News: Asians Lured To Kenya To Work

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Melanie Orhant (
Tue, 22 Dec 1998 14:50:23 -0500

Asians Lured To Kenya To Work
The Nation (Kenya), December 21, 1998

Nairobi - A year ago, an apartment opposite Vanguard House in Nairobi's
affluent Westlands area was leased to a foreigner. The Asian tenant hardly
spoke to anyone except his family.

"We thought he was deaf," says a security guard. He was discreet, lonesome
and plainly introverted.

Neighbours know only this much about him - and even that from hearsay: That
he was an employee of a prominent Nairobi-based motor dealer.

What they did not know was that their introverted neighbour was a
frustrated man who had travelled thousands of kilometres in search of a
decent livelihood far away from home.

Rashid, with whom the man travelled, recalls the man telling him that he
had been lured into coming to Kenya: "An East African country offering many
plenty of opportunities. But two months after arrival, he disappeared,
"forsaking" his family. Nobody knew what had happened.

However, word spread that he had sneaked back to his home in Pakistan. The
family would follow later.

"I did not know that he was planning to go back home. But I can understand
why. Life here is difficult unless you know the right connections," says
Rashid, who earns Sh1,800 month as a shop attendant at Diamond Plaza.

"We were told that in Kenya you can use money to make things move. Indeed,
this is true," Rashid, who has now acquired a Kenyan identity card, says.

Rashid's and his friend's experiences are classic examples of Kenya's
latest cancer - imported cheap labour.

Corruption in the immigration department has earned the country a dubious
reputation as a dumping ground for cheap foreign labour. Investigations
reveal that hundreds of Asian "expatriates" are being released into the
country and taking up jobs that can easily be handled by Kenyans.

In the last four years, Kenya alone has received between 40,000 and 50, 000
Gujarati and Pakistani unskilled or semi-skilled labourers. They have gone
to work in Nairobi and various major towns in Central and Rift Valley
provinces, immigration sources say.

Kenya's immigration department disputes this figure. However, the
authorities concede that the issue is worrying. Principal Immigration
Officer Frank Kwinga claims the volume of work permits issued has decreased
>from 19,000 in 1989 to 9,000 in 1997.

"The number is set to decline further," he said two months ago. Indeed,
official figures released in May attest to this.

In 1995, about 731 new work permits were issued, 703 in 1996 and 484 in
1997. Almost 1,000 permits were reportedly phased out over the same period.

However, a two-week investigation reveals that scores of Asian job seekers
get into the country daily: a number recruited by employment syndicates and
other arrivals who are "visiting relations".

Rashid and his friend were recruited in Pakistan by an employment agency.
It ran an advertisement in an Indian newspaper announcing well-paying job
vacancies in the hotel and motor industries in Nairobi.

But once here, they were housed in a school classroom in Westlands before
"friends" introduced them to colleagues working for an auto dealer in the
city centre and a shop on Diamond Plaza.

"We did not get the salary we were promised. We lived in filthy conditions.
We were conned by the agency," says Rashid.

Indian High Commission officials promised to give the Nation addresses of
firms recruiting workers in India. But the mission would not, however, be
drawn into commenting on the matter. The Pakistani High Commission in
Nairobi claimed it was unaware of the happenings.

Courts have sentenced a number of Pakistanis and Indians and have had them
deported. Last week, a police swoop on immigrants netted dozens of Asians.
Interestingly, Indian and Pakistani diplomatic missions in Nairobi have no
statistics of their nationals working here.

Sources claimed women immigrants who failed to get jobs were turning to
prostitution. "Go to Diamond Plaza in the evening and you will see for
yourself sad things happening," said a Nairobi-based Indian businessman.

Diamond Plaza, the unofficial home of the aliens, is a common haunt for
immigration officials in executive suits. Normally, work permits are only
issued at Nyayo House.

But in Nairobi's underworld, hundreds of the documents are being discreetly
signed in residential houses in Parklands and along River Road in the
downtown Nairobi.

Rashid got his work permit in a room in the top floor of a house situated
between River Road and Kirinyaga Road. Work permits are also known to be
issued in a pub on Moktar Daddah Street, Nairobi. Immigration officials
allegedly frequent the place for a take.

Cabinet Minister Marsden Madoka says, "There have been cases of foreigners
being issued with work permits to work as shop attendants while ordinary
Kenyans go without jobs. If this is the case then we are being totally
unpatriotic." Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU), Kenya National
Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCI), Federation of Kenya Employers
(FKE) and Home Affairs Minister Shariff Nassir have also complained.

Rashid hopes to own a shop of his own within two years. According to
sources, earlier arrivals are already established in Nairobi's Gikomba Area
hawking, shop keeping, and running hotel services.

Two prominent insurance firms each operate with nearly 20 "expatriates".
Outside and within Rockets Plaza and Diamond Plaza, a number of Asians hawk
alongside indigenous Kenyans.

Supermarkets, hotels, and manufacturing and construction firms have been
the ideal employment places for the foreigners.

Those who recruit the foreign labour are sometimes local organisations that
operating in Nairobi and Mombasa. For example, for a long time, a
Nairobi-based employment bureau has advertised for Hindu and Gujarati workers.

A recent police swoop on aliens only targeted Somali-inhabited areas
whereas hundreds of Asian aliens reside in Parklands, Pangani, Hurlingham
and Westlands estates.

Consequences of the unchecked entry of Asian immigrants are becoming
apparent. Within the Asian community fears that frustrated aliens are
resorting to underworld activities are rising.

"It is our name at stake here. When those people involve themselves in
crimes, we are the ones being blamed," said a Kenya-born Asian businessman.

The numbers have swollen in the last seven years. In 1996, a Nation
investigation revealed that about 20,000 Asian "experts" had been ferried
into the country and were working in major urban centres. Now pressure is
apparent on the government to act.

"We need to bring out (the shady deals) so that action is taken," says G.
Konditi, deputy executive director, Federation of Kenya Employers.

Melanie Orhant

Human Trafficking Program
Global Survival Network

P.O. Box 73214
Washington, DC 20009
T: 387-0028
F: 387-2590

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