Tales from Saudi: It’s like a little prison

From left: Faith Jumwa, Peris Masiko and Joy Simiyu who returned to the country from Saudi Arabia where they worked  under difficult conditions at Haki Africa offices in Nairobi on September 7, 2022. They came back to Kenya on September 5.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Kenyan women who worked as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia  open up on the dark sexual harassment, torture and donkey work they were subjected to.
  • During her stay in Saudi Arabia, Ms Jumwa only survived on one meal a day.
  • Some girls were sexually abused in their efforts to get ‘other jobs’

When Diana Chepkemoi recently returned to the country from Saudi Arabia where she had suffered ill-health and was stranded for several months, she was not alone.

About 20 other Kenyan women were aboard the flight that brought Ms Chepkemoi home. The women lived in the same

Some of these young women have shared their spine-chilling experiences while working in the Middle East with Nation.Africa. They were together at an accommodation where Saudi domestic workers live before they are dispatched to different employers. They open up on the dark sexual harassment, torture and donkey work they were subjected to.

Joy Simiyu, Peris Maciko, Faith Jumwa and Nelly Jelagat all left the country for Saudi Arabia with the hopes of earning a decent living. Unfortunately, they found themselves enslaved and trapped in the Gulf nation.

Ms Jumwa, who hails from Kilifi County, says she went to Saudi Arabia in December last year, seeking employment as a domestic worker through a local agency.

“I was excited to be in a new country. I didn’t know what was in store for me,” she tells Nation.Africa.

It wasn’t long before reality hit her hard. Things got bad pretty fast with her employer threatening to kill her.

“I called the Kenyan agency to inform them of the threats, but I never got any help from them. I decided to leave the house,” she recounts.

During her stay in Saudi Arabia, she says she only survived on one meal a day.

Employer's relatives

“My employer would overwork me despite feeding me just one meal a day. She used to offer me some hard stuff that looks like chapati,” she says.

Apart from day to day duties in the employer’s house, Ms Jumwa also worked for her employer’s relatives.

“Whenever I complained, my employer would hear none of it. It was a difficult time for me. My employer even took away my phone,” she says.

She was later arrested and taken to an accommodation for domestic workers in Saudi Arabia where she met the others including Ms Chepkemoi.

More revelations have recently come to light on the awful treatment Kenyan domestic workers are subjected to by their employers in Saudi Arabia.

It is among the world’s most known countries for importing labour. For years, Kenya has exported labour to this Gulf nation through recruitment agencies, with majority securing jobs as nannies, security guards, waiters, cooks, clerks and constructors.

It is, however, unfortunate that there are millions of Kenyans in Saudi Arabia whose working conditions the government does not know.

Only the survivors live to tell stories of the harsh treatment they experience in the hands of their Saudi employers.

The story is not different for Ms Simiyu who says she landed her job through Makungu Company. While in Saudi, she was forced to work in three houses, contrary to the agreement she had signed.

She complained to the Kenyan agent but no action was taken.

“I would sleep for only four hours. It was a lot of work,” she recalls.

At some point, her boss refused to give her food and started threatening to kill her.


“She hardly came to the kitchen. So on one particular day, my instincts sensed her presence and when I turned, I was shocked to see her next to me holding a knife. I fled,” she says.

She later contacted the employment agency in Saudi Arabia telling them of her wish to return home.

“I was, however, taken to a nearby accommodation and promised a new job. Inside the accommodation are several ‘detainees’, some battling mental issues. We only ate one meal a day. There was no water and we were also not allowed to go past the gate. It is like a little prison,” she says.

She also recalls how some girls were sexually abused in their efforts to get ‘other jobs’. 

She pleads with the government to rescue other Kenyan women who are still trapped in Saudi Arabia.

For Ms Maciko, unfortunately, she landed in the hands of someone who had been barred by the Saudi government from having an employee.

“I refused to work in that house because I was not sure why there were restrictions against him. I called the police and I was taken to the Kenyan Embassy,” she recounts.

She was later transferred to a shelter where she met two women who she only identifies as Trizer and Florence. They were agents from the company that took her to Saudi Arabia.

“The two are like monsters. They don’t care about their people. They even allowed their clients to be sexually exploited in order to return to Kenya, or get new jobs,” the 35-year-old says.

All three women say they will never go back to the Middle East country and warn anyone seeking domestic jobs in the Gulf nation, against it.

“It is better to earn Sh10 in your home country than suffer in the hands of strangers,” Ms Maciko says.

Haki Africa Executive Director Hussein Khalid speaks to Nation.Africa at his offices in Mbagathi, Nairobi on September 7, 2022, on the plight of Kenyans working in Saudi Arabia.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Ms Jelagat who caused a scene at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport after she met the agent who took her to Saudi Arabia, learnt about Gulf jobs in June last year.

Her neighbour approached her with an offer as a domestic worker in Qatar, and she grabbed the opportunity since she was jobless.

Her goal was to start saving money early to take her only daughter to high school.

“When the man approached me saying an opportunity had presented itself in Qatar, I just thought about my daughter, who is in Grade Seven now,” says the single mother from Mosop in Nandi North.

Her Kenyan agent sent her, together with seven other women, to Qatar.

In the first two months, her boss treated her well. Things, however, began changing in the third month when her boss started overworking her.

“The family I worked for lived with the extended family. I would wash the whole house, which had 38 rooms, daily. I would also wash another one with more than 30 rooms. I tried to complain to my boss, but nothing changed,” she says.

“I saw people dying at the holding facility, people were sick but no one was taken to hospital. You are just left on your own. I was beaten like a child, but I am happy to be alive,” she says.

“I was in pain when I saw my agent at the airport to receive me, yet she never bothered to help when I needed it. She blocked me and told the agents I should not be deported,” narrates Ms Jelagat.

The National Assembly Committee on Labour and Social Welfare report says 89 Kenyan domestic workers died in Saudi Arabia between 2019 and 2021.

This year, more than five Kenyan returned home lifeless.

According to Haki Africa, a human rights organization, there are more than 200,000 Kenyans in Saudi Arabia as of now. They are employed in different companies and homes, where they work under inhumane conditions.