A family in Kieni, Nyeri County, is struggling to bring back the body of a 25-year-old woman who died in unclear circumstances in Saudi Arabia a month ago.
Pauline Murugi Wachira, from Watuka village, died barely three months after arriving in the kingdom. Her family only learnt about her death from the woman’s friend, who is also said to be stranded there.
When the Nation arrived at the family’s home with Haki Africa’s rapid response officials on Friday, a sombre mood engulfed Gitegi village as locals and the family tried to come to terms with the death of Ms Wachira.
She had travelled to Riyadh for work, only for her family to be told to make arrangements to collect her body, which is lying in a mortuary
Mr David Nguyo, the chairman of a funeral committee, said the poor family has been preparing for burial for the last one month but have raised only a fraction of the money they need to repatriate the body.
A few hundred shillings
"We have only managed to raise a few hundred shillings’ fare for some members of the family to travel to Nairobi to look for the agent who facilitated Pauline’s travel to that country," Mr Nguyo said.
But they said the agent was dodgy and had disappeared after giving the family empty promises that he would facilitate the repatriation of the body.
Ms Margaret Mwihaki, the mother of the deceased woman, was overcome with emotion and could not explain what happened to her daughter.
"I am not even aware how or when my daughter travelled to that country," she said.
Mr Nguyo called on well-wishers to help the family bring back their relative’s remains.
"The agent has been taking us in circles and when some members of the family went to Nairobi to look for him, he was nowhere to be found. We need help to bring back her body for burial because this is now beyond our ability,” Mr Nguyo pleaded.
Human trafficking syndicate
Haki Africa rapid response officer Fredrick Odhiambo said Ms Wachira was a victim of a human trafficking-like syndicate where local agents sell workers to agents based in Saudi Arabia.
Mr Odhiambo said Haki Africa recently intervened in several cases of women who had died in Saudi Arabia or had complained about not being paid for their work, forced labour, physical abuse, rape and dangerous working conditions.
"We have established that some unscrupulous people purporting to be employment agents are actually engaging in human trafficking. They take women from Kenya and later ‘sell’ them to other agents in the Middle East, where they are kept in holding centres as the agents look for prospective employers," Mr Odhiambo said.
He said the job seekers can stay in holding centres for several months and in deplorable conditions.
"When they get the job, one is required in some cases to serve as many as 50 members of a family singlehandedly and that is where the problem starts,” he said.
“When they complain, the employers confiscate their passports to ensure they cannot escape. They are treated as slaves.”
Kieni MP Wainaina Njoroge, who promised to intervene on behalf of the family, asked the government to deal with unscrupulous agents said to be exploiting Kenyans.
"As a government, we should not allow Kenyans to continue suffering in foreign countries just because some people want to line their pockets at the expense of our citizens," Mr Njoroge said.
The case comes barely a week after 24-year-old Meru University student Diana Chepkemoi was flown back to Kenya and narrated harrowing experiences of domestic workers in that country.
Soon after the Chepkemoi saga was highlighted in the media, the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Kenya issued a statement on September 4 dismissing claims that she had been mistreated.
On the same day, Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said the matter had been taken up by the Kenyan ambassador in Saudi Arabia.
Haki Africa is now asking the government to urgently arrest unscrupulous agents engaging in modern-day slavery in the name of employment.