Migrant Workers’ Challenges: Unshackling Ugandan migrant low-skilled workers in the Middle East.
In addition to agriculture, oil, coffee, and other sectors, labour externalization is currently Uganda’s main source of income. The increasing inflow of remittances has enhanced Uganda’s export earnings. Mugenyi, a senior Ugandan Journalist estimates that there are presently Sh5 trillion worth of remittances coming into the nation. The GDP of Uganda would be between 2% and 3% less without this amount. Furthermore, 90% of Ugandan migrant domestic workers abroad increasingly spend their money mostly on property investment at home (Monitor). More than a hundred thousand Ugandans are said to be employed just in the Middle East. According to estimates, $1 billion in remittances from Ugandans living abroad enter the nation each year. Due to COVID-19, this really represents a decrease of $ 300 million from close to $ 1.4 billion. Therefore, Uganda continues to rank first among sub-Saharan African nations and is still one of the ten leading remittance recipients on the continent (Tinka).
The tendency toward externalizing employment interactions on a global scale can be interpreted as proof of the marketization of the labour market. This is demonstrated by a shift in the usage of temporary employment arrangements away from typical office work and toward other sectors such as the construction industry and housing, as well as by the introduction of more insecure employment contracts (Bergstrom). Uganda has a staggering number of jobless individuals and the youth are frequently the cause of upheavals and social chaos, this has disruptive and
unsettling repercussions for the economy and society as a whole, both now and in the near future (Pletscher). Ugandan youngsters, therefore, look for alternate work opportunities. They are forced to take on dangerous tasks and look for work prospects in the Middle East since Uganda offers few opportunities for decent-paying jobs, according to The Economic Policy Research Centre report in 2021.
However, when they travel to the Middle Eastern and Arab nations, they are mercilessly tortured and murdered in cold blood, hence failing to achieve their main goal of raising their level of living.
“Nakintu’s kidney, which is essential for filtering blood and removing waste, was curiously removed without her consent or agreement. She was then held in a storage facility that her employer had rented, where the other Ugandan migrant worker provided care for her.” Many other Ugandan female migrant domestic helpers, like Nakintu, struggle to provide for their families while being subjected to the same treatment (The Citizen).
Agnes Igoye, a representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, claims that every day, over 500 females leave Uganda in search of domestic employment in nations like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. This shows that monthly, more than 15,000 women leave Uganda to serve as domestic workers in the Middle East (The Independent). In the Arab States area, 83% of domestic helpers were migrants, based on the ILO’s 2013 worldwide and regional statistics on migrant workers, which also put an emphasis on domestic labour (ILO). Between 2016 and the beginning of 2019,
The Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development of Uganda reported that 21,716 people have emigrated to Saudi Arabia and Jordan to work as domestic helpers.
The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women confirms that this number constantly increases year by year. More than 100 enterprises from various regions are on the list of businesses that have been registered and granted permission to export labour. A. G. Security Group Limited in Kisugu, Middle East Consultants, The Gideon’s Men Ltd. in Luzira, Normandy Company Uganda Ltd. in Kamwokya, 2Niles Public Relations Agency Limited in Nsambya, and others, are just a few to name (Kamusiime). The nation’s oldest workforce export company in Uganda today, Middle East Consultants, has hired over 9000 individuals between the ages of 18 – 45 to work in the Middle East during the past 14 years. Additionally, up to 65000 Ugandans operate in odd jobs in the Middle East according to the Uganda Association of External Recruiting Agencies (UAERA). There are now 15000 more people employed there as compared to one year ago. Most of them are employed in a variety of vocations, including sales, cleaning, waiting, driving, and construction (Kamusiime). Currently, Saudi Arabia requires a minimum age of 25, compared to 23 for most Middle Eastern nations and 21 for the rest of the globe, to begin working as a domestic helper (Pavey).
Since the costs associated with obtaining work visas and other international travel documents are sometimes out of reach for poor women, debt bondage is one of their only alternatives. They get loans at exorbitant borrowing rates from brokers, local moneylenders, relatives, or friends. Due to the lack of an upfront payment, they choose domestic labour in the end. They choose to accept having the first four to five months of their monthly pay withheld. Women who get jobs through illicit means must pay a significant quantity of money, often between $183 and $204 (Manseau).
