Survivor Story: Saved by a whisker.

It is 8.00am in the morning, Elima greets her friend as she hurries to open her small cereal/Mpesa and Equity Bank Agent shop. She is excited about today and hopeful that it will be a successful day. On a day like this, Elima remembers vividly after completing her secondary school exams, she received a sponsorship to a university in Uganda, it went well and she graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Commerce. She was joyous about her graduation, being the first girl in a village to go to university and successfully complete a degree course. She saw herself working as an accountant in a reputable organization in the future.

Life with its endless ups and downs did not go as she expected. She landed her first job as an Mpesa agent (where one can deposit and withdraw cash). Sadly, every day the owner would come at lunchtime, close the shop and lock her inside where he would sexually and physically assault her. She put up a lot of resistance and was very scared and hated him for the actions. She left after five months of absolute hell and she returned home. She found her mother supportive but she had no job after such a long struggle to gain her degree in a foreign country.

One day, a lady who was known by the family to trade between Kenya and Uganda told her of  wonderful job opportunities in Uganda. She claimed that she knew a certain hotel owner in Kampala who needed an accounts clerk. Elima fell for such a ‘golden chance’ and had no problem in agreeing to travel to Uganda. But she found herself as one of the ten girls who covered in a bar-restaurant 24/7. The hotel was also a major attraction for men who wanted ladies for sex services at any hour of the day or night. Elima and the other girls, were issued with contraceptives every morning. Elima says, “I was in this horrible, horrible place for 6 months, the only food they gave us was one meal daily.” At this stage she was in tears and her eyes were red.

One Morning, just days before Christmas in 2022, a man from her home area visited the eatery and on seeing her, he exclaimed, “My God, Elima, what are you doing here?” It was easily assumed that he was her client. But he had come in to have breakfast. After a brief conversation, he gave her his car keys and told her the registration of his vehicle and where to find it in the parking lot. In a matter of hours, they were crossing the international border into Kenya. He never harmed her in any way and he dropped her at her parents’ home. Since she had returned without any money, she coined a story that she had been robbed on the way back home. The parents accepted her story.

In early January, 2023, she travelled to Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Nairobi (where her aunt works with the MMM’s). while there, she met one of the CHTEA Trainer of Trainers (ToTs) doing an Awareness workshop and he referred her to CHTEA.

Elima had good ideas about starting a small business but she lacked capital. While at CHTEA, Sr.Mary recalls that, “I felt she was genuine and took a chance to offer her with a budgetary amount of Ksh.15000/-. Ordinarily, some of the victims of trafficking come with various needs such as medical and counselling which require much more money.” From the small capital offered, Elima has now a thriving business of retailing eggs from her home location and she also sells a variety of dried beans as well as an Mpesa and Equity Bank agent business.

*Elima is not her name

Five Kenyans stuck in Malaysia.

Introduction

The high cost of living coupled with high inflation and together with the high rate of unemployment, has pushed many young people to leave the country seeking ‘greener pastures’ as a way to financially support their family members.  Most times ‘green pastures’ are not so green as they are assumed to be. Many young Kenyan men and women find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.  Sadly, when they go abroad through agents, they are most often rogues/criminal syndicates who promise them endless perks and opportunities once they arrive at the destination countries.

Tragedy in a foreign land

Sadly, this was the case for five Kenyans- Four gentlemen and one lady-  who travelled to Malaysia to work as office assistants/receptionists in early January, 2023 through the Bemoliz and Talent Quest Africa agencies. They were promised good paying jobs with a salary Ksh. 60,000/- (equivalent to USD 460) per month, working for eight hours daily. Upon arrival in Malaysia, things were not as they expected. Instead they worked for twelve hours a day at J&T cargo, with no food and no payment for four months. Their living conditions were unbearable, they used to sleep on waste cartons on a cold floor and they begged for food from well-wishers.

Upon asking for their salary, they were met with a rude shock and dumbfounded when their boss told them that he had bought them at Ksh. 160,000/ equivalent to USD 1.230 per person to get them to Malaysia. They were promised to get work permits in Malaysia on arrival, since they used travel visas to get to Malaysia.  However, it proved impossible for them to get any help from the authorities.

