‘I escaped the horrors of Saudi Arabia, but my sister was not so lucky’

Lucy Wanjiku shows her travel documents November 28, 2023. She says she was abused by her employer in Saudi Arabia before being deported.

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Ms Wanjiku said that her employee changed like a chameleon.
  • She began abusing her physically and withheld her salary yet she worked for long hours. 
  • She could not communicate with her family and her working conditions deteriorated by the day.

Lucy Wanjiku is fortunate to be alive after surviving a harrowing ordeal that few people in her position have lived to tell. The search for greener pastures abroad brought her nothing but pain and misery. 

And dark clouds continue gathering for her family. None of her family members has heard from their lastborn sister, Hannah Ruguru, for years. 

When Ms Wanjiku, 45, left Ngodu village in Njoro, Nakuru County for Saudi Arabia on June 2021, she had big dreams. Lucy had landed a domestic worker’s job in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with a salary of Sh29,000 a month. She bade farewell to unemployment and severe financial challenges — so she thought. 

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi | Nation Media Group

The single mother of two children — one of whom is living with disability — was confident of providing a good life for them.

Little did Ms Wanjiku know that she was jumping from the frying pan into the fire. When she arrived in Saudi Arabia, things seemed rosy at first, but before long the honeymoon was over.   

Ms Wanjiku said that her employee changed like a chameleon. She began abusing her physically and withheld her salary yet she worked for long hours.

She could not communicate with her family and her working conditions deteriorated by the day.

"I just wanted to secure a future for my children. My oldest child is disabled and depends on me for everything. My employer was overworking me. Whenever I complained, my employer would not listen. I put up with everything because I wanted the best for my children and my aging mother," a tearful Ms Wanjiku said.

When her situation became unbearable, Ms Wanjiku contacted her agent in Saudi Arabia for help. 

Teresia Wambui, 78, mother of Lucy Wanjiku at her home in Njoro, Nakuru County. She says she is happy to see her daughter again, albeit in a sad state.

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi | Nation Media Group

Negotiations between the agent and her employer resulted in a partial agreement for her to be paid but that lasted for only five months. The payment stopped and she was denied food.

Despite being overworked and threatened by her employer, Ms Wanjiku persevered, driven by the desire to provide for her family. She survived on one meal a day and worked for long hours. At one point, her employer even threatened her life. 

Ms Wanjiku said that one evening she overheard a conversation in which a plan was being made on how she would be eliminated and her body disposed. 

“I was terrified.That night I did not sleep. The next morning, I did not work. I was locked me up in a dark room for three days without food. I only drank water,” she said. 

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi | Nation Media Group

Thereafter, Ms Wanjiku began asking her employer persistently to release her. She was eventually tricked into going to the agent's office, only for her to be abandoned at a mosque for a week. 

Fortunately, she was rescued by police officers who facilitated her return to Kenya.

Back home, Ms Wanjiku faced the daunting task of rebuilding her life with the support of kind-hearted individuals.

“After arriving in Kenya, Good Samaritans helped me, they paid my bus fare from Nairobi to Nakuru. I am happy to be back home. I have nothing to show that I worked in Saudi Arabia. I have only been left with the bad memories of what I went through at the hands of my employers. My employer took all the money I had worked for. I want to caution the people harbouring plans of going to Saudi Arabia; just look for employment here at home even if you are being paid peanuts,” she said. 

Ms Wanjiku now lives with her elderly mother and relies on her older brother, Ayub Njuguna. While in Saudi Arabia, she had told her brother about the mistreatment she suffered and the lack of payment.

Although Lucy’s mother, Teresia Wambui, is relieved that she is back home, she saddened because she has not seen her other daughter, Hannah Ruguru, who has been trapped in Saudi Arabia for nine years.

Ms Wambui has pleaded with the government to intervene and bring her last-born daughter back home because she is having a difficult time caring for her grandchildren.

She said that Ms Ruguru, a mother of two, left for Saudi Arabia in 2014 and worked for one year before she was kicked out of her employer’s house after her boss accused her of stealing gold. All her travelling documents were confiscated and her salary was withheld. 

Ms Ruguru was forced to seek shelter from other Kenyans living in Saudi Arabia. She is now an illegal immigrant surviving on casual jobs because the agent who was supposed to process her travel back home abandoned her.

"She really wants to return home but her former boss took her travel documents and she is now working there illegally. When we last spoke she was crying, and pleading for help to be returned home. She fears that if she surrenders to the police she might be arrested or even killed," Ms Wambui said.

The distraught mother said that she last spoke with her daughter three months ago and she pleaded for help to get back home. But efforts to reach the agent who facilitated her trip to Saudi Arabia have been futile.

"I don’t want to die before I see my daughter. I have not seen her for years. I am taking care of my grandchildren," said the 78-year-old mother of five.

The two sisters’ stories serve as a stark reminder of the hardship many migrant workers face while seeking better opportunities abroad.