NAIROBI (Reuters) – J’s cousin promised her a well paid job in India as a housekeeper. Instead, she found herself in a brothel until the United Nations brought her home to Kenya when it was alerted to the human trafficking route.
“When I heard there were job vacancies in India, I was so happy,” said J, asking that only her initial be used to protect her privacy.
When she got there, her passport was confiscated and she was forced into sex work to pay off $9,000 her traffickers, fellow East Africans, told her she owed them for her travel and lodging, she said.
In the past year, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) repatriated 12 Kenyan women who had been trafficked to India, the first time it said it had been asked to help Kenyans there.
Most Kenyans who have been trafficked end up in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, according to Kenya’s National Crime Research Center, which did not have a more specific country-by-country breakdown available.
Now IOM worries that the economic fallout of the coronavirus lockdown in East Africa will make people more vulnerable to exploitation, at home or abroad.
Nearly a third of low-income Nairobi residents lost their jobs in the past month, and another 15% who had been self-employed are without work, a July survey from Nairobi-based market research firm Tifa Research showed.
It flew J home weeks before Kenya’s closure of its borders against the spread of the coronavirus. The borders reopened on August 1.
“With the economic losses that we are experiencing as a result of the pandemic we are potentially going to see more cases (of people) being trafficked or re-trafficked,” said Sharon Dimanche, head of the IOM in Kenya.
J, who had been diagnosed with cancer and had leapt at the chance to save money for treatment, said her experience shows that Kenyans should be wary of job offers abroad.
“I never thought I would get back to my kids,” she said. “When they took me to the embassy, I could not believe I am going to see family again and not return in a coffin.”
Reporting by Ayenat Mersie; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Philippa Fletcher