The “fairy tale” of Marion, a Ugandan survivor rescued from Garissa

“A call one early morning from my elder sister who worked for a Somali family in Nairobi change my moods for the day as I anticipated to turn around the financial fortunes of my life”, ‘Marion’ a rescued Ugandan survivor recalls to this interviewer. Marion’s sister has worked for the same family since 2019. The family had asked Marion’s sister if she could bring another Ugandan lady to work as a house help for a related family at a far-flung location called Garissa.

Garissa is 367 kilometers north east of Nairobi. “I was quite hopeful that this new opportunity would greatly change the fortunes of my 5 children after I separated from my husband a few years earlier,” Marion continued to recall. She is the last born in a family of 9. Due to cultural and poverty related factors, Marion was married off at a tender age of 16 years and later, the husband married another wife and divorced her. She was forced to become the bread winner of her 5 children.

Due to the aforementioned challenges, Marion was convinced by her sister who was working in Nairobi to look for greener pastures in Kenya. The sister connected her to an employer at Garissa. “My movement costs were to be fully covered by the would-be employer,” Marion narrates. “I crossed the border on foot to avoid detection by border migration or security agents before I boarded a bus to Nairobi,” she concludes.

Upon arrival in Nairobi, Marion was received by her elder sister who briefed her about her would be employer’s location. She had to spend a night with her sister before leaving for Garissa the following day. The journey to Garissa was not without incidents but what stuck on her mind was how after being stopped by police for questioning, her would be employer sorted the matter out within a short time and she proceeded with her journey. This was despite of lack of proper travel documentation.

To conceal the hidden intentions, her would be employer gave Marion a warm reception and she was introduced to the family members. The family to work for consisted of 12 people. On commencement, she was neither allowed to take a rest nor was she given off days. This was besides being denied food and freedom of movement. Marion was not allowed leave the compound of her employer and was threatened with dire consequences if she dared do so.  The employer did not even provide for her basic needs such as sanitary towels. Eventually, Marion fell sick due to fatigue and the mistreatment encountered. Her pleas to be taken to hospital fell on deaf ears. The employer also forced Marion to refund the money that was used to facilitate her travel from Uganda hence, it meant going without salary until the full amount was recovered. The employer also employed the threats of reporting her to the police station since she did not possess legal migration documents. They even went further to threaten her that she would be accused of stealing.

One week into the job, Marion decided to escape from the family to save her life. “I had no idea where I was in Garissa but I woke up one day and schemed how to leave the family” She dashed out of the gated compound in a blink of an eye and vanished into thin air. Marion decided to use the main road as she kept running as fast as her feet could take her while her heart pounded with great fear. After about 5 kilometers of intense running, her body slowed down and she begun walking briskly to fake confidence…..but it was quite easy to notice that she was a stranger from the majority of the population.

The epitome of human indignity

At one point, Marion decided to stop a boda boda (motor bike riders) to ask for direction to the nearest police station. She had decided to take herself to a police station and risk being arrested instead of risking her life at a brutal work environment.  While she was asking for directions, a relative of the employer spotted her and in turn called her employer.

Within a few minutes, the employer arrived with her car. Marion was forced to enter the private car but she refused upon which, all hell broke loose. She was undressed in public after the employer claimed that she was a thief. They searched all her belongings but nothing was found. One of the non-indigenous residents from the area and who happened to be a Community Health Volunteer (CHV) with some previous training on counter human trafficking happened to have been passing by and noticed the commotion. She confronted the employer and insisted that Marion should have been taken to a police station if they were accusing her of theft. After a long confrontation, the employer agreed and Marion was taken to the police station accompanied by the CHV.

Upon arrival at the police station, the police officers first arrested the employer but released her on cash bail and asked to report back the following morning. The CHV was asked to host Marion until the following morning when her case would be determined after recording statements. Before leaving the police station, Marion insisted that she needed to pursue justice due to her employer’s abuse, exploitation, shame and indignity meted out on her.

Elusive Justice

A phone call was immediately made to the Secretariat of the “Religious Against Human Trafficking” (RAHT) in Nairobi to report the matter who in turn informed CHTEA (a member of RAHT). The latter moved swiftly and engaged further with other key stakeholders who facilitated the movement of Marion from Garissa to a shelter in Nairobi.

The employer offered to give Marion 150 USD so as to drop any charges that she was filing against the employer. For confidential reasons (known to CHTEA), Marion accepted the money and dropped the charges against her employer.

Marion has since arrival in Nairobi from Garissa exhibited signs of severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) and has since been placed under the care of one of the best psycho-social therapy experts in Kenya. The journey towards full rehabilitation and reintegration has just begun.

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