After endless hassle with the J & T cargo management concerning their salaries, they were chased away from the company with no pay. They ended up seeking for shelter in unfinished construction sites and begging for food to survive. They reached out to the Kenyan embassy in Malaysia for help who advised them to raise money for their air tickets back to Kenya. CHTEA in collaboration with other partners are working around the clock to get sponsors for their tickets. CHTEA is currently offering online counselling services to the victims.

Above: inhuman living conditions, cartons on cold floors serving as beddings (shared by victims)

Appeal for tickets

They shared their story with CHTEA during an exclusive interview. The news reached the Kenyan government who directed the embassy to take them to Kuala Lumpur where they have been staying for about two months as they continue to wait for tickets. Their families have not been able to raise the fees. They are humbly seeking for well-wishers for help them raise the overstay fees and air tickets to get back home.

Anyone willing to support with tickets, kindly get in touch with CHTEA through telephone number +254 701 339 204 or email info@chttrust-eastafrica.org

Alliance 8.7 Partners annual review meeting report.

Partners posing for a picture in the meeting.

On 4th October, Counter Human Trafficking Trust-East Africa (CHTEA) (represented by Ms Precious Musyoki) joined other civil society organisations Religious Against Human Trafficking [RAHT], Free the Slaves, the Salvation Army, Footprint of hope and Jafari Jata Solution in a meeting convened by Free The Slaves to review the Alliance 8.7 commitments.

The discussion on Alliance 8.7 revolved around evaluating the progress made in the past year towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 – eradicating forced labor, modern slavery, human trafficking, and child labor. Partners shared their respective initiatives and programs, emphasizing the need for increased coordination and innovative strategies.

Some of the key points discussed included:

  1. Sharing best practices in survivor rehabilitation and reintegration.
  2. Advantages of joining the alliance as a country or as an organization.
  3. Enhancing awareness campaigns to prevent trafficking and exploitation.

The 2nd agenda for the day was Survivor engagement, it took center stage, highlighting the importance of survivor voices in shaping effective anti-trafficking interventions. Partners shared their success stories and challenges faced in empowering survivors. The key highlights included:

  1. Providing comprehensive support services, including counseling, education, and skills’ development.
  2. Ensuring survivor data confidentiality and security.
    Partners during discussions at the meeting

Later on, partners presented their annual reports, detailing their achievements, challenges, and future plans. The reports highlighted:

  1. An increase in number of rescued victims and successful prosecutions.
  2. Challenges faced, such as limited financial and human resources and the evolving nature of human trafficking methods.
  3. The need for collaborative efforts with local authorities, NGOs, and international organizations.

The meeting was then concluded with a brainstorming session to outline actionable steps based on the discussions. The following were agreed upon:

  1. Forming of task forces to focus on specific aspects of Alliance 8.7 goals to ensure targeted efforts.
  2. Establishing a survivor-led advisory programs and policies.
  3. Organizing joint training sessions for law enforcement officers, social workers, and legal professionals to enhance their skills and knowledge on Trafficking In Persons and Smuggling of Migrants.
  4. Expressed the need for framework to avoid double-recording of the survivors in different organizations to achieve optimal use of the limited resources.

The meeting concluded on a positive note, with partners expressing their commitment to intensify efforts in the following year. The exchange of ideas and experiences during the meeting reinforced the importance of collaboration in addressing the multifaceted issue of trafficking and exploitation. The next meeting was scheduled for November where the dates will be communicated on a later date.

Guest Article: Escape from slavery in Dubai.

Junaid Ansari, is a 50-year-old father from Uttar Pradesh, India. Like many, he was a carpet weaver in his village, trying to provide for his family. But the meager income was not enough for. Junaid, like millions of others, he was forced to look abroad for work.

In December 2021, a local agent promised him a job as a house helper in Dubai. He was promised a monthly wage of 1400 Dirhams ($380.00 USD), food, accommodations, and kind employers. But the reality was a far cry from this. Instead of a comfortable home, Junaid was sent to a perfume factory where he was forced to work for 12 hours each day under abusive conditions.

Sadly, Junaid’s story is far too common. West India is one of the largest migration corridors globally, with an estimated 9 million Indian migrants working in the Persian Gulf region. While some find fair employment, countless others fall victim to hazardous labor conditions, exploitation, and labor trafficking, with no safety net, social security, or labor rights.

Junaid bravely shared, "The only reason why I was able to pressure the agent to arrange my journey back to India was the knowledge I gained from the Free the Slaves events..." 

