From December 4-7, seven Kenyan licensed Private Employment Agencies (PEAs) participated in a study visit to Doha to learn about ethical recruitment and worker welfare initiatives in Qatar, a key destination country for Kenyans migrating abroad for work. The study tour is part of Verité and IOM’s project on promoting safe and fair labour migration from Kenya to the Gulf States. The project, funded by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), aims to promote ethical recruitment of labour migrants in Kenya and to strengthen mechanisms to monitor and enforce recruiter accountability through collaboration with relevant recruitment industry actors and agencies governed in Kenya.The study visit by the Kenyan delegation was led by Verité’s Senior Program Manager of Research and Policy, Sarah Lince, and Senior Director of Assessments, Jon Pitoniak. The Kenya PEA delegation was accompanied by IOM Kenya staff, Heys Salamba.
During the Study Tour the Kenyan PEAs met with representatives of the ILO office in Doha, the Qatar National Human Rights Committee, the Embassy of the Republic of Kenya, the United States Embassy, a employers hiring Kenyans to work in Qatar who are interested in ethical recruitment, as well as Kenyan workers in Qatar. All who participated in the meetings noted that opportunities to discuss promotion of ethical recruitment between these entities and PEAs from a country of origin for foreign workers in Qatar was unprecedented, but an important step for protecting Kenyan migrant workers. On 5 December, PEAs from the Association of Skilled Migrant Agencies of Kenya (ASMAK) and the Kenya Association of Private Employment Agencies (KAPEA) had enriching exchanges at the Georgetown University campus in Doha with Qatari employers about the challenges surrounding the demand and supply chain for Kenyan workers in Qatar. This meeting was attended by employers from hospitality and private security companies hiring from Kenya that are in based in Qatar, Alix Nasri from the International Labour Organization (ILO) office in Doha, US Embassy Political Officer, Dan Cederberg, as well as the ambassador to Kenya in Qatar, Washington Oloo and the Labour attaché from the Kenyan Embassy, Joel Mwanzia.
Key challenges identified through the discussions on ethical recruitment to Qatar included: the high recruitment fees imposed on migrant workers even before they begin work which can result from unethical practices including commissions charged by “middle men” in the recruitment process, issues of contract substitution and lack of transparency when contracts are drafted in Arabic, and illegal recruitment practices.To address some of the challenges raised, Washington Oloo emphasized the need to control the proliferation of unregistered and unaccredited agencies who are recruiting more Kenyans than the accredited PEAs. He explained that the cases of human trafficking and stranded Kenyans will continue rising if this was not addressed.
The PEAs also visited a sports and recreation centre to support Kenya Football Club in their match against Qatarcelona F.C. During the match, some Kenyan workers shared their employment experiences in Qatar.On 6 December, the PEAs met with the officials from the Qatar National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) to explore initiatives and protection measures to assist stranded migrants or workers who are experiencing exploitation and discrimination in Qatar. The NHRC runs a hotline for foreign workers in Qatar to contact regarding issues they are experiencing. The Africa Desk for the hotline is run by volunteers from Sub-Saharan Africa who are living in Qatar. The Qatar NHRC hotline number is +6662 6663.
The PEA delegation also visited the Kenya Embassy. Mr. Tanui at the Kenya Embassy mentioned the significant efforts the Embassy is making to assist Kenyan workers stranded in Qatar due to deceptive recruitment, false visas, and/or contract substitution. Members of the PEA delegation were able to engage with a number of “stranded” Kenyan migrants at the Embassy and learn about the deceptive recruitment they experienced from unlicensed PEAs in Kenya. The PEAs learned that there are limited resources at the Embassy in Qatar to address the large number of cases of Kenyan workers experiencing abuse. The PEAs and the Embassy staff agreed that protecting Kenyan migrant workers begins in Kenya and agreed to do more together to curtail deceptive and unlicensed recruitment. In addition, on the Kenya side the Government of Kenya is currently rolling out a national program for all Kenyans leaving Kenya for work to attend a pre-departure training.
At a meeting with representatives of the ILO office in Doha the PEAs learned that the ILO is working closely with the Qatari government to implement numerous initiatives to reduce risks of human trafficking for the purposes of labor exploitation, and other labor abuses experienced by foreign workers in Qatar. Initiatives include engagement with the private sector (employers in Qatar) to promote ethical recruitment and better oversight of issues faced by workers in the recruitment process such as contract substitution and debt-inducing fees, as well as the development of Qatar Visa Centers (QVCs) to be run by the Qatari government in countries of origin where foreign workers are recruited from. The first QVC has been opened in Sri Lanka. The QVC in Kenya is slated to be opened in early 2019.
On 7 December, the Kenyan PEAs visited the Qatar Churches’ Complex for Mass and met with Kenyan workers in Qatar and thereafter assessed a new app developed by Verité and the Doha Anglican Church that will offer migrant workers extensive information on the employment experience in Qatar. The app is called Just Good Work and will be launched in English and Swahili in early 2019.