By Innocent Anguyo
THE Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development has banned the export of Ugandans to other countries for work as housemaids, on grounds that they suffer horrendous exploitation at the hands of their employers.
Government’s decision to slap a ban on export of housemaids was reportedly informed by increasing complaints of abuse filed by Ugandan housemaids working abroad.
Recently, Milton Turyasiima, the Principal Labour Officer in charge of Research and Statistics at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, said that the decision follows a series of complaints of abuse on house maids employed in the Middle East.
During a stakeholders’ conference on human trafficking at Protea Hotel on Friday, Turyasiima said it was hard to oversee the treatment of house maids because they work within their employer’s home, far away from the prying eyes of the public.
The ministry therefore has stopped providing official recommendation to any Ugandan seeking employment as a housemaid in Arab countries.
It has emerged that most of the Ugandans employed as house maids in Asian countries such as United Arab Emirates, Qatar, India, Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain end up being exploited.
Victims of exploitation attest to being denied meals, overworked, denied leave, harassed, racially abused, underpaid or even unpaid, denied medical help, and at times sexually abused.
However, government continues to recommend citizens intending to seek other kinds of employment abroad provided they satisfy the required conditions.
Any citizen seeking recommendation to work abroad is required to provide a copy of valid passport, employment contract, and work permit, certificate of medical fitness, and copy of return air ticket, clearance from Interpol and recommendation from Local Council.
Other conditions one has to satisfy before getting official recommendation to travel for work abroad include consent from parent or spouse and an identification document.
Moses Binoga, the coordinator of the Counter Human Trafficking National Task Force at the ministry of internal affairs described the treatment of housemaids abroad as a form of modern slavery or human trafficking.
“Especially, in those Arab countries, when people acquire housemaids, they think they have bought them and can do anything to them. That is a very bad practice that we condemn,” said Binoga, arguing that laws of some of the destination countries encourage exploitation.
Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person for the purpose of exploitation.
Binoga, who is also a police officer, said the government directive is being enforced, to prevent Ugandans from being exploited abroad.
Andrew Tumwine Kameraho, Chairman of the Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA) said they no longer export housemaids, having received the notice from government.
Although, the 29 licensed labour recruitment firms could have stopped exporting housemaids, Binoga said several illegal firms and unscrupulous individuals were still defying the government directive.
“I don’t have the statistics but we have heard of individuals and companies that are still illegally exporting housemaids,” Binoga said.
He said government is will review bilateral relations with some of the destination countries, to ensure Ugandans in those countries are not exploited. Government is expected to launch talks with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates on how to exterminate exploitation of workers.
Gerard Waite, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Chief of Mission said since 2011, the organisation has provided return assistance to over 52 Ugandans trafficked abroad.
Most victims assisted by IOM Uganda are trafficked to Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, China, Iraq and India. Most victims assisted by IOM Uganda are recruited for sexual exploitation and 25% for labour exploitation.
Uganda, Binoga noted has registered high numbers of suspected victims of trafficking since 2010 with the highest figure recorded in 2013.
In 2013, a total of 837 victims of trafficking (including suspected victims) were registered, out of which 429 were victims of transnational trafficking while 408 were trafficked internally.
The forms of exploitation registered in Uganda include sexual exploitation, labor exploitation, and use of persons, including children, in illegal activities, human sacrifice, child marriage, removal of body organs for sale, harmful child labor and practices similar to slavery.
The illegal activities in which victims of human trafficking were subsequently used included rebel/terrorist activities, drug trafficking, street begging, pornography, prostitution and petty thefts.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that there are about 1.5 million Ugandans working abroad. However, others are believed to have travelled illegally and therefore not noticed by government.
Remittances remain the lead source of foreign exchange in Uganda.
According to the Uganda Migration Profile published by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), remittances from diaspora had drastically increased in the last five years.
Word Bank statistics established that, in 1999, only $200m (about sh502b) remittances were received in Uganda, however by 2011; an estimate of $900m (about sh2.2trillion) was registered within the country.
The IOM report further states that in 2010, remittance inflows into Uganda exceeded foreign direct investment (FDI) to Uganda, thereby providing a clear indication of the growing importance of remittance inflows in Uganda’s economy.