However, by abusing the Kafala system, the employees of these workers end up torturing them in numerous ways, both physically and psychologically. Sexual exploitation and harassment are not uncommon in such employment conditions. This, combined with economic helplessness, systemic racism, and occasionally death, make their situation more precarious (Sinha). In other words, the gap between their expectations and reality is big. The Kafala system has long controlled the interactions between migrant workers and their employers in Jordan, Lebanon, and all Arab Gulf states, with the exception of Iraq. It was created to supply inexpensive, plentiful labour at a time of tremendous economic boom, and supporters assert that it helps local businesses and system improvements (Robinson). Estimated deaths in 2017 alone were 48, of which 34 had died by suicide since the year’s commencement by November (Fallon). This provides us with the annual average death toll, which has been steadily rising.
The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, which is headed by a female minister, Hon. Betty Amongi Akena, is one of the agencies now in charge of these employees. Its primary objectives are the advancement of gender equity, social welfare, and community reform. The ministry is in charge of guaranteeing community mobilisation and engagement, gender equality, cultural enrichment, labour and employability, and the preservation and enhancement of the rights of the most vulnerable members of society. The Externalization section, the Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA), the Distress Center for Returnee Migrants, which is administered by UAERA, and personnel from the Ministry of Internal Affairs are all part of this ministry (Laiboni).
According to an accomplice made amongst the Ugandan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabian governments in regard to the Business and Human Rights Centre report 2022, Uganda
will be given the authority to ban Saudi labour firms that violate the contract terms, rights and obligations of Ugandan migrant people employed in the Middle Eastern nation (Kiiza).
This study examines the heinous, inhumane atrocities committed against female migrant domestic workers in the Middle East time and how these deeds severely affect them, resulting in difficult work circumstances and death.
This article also proposes suggestions for the authorities, young people, and other parties on the possible strategies that they need to take to combat these challenges. This idea is also to dispense adequate details for other practitioners and authors to create publications on other comparable datasets to do extraordinary experiments, increase awareness, and provide a platform for reticent people via writing and performance.
This research is based on a literature review methodology, whereby secondary data from the internet has been used to achieve the study’s main objective. It specifically poised and explored articles, journals, and different write-ups on Labour externalization, and the lives of Ugandan women who travel to the Arab world to work as domestic helpers in general, and it has covered the strategies which have always been implemented to tackle the challenges which these women are facing.
Migrant labourers from Uganda are increasingly finding themselves in circumstances that make them extremely susceptible to abuse, assault, captivity, seclusion, and even homicide. According to the Business and Human rights centre 2022, the situation has worsened from mere torture to murder.
Regardless of the complaints and call for help from the Ugandan government, these workers are still not being helped. Family members of the deceased are using mob justice means to demand the bodies of their loved ones, as seen in the case of Caroline Kyomuhangi who died in August 2022 in Saudi Arabia. In most cases, health professionals fail to find out what kills these workers, mainly because they are always found dead already, this is attributed to Rebecca Nakaziba’s case who died at work two days before she was examined in 2021.
Amid all the negative complaints of poor conditions and mistreatment, the Ugandan government to tame the situation decided to ban all workers boarding to the Gulf nation in 2016 (Kakande). However, this was not implemented since these workers are still boarding till date, with the government officials in charge.
Red flag observations based on situation analysis
It is clear enough that the highly increasing unemployment rate that forces Ugandans to board to the Middle East as domestic workers is not changing anytime soon.
Additionally, given the ineffective bans and other strategies that are being imposed by the Ugandan government to combat the torture, death and other problems these workers face, it is
clear that the situation is most likely to worsen since workers are not willing to stop searching for a better living standard.
In other words, the government is still going to keep sucking funds without taking the necessary responsibilities as it has been before. Therefore, the strategies to be taken must be implemented within the host countries, not within Uganda.
To begin with, the Ugandan government should develop, implement, and maintain policies that support working women abroad in partnership with the governments of the host countries. After learning that they are abused by the indigenous and occasionally killed, despite the enormous cash created by labour externalisation as well as internalisation and other benefits, both governments should foster policies that work to protect the low-skilled labor workers.
Female youngsters should be encouraged to work in a diverse workforce at home, especially to foster a culture that values cooperation, adaptability, and fairness so that they may contribute to their full potential and feel appreciated and supported. This will enhance domestic working circumstances abroad, pave the way for financially advantageous employment chances, fulfil career welfare and rectitudes, and lessen reliance on outside employment prospects as the only source of revenue. They ought to be inspired to cooperate and function effectively in various job settings, regardless of the circumstances.
Third, commercial agriculture has to be regulated to boost profitability and provide more opportunities for youths to work in cash crop cultivation. This may be accomplished by giving farmers top-notch fertilisers and seeds, as well as by addressing weather extremes and insect infestations. offering top-notch storage, handling, and packing facilities to satisfy the
needed export quality and sanitary criteria Over time, this will lessen the number of women who migrate to the Middle East in search of work, as well as the number of deaths and acts of torture they endure.