Since December of 2020, Free the Slaves and MSEMVS have been at the forefront of protecting migrant workers in India through our “Safe Migration to the Gulf Countries” initiative. We’ve created a safe migration handbook, conducted trainings, and built an awareness network to ensure people migrating to Gulf countries stay safe and remain free. 

Through our initiative, we have reached over 7,000 individuals. To ensure our work is sustainable we have trained village heads to take on the responsibility of spreading awareness, while the volunteer community groups maintain migration registration systems, track cases, and keep their communities informed.

The second phase of this project is active now, focusing on eliminating unlawful and excessive recruitment fees levied by recruiting brokers. We aim to educate migrant workers and recruiters alike about these abuses and how they can prevent them.

Source: Free The Slaves

September in brief.

Above: Counter Human Trafficking-East Africa represented by Mr Mutuku Nguli, (seated second right at front row during a group photo) on 22nd September 2023 while attending a reflection workshop on Climate Change and Peacebuilding. It was held at a Nairobi hotel

Above: Ms. Mary Mugo (a member of the Religious Against Human Trafficking), in a hearty laugh after meeting Pope Francis mid-September while attending a Talitha Kum meeting in Rome

Above: A team from Tanzania posing for a group photo after finalizing a 2 days’ training which was held at the Medical Missionaries of Mary, Faraja Centre, Tanzania. The training was conducted by Mr Ahmed Mwidad from the Government Secretariat of Anti Human Trafficking under the ministry of Home Affairs. The Faraja Center-human trafficking programme was initiated by CHTEA in 2018 and has been used as a model in Tanzania.

Survivor story: Annette*

Annette is a mother of 3, separated with her two previous husbands. She is an Information Technology graduate and was working in clearing and forwarding sector at the Mombasa port. She met a recruitment agent while in Mombasa in the course of her work, after separating with her second husband in 2010. Before relocating to Mombasa, Annette had been living with her mother in Nyeri where life had become quite challenging since she had no job and yet she had a family to feed.

She recalls that the recruitment agent had promised her a lucrative opportunity in Qatar. In December 2010, Annette she was asked to go for a medical examination (chest and pregnancy). On arrival at the designated medical facility, she only did the pregnancy test and was asked not to worry about the chest X-ray. The agent told her that the results had already been sent to her would-be employer and that in any case, she looked healthy, according to him. The following day, her travel documents were sent to her on email and she was asked to meet the agent at the KENCOM bus stage ready to proceed to the airport. To her shock, when she arrived at KENCOM stage, she met other six women yet she had all along believed that she was the only one. On arrival at JKIA, the seven they were all given brown envelopes and off they disappeared to the back end of the waiting lounge.

It was only when Annette opened her envelope (inside the waiting lounge) that she got to know that she wasn’t going to Qatar anymore but to Lebanon with one other from the group while the rest were destined for Saudi Arabia.

The group had a stop-over at Dubai where they connected their flight to Beirut. While at the waiting area in Dubai, Annette says, “I met other Kenyan women at the Dubai international airport who were enroute back to Nairobi from Lebanon. They looked worn out and emaciated. Seeing them like that, it gave me jitters, it made her scared.”  Later on, they flew to Beirut where they would meet their sponsors and would-be employers. They picked her up even as she kept asking where she was being taken to without a response. The sponsor eventually got annoyed and beat and locked her up in a room. She was later picked up and taken to the agent’s office in Lebanon. While at the office, her employer explained to her that he had paid a 2000USD to bring her to Lebanon to work as a house help at her sister’s house. Annette had no option but to agree to work for a salary of 200USD per month.

At her first house, the family couldn’t understand her due to language barrier which resulted to Annette getting physically assaulted by the lady of the house. Annette later learnt Arabic but things didn’t change hence, she asked to be taken back to the agent. The employer obliged and took her back at the agent’s office where she demanded to be taken back to Kenya but was told to pay the 2000USD for buying price. She stayed at the office for 3 months before getting her second employer. Her stint at the first house was rewarding since she got paid for all months worked. She was able to send some money back home to her mother.

