Family struggles to bring woman’s body from Saudi Arabia after agent vanishes

Pauline's mother Margaret Mwihaki (centre) talks to Haki Africa rapid response officer Mr Fredrick Odhiambo and a neighbour  Mr  Peter Wanderi looks on.

Photo credit: Stephen Munyiri | Nation Media Group

A family in Kieni, Nyeri County, is in a dilemma after a Nairobi-based employment agent who had promised to fly back the remains of their daughter from Saudi Arabia ‘went underground’.

The agent is said to have helped 25-year-old Pauline Murugi Wachira, from Watuka village, to travel to the Middle East for work.

But she died barely three months after arriving in Riyadh. Her family only learnt about her mysterious death from the woman’s friend, who is also said to be stranded there.

Ms Pauline Murugi Wachira who died in Saudi Arabia

Ms Pauline Murugi Wachira who died in unclear circumstances a month ago in Saudi Arabia where she was working. 

Photo credit: Courtesy

Ms Wachira’s body is lying in a mortuary in Riyadh and her family is trying to bring it back to Kenya.

On Friday, David Nguyo, the chairman of a committee formed to raise funds for the poor family, said the agent, who is known to them, went underground after the family’s plight was highlighted in the media about two weeks ago.

“We have been trying to trace him in Nairobi. The agent is dodgy and has disappeared after giving the family empty promises that he would facilitate the repatriation of the body,” Mr Nguyo said. 

“The last time we talked to him by phone he accused us of exposing him to the media. Since then he has not been picking up our calls. He 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.”

He added that the family has been preparing for Ms Wachira’s burial since they received the bad news but have raised only a fraction of the money they need.

"We have only managed to raise a few hundred shillings for fare for some members of the family to travel to Nairobi to look for the agent,” he said. 

“We need a lot of money to repatriate the body but it seems this is now a distant dream because nobody is chipping in. We are only looking up to God. We are desperate."

Two weeks ago, the Nation visited the family’s home with Haki Africa’s rapid response officials, led by Fredrick Odhiambo, who promised that his organisation would help the family fly back her remains.

Mr Odhiambo said Ms Wachira could have been a victim of a human trafficking-like syndicate in which local agents sell workers to agents based in Saudi Arabia.

He said Haki Africa had intervened in 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,” Mr Odhiambo said. 

“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."

He said the job seekers could stay in holding centres for months 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.”