenderly at her, occasionally adjusting her scarf and smoothing her hair before looking back into the cameras.

Just a day before Ms Chepkemoi’s arrival, she was teetering on the edge of desperation and frustration, beset with hopelessness.

By Monday afternoon, she had not heard any definite plan by the government to rescue her daughter. All she had learnt was what had been posted by the Kenyan embassy in Saudi Arabia that Diana had been rescued and was safe.

However, all changed when the Bomet County Government, through the County Executive Council Member for Cooperatives, Ms Rose Bett, reached out to her on Monday evening, to tell her that her daughter was arriving in Kenya at 1pm the following day (Tuesday).

That was not enough, the county would also take Diana’s immediate family members and friends to JKIA to welcome her back home!

Expressed gratitude

They were accompanied by several other leaders including the newly elected Konoin constituency MP, Brighton Yegon, Bomet East MP Richard Yegon, Kericho Woman Rep Beatrice Kemei and Nairobi County CEC Vesca Kangogo.

Emotional, Ms Maritim expressed her gratitude to the Kenyan embassy in Saudi Arabia as well as the Bomet County government for the support they offered her daughter and ensuring she got back to the country swiftly and safely.

“… I had lost hope. Even if I had money, there was nothing I could do. I thank the government and everyone who assisted in getting Chepkemoi alive. I thank everybody.

“I request the government to stop this issue. I think Saudi Arabia is not a safe place for people because they do not respect human rights. They are inhumane, they do not care,” she said.

To young people still planning to go to the Gulf for work, Ms Maritim had a piece of advice: “It is so painful to have our children assaulted in various countries. It is better you hustle here and be in peace and happiness and more so, to be in your country where you are with people who are special to you.”

The Ministry of Labour clarified that Ms Chepkemoi’s travel to Saudi Arabia followed all the laid down procedures and that she went through the mandatory pre-departure training and also went through a registered private recruitment agency, which paid for her return ticket back home.

“The Ministry of Labour through our labour attaché in Saudi Arabia in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through our ambassador in Saudi Arabia, and the local private employment agency were able to coordinate the safe return of Diana Chepkemoi,” a statement from the Cabinet Secretary of Labour, Mr Simon Chelugui, said.

Mr Chelugui also added that the government would investigate the circumstances which led to her plight, to prevent such incidents happening in the future.

“While we recognise that we have witnessed few cases of Kenyans in distress abroad, largely, most Kenyans working abroad are happy with their work and working conditions. This is largely because the government through the Ministry of Labour has prioritised bilateral labour agreements with various destination countries,” part of the statement read.

Mr Fred Ojiro, a rapid response officer at Haki Afrika, asked the government to make a comprehensive list of all Kenyans working abroad, especially in the Middle East and ensure they were all in safe hands.

Should it find that any Kenyan was in distress, it should immediately facilitate their return back home.

He further added that Haki Afrika, together with the Kenya Union of Domestic Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers, was currently working on 51 cases of stranded Kenyans in the Middle East, and asked the government to act swiftly.

An audit

“It is important to do an audit and know how many Kenyans are working in the Middle East and how many agents are taking our workforce to Saudi Arabia, and check if they are registered and working within the code of conduct,” he said.

For his part, Ms Chepkemoi’s MP, Mr Brighton Yegon, said exportation of labour will be among his first order of business in Parliament, and that legislators in the incoming Parliament will ensure the country has better labour laws.

For now, even though Ms Chepkemoi is happily reunited with her family, she is deeply troubled by the fate of countless others who have to deal with the horror and uncertainty that comes with working for harsh employers in faraway countries.