While at the office Janet was denied food, locked up in the office alongside another Kenyan lady. She was eventually taken to a 2nd house. The house had an old couple who suffered from chronic illnesses. The boss at the second house was very arrogant towards her. He didn’t even tell her what her salary was to be. He told her that she didn’t have the mandate to ask how much she would be paid. Annette was badly mistreated (physically assaulted, denied food and worked for long hours). She worked here for 6 months, and tried to escape but was arrested and taken back. She reluctantly continued working as she plotted another escape. Through the help of an Egyptian mechanic, she was able to escape. The Egyptian man helped her get a temporary place to stay where she also got an opportunity to start working at a hotel as an illegal migrant, since she did not have her travel documents. She worked at the hotel for few a months before she was stopped on the claim an impending crackdown on illegal migrant workers. The job loss forced Annette to rely on part time jobs. She volunteered to work for the Kenyan consulate at Beirut at no pay hoping to meet the consular and plead for her freedom back home.

While volunteering at the Kenyan consulate, Annette was able to resolve cases and helped fellow Kenyan migrants and the Consulate as well. She was able to hold forums for the migrant workers to air out their challenges and help each other know how to navigate them. One of the many cases Janet was able to support was concerning the death of one Kenyan migrant worker who lost her life under unclear circumstances. She was able to investigate and found out that she had lost her life due to loss of blood following a procured abortion. It is through this case that Annette got an opportunity to meet the consulate who helped her get back to Kenya through deportation.

On arrival back in Kenya, Annette met her family members but she was heart-broken when she saw the condition of her son who looked unkempt and under fed. She even realized that the son was no longer going to school due to lack of school fees.

Annette got depressed and got into drugs and alcohol. She cut all contact with her mother and family. She recently reunited with her family but still struggles with where to start from. She now has two young kids. Her mother still resents her and she feels she like she is the cause of all her troubles. Annette has never received psychosocial support, yet she is in dire need of an IGA to support her family and her kids in high school.

Annette* - not her real name

 

Tips for promoting online safety for kids in schools.

Tips for Promoting Online Safety for kids in Schools.

Schools are under-way through third term in most East African countries, and soon, students will begin their end term/year national examinations.  In between the opening and closing, students will be accessing the internet for educational content and revision purposes. It is therefore important to understand how schools can ensure the students online safety while online.

Access to the internet opens doors to information that our children could not otherwise access in the analogue world. The internet provides access to educational content, including study notes and curriculum content. Further, a child has access to information such as the environment, wildlife, society and more. There are also a lot of entertainment videos for the children, including cartoons. All these contents will help a child grow being aware of his or her environment and the society. However, the internet is also home to other types of content including movies and TV shows, betting and casino, music, games, adult content, and more.

In other words, whereas the internet can open a world of possibilities for our children, without proper supervision and control, it can expose the young ones to dangers. In addition to websites, social media has fast gained traction among teenagers and young adults. The social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok provides an environment where children interact with other people, not only those known to them, but also strangers.

Dangers of the internet for Children

There are a wide of range of dangers that children are likely to face online, according to a cyber security company, Kaspersky. The top online threats for children are:

1) Cyberbullying - Globally, about 11.5% of children have been bullied online. Cyberbullying is an aggressive, threatening or intimidating activity conducted via electronic communication including email, social media posts and messages, SMSs, and more. In most cases, children are reluctant to admit that they are victims of cyberbullying.

2) Online predators - Children and adults share the same online space, more so in social media and game chatrooms. Online predators are adults who use the internet to entice children for sexual exploitation or other activities, including luring them with the intent to kidnap.

3) Exposure to inappropriate content - Inappropriate content includes sexually explicit content, violent and graphic content, age-inappropriate content, and downloading of pirated materials, including music and videos.

Ways in which schools may create safe learning environments.

Beyond the responsibility of schools to create safe environments on their physical property, they also have a responsibility to create safe online-learning environments. Supervision of children while using the devices alone is not enough, Schools must recognize, prioritize, and minimize students’ potential exposure to predators, inappropriate, and—sadly—other students causing harm by implementing best practices for online safety:

