By Irene Lamunu
Five years ago, Ochola Peter decided to leave Uganda because he had failed to get employment. He was a very frustrated man when a friend tipped him off about a job in the Middle East. Ochola decided to try it out. It was not Ochola’s dream job because he had a degree in Business Administration and was going to work as a security guard but he said it was better than staying jobless in Uganda. “This job is not an easy job, and it’s not a regular job a lazy Ugandan would manage,” he says. His shifts begin mid-morning and run late into the night. Every day is a working day; he only gets to rest when he comes back home for a holiday. Though it’s not his dream job, Ochola has managed to take care of his family, fit in society and be a respectable man.
Just like Ochola, many young ladies and men have been flocking the airport going to Middle East to provide services as house maids, security guards, drivers, waiters and waitresses, among others. These young men and women are contributing so much to the economy of Uganda whenever they send money back home to their relatives. At the beginning of this year in January, Bank of Uganda stated that, remittances to Uganda last year grew to $1.21 billion boosted by receipts from labour exports to Middle Eastern countries, which over the years have grown to eclipse some of the traditional remittance sources, preliminary data from the central bank showed. Dr. Adam Mugume, executive director of research at the Bank of Uganda told The East African that remittances from the Middle East were rising while receipts from regions that were traditional sources of transfers have dropped due to troubled economic conditions. The Bank of Uganda official said this data is based on figures reported by money transfer operators in the first 11 months of 2018 and estimates for December, which reflect an improvement of 4.1 per cent on the previous year’s receipts.
The central bank said estimates for December 2018 alone were $227.9 million. BoU survey done last year to establish the total value of transfers into the country showed that Uganda earned $1.16 billion in 2017. According to BOU, remittances from the Middle East have gained the most compared to Europe, North America, southern Africa and South Sudan. Meanwhile, the Eagle on-line, Quoted the chairman of Uganda Association (UAERA) for External Recruitment Agencies saying Ugandan migrant labour in the Middle East is over 140,000.
Mr. Andrew Tumwine Kameraho, the Chairman of UAERA said every year, about 3000 Ugandans travel to the Middle East to work as arranged by 110 member companies of UAERA recognized by government of Uganda to export labour. According to Tumwine, Uganda exports about 10 categories of labourers to the Middle East namely; professionals, technicians, skilled, semi-skilled, security personnel, porters, drivers, cleaners, housekeepers and catering and hospitality personnel. He also added that, however much Uganda exports labour to the Middle East, the country has bilateral labour agreements with only Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Such countries which Uganda has no bilateral labour agreements with are; United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait, among others.
As the number of Ugandan youths going to work in the Middle East is on the rise, concern has been raised about some who have died in those countries, some allegedly tortured by their employees, more especially domestic workers.
Unfortunately, some of the girls are lured by traffickers and they pay hefty sums of money to be transported to Middle East. When they reach Middle East, they are recruited into prostitution. A lady who preferred anonymity said, “When I was leaving Kampala, I had been promised a job as a waitress in a hotel only to reach Dubai and recruited into prostitution, I could not stay, I found a way and came back.” There are also concerns that some Ugandans are treated like slaves since they have to work and pay back the money their traffickers used to take them to Middle East.
Recently, the Daily Monitor ran a story on two Ugandan girls working in Oman, Resty Namusisi and Joyce Nanyonjo who were being held in a safe house in Muscat by a recruiting company that transported them to Oman. The company is demanding from them a refund of shs14 million or work until their contracts expire. The girls said they were not told about the terms and conditions of their work in Oman. The paper is quoted as saying that the girls will face jail term if they failed to meet the conditions set by their captors. The article concluded stating that one of the employees, Sayed Majeed promised to torture the girls until their families raise the money. Despite the many cries of girls working in the Middle East, there are some people with only praises and they would work there for as long as they can.
The year was 2016 when Nakabugo Sarah was also trafficked to Oman to work as a house maid. Unlike other girls; she is one of the lucky ladies who praise the Middle East, especially Oman. The family she worked for were very respectful people and kind to her. She said for the two years she worked at that home, she received very humane treatment with total respect from her bosses and all family members. The home had about 30 people and her duty was housekeeping and babysitting. She was forced to leave them after her contract ended and she needed to come back to Uganda to see her mother and daughter. Nakabugo said she has received phone calls from the same family asking her to return and work for them again. Nakabugo says that if she is to return to the same family, the deal will be between her and the employer.
Meanwhile, Sam Omongole who has worked at one of the business centres in Abu Dhabi for three years has never come back home. He says that since he begun work in the company, he has never had any breaks because his bosses believe that the time he sleeps at night is enough. Omongole says that he feels tired but since he wants money, he is forced to remain silent. He works from 3pm to 11pm every day from Monday to Monday. He says he has benefitted from the job but he feels he needs to rest and he is talking about changing jobs though he still maintains working in Middle East.
Information from the Ministry of Internal Affairs department of counter human trafficking national task force indicates that most victims of human trafficking are recruited through deception with promises of employment, care and education. Information also revealed that there were few incidents where force was used and these were related to human sacrifice.
Despite the many inhuman stories from people working in the Arab countries, many young unemployed Ugandans are looking at the Middle East as their only hope to the biting unemployment. On the other hand, government is also ripping big from the repatriations back home.
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