Instead of utilising them as pawns in a political game, the International Labour Organization should exert more influence on the government of Uganda to incorporate female social networks and SACCOs into the development of policies for women working abroad. This occurs because they are less completely involved with the process of formulating policy, which causes them to be more disengaged with government initiatives.
Despite the income the Ugandan government receives from labour exportation as revenue as well as fees for travel documents, it is clear that this money is not going toward making lives better for workers in the host countries. This calls for new solutions totally different from the bans and others which have always been formulated, since the torture is still ongoing at
a rising rate despite their presence, and either is Unemployment at home which is the cause. Thus, policy implementation should be drawn from past lessons.
Bergstrom, Ola. “Externalization of employees: thinking about going somewhere else.” International Journal of Human Resource Management 12.3 (2001): 373-388. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09585190122959
“CONTRIBUTION OF LABOUR EXPORTATiON TO WELFARE OF YOUTH IN UGANDA A CASE STUDY OF MIDDLE EAST CONSULTANTS, KAMPALA DISTRICT.” Kiu.Ac.Ug, https://ir.kiu.ac.ug/bitstream/20.500.12306/5814/1/ASHIRAF.pdf. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023.
Fallon, Amy. “‘The Only Hope Is to Die’: Suicide Soars among Ugandan Migrants Abused in the Gulf.” Reuters, Reuters, 30 Nov. 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-gulf-domestic-workers-idUSKBN1DU1X0.
Kakande, Yasin. “Uganda Bans Maids Working in Saudi Arabia amid Complaints of Mistreatment.” Reuters, Reuters, 22 Jan. 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-saudiarabia-workers-idUSKCN0V02PM.
Kamusiime, Wilfred. “List of Licensed Private Recruitment Companies Licensed by the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development as of 20th September, 2018.” Uganda Police Force, 13 Oct. 2018,
Laiboni, Nkirote. “WOMEN’S LABOUR MIGRATION ON THE AFRICA-MIDDLE EAST CORRIDOR: EXPERIENCES OF MIGRANT DOMESTIC WORKERS FROM UGANDA Namaganda Assumpta, Uganda Hotels, Food, Tourism, Supermarkets & Allied Workers’ Union (HTS-Union).” Gaatw.org, https://www.gaatw.org/publications/Uganda_Country_Report.pdf. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023.
Manseau, Gwenann S. “Sold to Slavery.” Nottingham.ac.uk, http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2247844
Pletscher, Michael. “Youth unemployment in Uganda: Roots of the problem and possible ways to mitigate them.” Fontes Foundation’s Youth Program (2015). http://fontes.no/foundation/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Michael-Pletscher_Youth-unemploymen t-in-Uganda.pdf
Robinson, Kali. “What Is the Kafala System?” Council on Foreign Relations, 19 Nov. 2020, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-kafala-system.
“Saudi Arabia: Amid Increasing Cases of Abuse against Ugandans, Ugandan Authorities to Unilaterally Suspend Complicit Labour Supply Cos. – Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.” Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/saudi-arabia-amid-increasing-cases-of-abu se-against-ugandans-in-kingdom-ugandan-authorities-to-unilaterally-suspend-complicit-cos/.
Saudi court awards Sh165 million to Ugandan domestic worker in ‘stolen kidney’ scandal. (2022, February 17). The Citizen. https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/tanzania/news/africa/saudi-court-awards-sh165-million-to-ugandan-domestic-worker-in-stolen-kidney-scandal-3720266
Accessed 10 Feb. 2023.
Sinha, Manya. “Treatment of Migrant Workers in the Middle East: Modern-Day Slavery?” Edu.au,
ary%2C%20this%20essay%20has,label%20of%20modern%2Dday%20slavery. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023.
The Independent. “Domestic Work: 500 Ugandan Girls Fly to Middle East Daily.” The Independent Uganda:, 4 July 2021, https://www.independent.co.ug/domestic-work-500-ugandan-girls-fly-to-middle-east-daily/.
“The Role of Labour Externalisation in Fostering Sustainable Agro-Industrial Value Chains in Uganda Dialogue.” INCLUDE Platform, 1 Apr. 2021, https://includeplatform.net/publications/the-role-of-labour-externalisation-in-fostering-sustainabl e-agro-industrial-value-chains-in-uganda-dialogue/.
Tinka, Samson. “Uganda: Externalization of Labor Can Be a Game Changer for Youth.” Allafrica.com, 23 Mar. 2022, https://allafrica.com/stories/202203230100.html.