  1. Safeguard on school-issued devices and platforms- School administration must take necessary precautions to ensure school-distributed electronic devices are not exposing children to harmful material. School to turn on parental control before giving devices to children
  2. Education for parents – As a school administration at the very least, be very clear with parents and guardians what platforms and websites their kids will be using, provide them their children’s passwords, and direct them to resources they can use to have age-appropriate conversations with their kids at home about body safety, harms of adult content and digital citizenship among others.
  3. Teacher training- We’ve been hearing of teachers using social media platforms to engage students, when those platforms are known to be pedophile hunting grounds and rampant with child sex abuse material. As school administration ensure Teachers and educators are clear about protocols and procedures when a student is exposed to or even sharing pornography while completing school assignments, on the playground, or school bus and they have the support and training necessary to deal with these potential harms. Digital Safety should be required for all school personnel—and there are many fantastic resources school administrations can use and tailor for their community.
  4. Youth empowerment- In our increasingly tech-reliant education system, lessons around these issues should be required, prioritized, and ongoing. At a minimum, students should be well aware of school policies and expectations around devices (school-issued and personal) and Internet usage. Sooner, not later, is when students should be taught in age-appropriate ways about body safety, recognizing predatory behavior (in person and online), understanding the harms of pornography, and what to do if they’re exposed to it, being clear on the socio-emotional risks of “sexting”: sending sexually explicit photos of themselves, as well as the potential consequences-including criminal liability - of taking and/or sharing sexually explicit material or using it to bully, shame, or threaten someone (i.e. “revenge porn”), and most importantly what to do if they feel uncomfortable or threatened.

 

 

 

Including minor migrants’ voices in combating human trafficking.

On 30th August, Counter human trafficking Trust- East Africa in partnership with Forum for Women, the Kamukunji sub county office among other stakeholders held an open forum themed’ Including minor survivors voices in combating human trafficking’ at California Digital Resource Centre, Eastleigh. The forum aimed at bringing together migrants from the EAC region- Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia residing within Kamukunji subcounty to share their experiences as minor migrants, to help the stakeholders understand how the migrants find themselves in Kenya and how they become vulnerable

:“lncluding voices of minor migrants in combating human trafficking”, at the California Digital Resource Center, Eastleigh, Nairobi.

 

Sent Home: How Kenyan’s dream of life as a UK Care worker turned sour.

It is a bitter November night and Anthony Mbare is shivering in a car in rural Wiltshire, south-west England, waiting to see his next client. It’s 3C and he has been here for almost two hours but he cannot turn on the heater because the car battery might die. A petrol-station coffee to warm him up is £3 he cannot afford. He blows on his hands, wriggles his toes and huddles under a blanket.

At around 9pm, Mbare knocks on the client’s door. She is “middle class”, elderly, kind and terminally ill. For the next 30 minutes he will provide personal care and help her get ready for bed. By the time he makes it home, he will have seen 10 clients and been out for more than 16 hours, having had his first appointment at 7am. Today is a good day: he will make £61.20. Some days it is as little as £15.

Mbare is one of thousands of care workers hired from abroad to help tackle a chronic staffing shortage in social care. In the year to March 2023, 57,693 people were granted skilled worker visas to take up jobs in the sector, with most recruited from lower-income countries outside the EU.

For Mbare, moving to the UK had seemed like a chance to transform his family’s future. The father of three uprooted his life in Kenya to come: he sold his belongings, left his job and paid £2,500 in “admin” fees to a domiciliary agency which, he claims, promised him a full-time, minimum-wage job – 10 times what he could make back home.

But last week, less than a year after he arrived, he says he was forced to return to Nairobi – “£10,000 in debt” and with no job to go back to. He claims his employer fired him and terminated his visa sponsorship after he raised concerns about working conditions. It then failed to provide him with a reference, he says, thwarting his chances of finding another care sector sponsor – and leaving him unable to remain in the UK. The company denies wrongdoing and disputes Mbare’s account.

When Mbare began working in the UK in September 2022, he found the job tough but rewarding. He says he formed close bonds with his clients – mostly elderly people receiving end-of-life care – and was treated by some relatives as “part of the family”.

But the conditions were not what he had expected. Before leaving Kenya, he says he was told by his sponsor, Merit Healthcare, that he would work 40 hours a week for £10.20 per hour. A contract seen by the Observer says his annual salary would be £21,200, split into even monthly payments.

However, when he arrived, he received far fewer hours, which he said left him struggling to afford basic living costs. Sometimes he would set off for the day before 7am and return at 11pm but spend as little as two- or three-hours providing care to clients, split into half-hour chunks.

With long gaps between appointments, and no pay for driving or waiting time, he found himself with long periods unpaid. He could have gone home to rest instead of waiting but says he could not afford the extra fuel.

Payslips for September to January 2023 show Mbare made between £980 and £1,100 each month – hundreds less than he was expecting. At that rate, his total annual income would have been around £12,000 to £13,000. With debts and school fees to pay, Mbare persevered at first – desperate to make enough after rent and bills to send money to his family.

