Saudi remittances to Kenya double to $187m amid domestic violence

By CONSTANT MUNDA

Saudi Arabia has emerged as the fastest growing source of remittances, indicating growing migration of unemployed Kenyan workers despite cases of abuse and cruel treatment of foreign domestic workers in the middle nation. -East.

New official data – based on cash flow through formal channels – indicates that diaspora remittances from Saudi Arabia have more than doubled in the past two years.

Statistics from the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) show that 22.65 billion Ksh ($187 million) were sent home by Kenyans living in Saudi Arabia in the first eight months of the year.

This ranks the Gulf nation as the third largest source of remittances for Kenya behind the UK (Ksh25.4 billion/$209.8 million) and the US (Ksh188.8 billion). Ksh / $1.5 billion).

Admissions were up three-quarters from $107.99 million in the same period last year, and represent a 144.35% increase from $77.26 million in 2020, marking the highest growth. faster over time.

Saudi Arabia relies on millions of low-paid foreign workers such as cleaners, caregivers, nannies, drivers and security guards, who send money home to their families each year. .

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More than 30 percent of the oil-rich kingdom’s 35 million people are migrants, many of them from Asian and African countries.

But Saudi Arabia – like other Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman – has long faced criticism from rights groups for its system. visa sponsorship that exposes migrant workers to abuse and exploitation.

Domestic workers are often locked away by their employers, forced to work more than 18 hours a day, deprived of food and wages and subjected to physical and sexual violence, activists say.

CBK data indicates that remittances from Saudi Arabia are on track to overtake cash transferred from the UK, having overtaken South Africa which was the second largest source of money transfers from Kenyans working abroad. Principal Foreign Secretary Macharia Kamau told MPs that more than 100,000 Kenyans were doing non-domestic work in Saudi Arabia.

“Countries like Saudi Arabia, their traditions around domestic work are very ‘old’, so you find that people who suffer terrible beatings and abuse are usually domestic helpers,” Mr Kamau said.

“In this same country where we have over 100,000 Kenyans working in different capacities, hotels, taxis, they have no problem. So we have to ask ourselves if we are exporting the right category of staff and if they have the capacity and the training necessary to understand this culture.”

Visa sponsorship rules known as the kafala system in Gulf countries tie migrant workers to their employer and they cannot change jobs or leave the country without permission.

This has led to widespread abuses against migrant workers – from the confiscation of passports, to unpaid wages and excessive working hours, to beatings and even rape by male household members.

Kenyan authorities have come under intense pressure to put in place measures to protect citizens fleeing unemployment in an economy struggling to create jobs for its growing young population.

In the Ksh 3.3 trillion ($27.2 billion) budget for this fiscal year ending June 2023, lawmakers approved an expenditure of Ksh 374 million ($3 million) to build a safe house in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, to provide sanctuary for Kenyan workers abused in that country.

Diaspora remittances from Saudi Arabia reached a monthly record of $26.6 million, compared to $16.56 million in the same month last year and $10.43 million in August 2020.

This cemented its place as the third largest source of money sent back by Kenyans abroad, behind the United States and the United Kingdom whose inflows have slowed due to decades-long high inflation which has eating away at income.

Inflows from Kenyans living in the US grew at a slower pace of 12.17% over the eight-month period to $1.565 billion, while those from the UK fell 11, 10% to 25.44 billion Ksh ($210 million).

Overall, remittances increased by 11.44% year-on-year during the period January-August 2022 to reach $2.67 billion, cementing its position as the top foreign exchange earner of Kenya ahead of tea exports, tourism receipts and horticultural exports.

President William Ruto has pledged to establish a ministry to deal with issues affecting the Kenyan diaspora when he forms government in the coming days.

“The focus has been on remittances, while their basic rights as citizens have been neglected,” Dr Ruto said September 13. “To correct this oversight, I am committed to elevating Diaspora issues to the ministry level.”

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