What happens to Ugandans when they go to the Middle East in search of employment? The story of Grace Nakayi, 25, does more than give a snapshot.
When she left Uganda for Iraq, the local travel agency she hired assured her that she would perform her duties as a maid.

For this, she would receive Shs1.5m every month. The eyes that lit up when he left quickly darkened in Iraq upon discovering that his job was to sexually satisfy an 80-year-old pensioner.
When Nakayi protested, she was sent back to a receiving agent in Iraq. During a month of confinement, she was encouraged to reconsider her position. The encouragement wasn’t just verbal. Nakayi was often the victim of all kinds of harassment, including beatings. She was also forced to drink alcohol and smoke shisha.

Nakayi’s breakthrough came after she used an inmate’s phone to send a desperate plea for help. Only then did a local organization negotiate his freedom. Her story mirrors that of several Ugandans who learned the hard way that the Middle Eastern rose has thorns.
Fiona Nabirye, 23, paid a local agent 3.7 million shillings in November 2019 to help her fulfill her dream of working in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She hopped wildly over rutted dirt roads before using a porous border at Lwakhakha in Manafwa district to make her way to Kenya. Soon she was at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, with a ticket in hand that listed Dubai as her final destination.

If she was expecting the red carpet treatment in Dubai, she got the shock of her life when all the receiving agent numbers she had were turned off. The agent’s number in Uganda was good, but not much help. He emphatically told Nabirye to think on his feet. She spent months squatting Union Space in Dubai. Unemployed.
“I made contact with Ugandans and Nigerians, who were also stuck and we scrambled to find jobs,” she recalls, adding, “In most places we would be rejected because employers would say ‘they only want to employ Indians and Filipino nationals’.

Nabirye then got into trouble with the law when she overstayed her visa and had no money to buy a return ticket. She was only rescued from a detention center by a friend.
“Before you go to the Middle East, the employment agency tells you a lot of floral stories and promises, but as soon as you arrive, the host agency changes jobs,” she warns, adding of the victims, “Some are switched to different jobs, others are overworked… if there is a complaint, it is easier to get fired.

What exactly is happening?
Anti-trafficking activist Mariam Mwiza, who is also the executive director of Overseas Workers Voice Uganda (OWVU), reveals that working in the Middle East is made difficult by the repressive ‘Kafala’ system. The current system gives the employer the responsibility to enforce the legal status and visa of foreign workers. It also restricts many aspects of an employee’s mobility.

“The system protects the employer at the expense of the worker, which forces employers to go overboard on certain things, for example withholding passports to control legal status,” she told Saturday Monitor, adding: ” This system cannot allow them to change jobs despite being mistreated because they are under the control of the boss.
Mwiza doesn’t mince words when she claims the system helps slavery.
“The system cannot give powers to the employer on exit visas, it is up to the boss to decide whether the migrant worker can exist or not,” she said of the Kafala system which defines the relationship between migrant workers and their local sponsor or kafeel. .

The system binds workers by contract to a kafeel, which controls their immigration status. The kafeel has full control over the terms of the contract, including salary and accommodation. That’s as long as state law isn’t violated.
Mwiza says it is up to the Ugandan government to discuss employment conditions suitable for Ugandans working in the Middle East. She adds that such a venture would ensure that Ugandans are protected from the law that protected slave owners in the Middle East before slavery was ended in 1962 in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Last month, Ms. Betty Amongi, the Minister of Gender and Labour, said that none of the 452 Ugandans who were then detained at Al Awir Immigration Center for assessment and possible repatriation to Uganda “did not travel through through a recruiting firm.

An August 2022 report by the Ugandan Mission in Abu Dhabi said most Ugandans in distress in the UAE travel through informal channels.
Shafick Ssebadduka, a Ugandan labor agent in Dubai, says that background checks on labor export companies in Uganda are essential before betting on them. Most victims, he adds, are simply duped by individuals and labor companies that either are involved in human trafficking or fail to take responsibility for miscommunication between employees, receptionists and employers.
“Sometimes people overstay and life becomes expensive to maintain,” he says of Ugandans traveling to the UAE on tourist visas, adding, “You have to pay at least 250,000 shillings for a bed, then food, transportation and data which is expensive for someone who is not working.

Exceed his welcome
The law is explicit regarding the repercussions of an extended stay in the UAE. The law says it’s criminal, usually resulting in heavy penalties and fines. It is understood that for residents of the United Arab Emirates, anyone holding a residence visa will be subject to a fine of AED 125 (Shs 129,000) and then AED 25 (approximately Shs 26,000) for each passing day. . The AED 25 fine doubles every day after a year of overstaying your welcome.
Overstaying in Dubai may result in certain penalties including a fine, jail time or deportation. The severity of the penalty usually depends on the state.

Ssebadduka adds that the overstay amounts to the equivalent of Shs 50,000 per day for a Ugandan immigrant stuck in Dubai. If you have money, there is an allowance for requesting an extension or a waiver.
UAE overstay fines can be paid at the land border or port of any emirate. It can also be settled at any international airport when leaving the country.
Immigration officers attached to the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) can help with overstay fines. Amer agents can also be contacted for the same to make the process of leaving the country completely hassle-free.

Ugandans in the Middle East

On April 20, this newspaper reported that daily about 300 Ugandans travel to the Gulf States. We revealed that many of them get casual jobs. These jobs earn them between $200 (Shs. 760,000) and $500 (Shs. 1.9 million) per month.
According to United Nations data, more than 620,000 Ugandans live outside the country and are employed in East Africa, Africa, Europe, Asia, the Americas and the Middle East, among others.

Statistics from the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development indicate that at least 28,000 Ugandans seek domestic employment in the Middle East every year due to poverty, unemployment, domestic violence and the outbreak of violence. family, among others.
According to the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) 2021 report, 28 Ugandan migrant workers – the majority of whom are women – died in different countries in the Middle East where they worked as domestic workers.

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