Then, four months in, he says Merit insisted he agree to a vehicle policy requiring him to pay the costs of road tax, insurance and upkeep for a company car used for driving between clients, which it had previously funded. Alternatively, he could buy a car at cost price and have a monthly fee taken from his salary. Mbare says the changes would have cost him hundreds of pounds each month. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to be a slave,’” he says. “I didn’t know how I would ever pay it back.”

Documents show that Mbare raised concerns with a manager, hoping the situation could be resolved. Days later, the company fired him and told the Home Office it was cancelling his visa sponsorship. In a termination letter on 20 January 2023, Merit said he was being dismissed for failure to comply with the new vehicle rules. It also accused him of “insubordination” by “inciting other employees to disagree with our policies”. The company told the Observer it had fired Mbare for “legal and valid reasons” but could not supply further details due to data protection rules.

Over the following weeks, Mbare tried to appeal against the decision, and wrote to the Home Office requesting help. But he received no reply and, on 1 August, received a letter saying that, unless he found another sponsor, he would have to leave the country within 60 days. He interviewed for other care jobs and was offered them but says the process stalled as he did not have a UK reference. On 26 August, having exhausted all other options and facing deportation if he did not leave, he flew home to Kenya.

Now back with his family in Juja, a town north-east of Nairobi, the former carpenter says he does not know how they will repay the £10,000 in debts he accrued in agency fees, training charges, flights, relocation costs and interest on loans, which he had expected to be able to repay through the UK job. He expects he will have to sell the house his family built. “I thought this job would make my life better,” he says.

His story has sparked calls for reform of the “tied” visa system in the UK care sector, which campaigners say leaves migrant workers at risk of exploitation and abuse.

Under the rules, health and care workers must be sponsored by an individual employer, which their visa is then tied to. Critics say the system leaves workers dependent on their employer for the right to work in the UK, making it difficult for them to switch jobs and less likely to speak out for fear of repercussions.

Fizza Qureshi, the chief executive of Migrants’ Rights Network, said the charity knew of a “vast number of cases where migrant workers are being trapped in their current jobs because employers are withholding references, or threatening them if they try to change employers”. She added: “This case is symptomatic of a system that is being blatantly used to abuse and extort migrant workers.”

Adis Sehic, a senior policy officer at the Work Rights Centre, said the threat of deportation was frequently used as a tool to control employees. “The current system places too much power in the hands of rogue sponsors,” he said.

Narmi Thiranagama, a policy officer at Unison, said: “The way the hostile environment combines with the underfunded social care sector ends up with the worker paying the price.”

The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority – part of the Home Office – has also acknowledged that tied visas drive exploitation. In its June 2023 intelligence report, it said “the most common vulnerability” of victims, many of whom are in the care sector, was them being “tied into a certificate of sponsorship or visa”. This led to them “being forced to work for the employer even if the conditions were unacceptable, and the employer using the threat of cancelling the sponsorship if the worker complained”.

Mbare believes that if the tied system was not in place, leaving him free to switch to another care sector employer, he “definitely” would have stayed in the UK and been able to repay his debts. But, compared with others he has spoken to, he believes his UK experience was “pretty mild”

He knows of care workers who paid agencies up to £8,000 for jobs in the UK, and are now working long days only to be paid £700 at the end of the month. “There’s a woman who’s calling me saying she’s been eating bread and water every day,” he says.

Others have sold their land and emptied their parents’ pension pots to pay agencies that promised them “so much money and so much work”. “They have given everything to help their children travel abroad to try and provide a more comfortable life. Now they can’t even provide survival.”

Mbare said he could not believe such exploitation could happen in the developed world. “My love for the UK has completely gone,” he said. “I have tried to warn others. I tell them: it’s not what it looks like. The government knows this exploitation is happening but no one is doing anything about it.”

Justine Carter, director at Unseen UK, which runs the UK modern slavery helpline, said reports of exploitation in the care sector were “exploding” – with 708 potential victims identified in 2022, compared with 63 in 2021. Cases include workers being charged up to £20,000 to secure jobs; forced to work long hours or given fewer hours than they were promised; or being paid in a way that did not reflect the time “actually being worked”.

“The tied visa creates an environment where it’s easier for that person to become much more vulnerable,” she said.

She added that expenses associated with providing care – “whether that’s costs of a worker or costs to get them to and from clients” – should always be borne by the employer.

Mbare’s story also raises questions about checks performed on companies granted sponsor licences to recruit workers from abroad. Visa sponsors are bound by licence conditions and employment laws, and can be inspected by the Home Office to ensure compliance. In the case of Merit Healthcare, Mbare says he wrote to the department five months ago, providing details of working conditions and raising concerns about his termination, but received no reply.

The Home Office declined to answer questions about Mbare’s case, but said it “strongly condemned” any companies that hired migrant workers “under false pretences” and that any accusations of illegal employment practices would be “thoroughly looked into”. “Those found operating unlawfully may face prosecution and/or removal from the sponsorship register,” it said. By law, care workers coming to the UK under the health and care visa route must be paid at least £20,960 per year.

Merit Healthcare Ltd, which is based in Swindon, Wiltshire, and rated “good” by the Care Quality Commission, said it followed Home Office rules and denied any wrongdoing. It said hours and pay could fluctuate due to unforeseen circumstances, such as a client dying, which could explain why Mbare’s earnings were different to the figure stated in his contract.

The company denied its vehicle policies were unfair, and said it had changed its rules because drivers had been having accidents in company cars, increasing insurance premiums. It said Mbare had refused a “reasonable solution” to which other workers had agreed.

In relation to the claim, it withheld a reference, Merit says its policy was not to provide references if doing so could “negatively impact an applicant’s chances of securing employment elsewhere”. It denied charging recruitment fees to candidates (which are illegal in the UK) but said that “like any other business, any ad hoc costs related to the running of the business and, in particular, relocation to the UK can be passed on to a worker”. Documents seen by the Observer show Mbare was charged an admin fee of £2,500 to “prepare your paperwork” and “issue you the certificate [of sponsorship]”.

A spokesperson for Merit said Mbare’s story was a “partial account of true events” and the “real” issue was government underfunding of social care. “We dispute the claim that the work offered was different or not expected/foreseeable,” he said. Merit’s website says it provides quality care for clients and an “unbeatable package of benefits” for workers.

 

Source: The Observer

Guest article: Arrests in Indonesia, but organ trafficking continues.

According to The Diplomat, 12 people have been arrested as suspects in a transnational organ trafficking ring. The suspects include a police officer from Bekasi and a Balinese immigration officer, as well as nine former victims of organ trafficking. They are accused of luring as many as 122 Indonesian nationals to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where their kidneys were harvested for sale in Preah Ket Mealea Hospital. The immigration officer appears to have played a critical role in the organized crime, falsifying travel documents and receiving $200 per victim.

“The transnational trafficking group had been in operation since 2019 and had netted some $1.6 billion over the years, with each victim promised just $9,000 for a kidney.” – The Diplomat, according to Hengki Haryadi, the Jakarta police director for general crimes

Among the victims are teachers, executives, security guards, and factory workers who allegedly agreed to sell their kidneys in exchange for cash. According to the Jakarta police director for general crimes, they had lost their jobs during the pandemic and were desperate for money.

If convicted, the suspects can expect a maximum of 15 years in prison and a potential fine of up to $39,000. The immigration officer and the policeman are implicated in further charges related to the abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

Not an uncommon occurrence

Organ trafficking is not a rarity in the region. Poverty, a shortage of employment, and the need for money make many Indonesians vulnerable to exploitation, in addition to low literacy and access to education. Criminals lure victims into thinking they will work abroad with tempting salaries and promises to pay for their travel and passport costs. However, upon arrival, many realize they must repay this debt. Then, their organs are taken and sold if they don’t work hard enough.

Furthermore, the geographical location of Indonesia and its weak borders exacerbate the problem. Victims are also often trafficked for forced labor or debt bondage from Indonesia to other Asian countries or the Middle East.

Lack of legislation and implementation

The World Health Organization (WHO) has prohibited paid organ donation since 1987. Indonesia is among the countries that outlaw the practice in their local legislation. They signed the Palermo Convention and the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which was signed into local law in 2009. In addition, the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, makes the country bound to the regional agreement since 2015.

In comparison to paid organ donation, voluntary organ donation is legal for anyone above the age of 18 who has permission from their doctor and family. Due to a lack of legislation, a persisting problem is the blurred lines between legal donation and illegal sale. This fuels the illegal organ trade. Furthermore, victims may also face criminal sanctions, preventing them from coming forward.

Source: Freedom United