Eleven East African countries signed an important regional cooperation agreement this week to combat human trafficking. The signing took place at a forum organized by the Kenyan government and supported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The text seeks to harmonize labor migration policies in the region, especially for regions where there are large employers of African immigrants, such as the Persian Gulf.
The lack of labor migration policies implies exploitation of risk and abuse through unfair practices, including excessive working hours, confiscation of passports, confinement and denial of wages.
Kenya, Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania signed the document. Representatives from each country also agreed to form a Social Protection Forum, with a rotating presidency.
“This committee will take the lead in driving the implementation of the Forum’s key agreements. He will also advise and provide progress reports to ministers in charge of labor migration in the region, ”said Simon Chelugui, Kenya’s Labor and Social Protection cabinet secretary.
Ministers agreed to cooperate in providing diplomatic and consular assistance to migrant workers, especially in countries where some states have no diplomatic representation. They also pledged to expand bilateral labor migration agreements for unskilled workers, such as domestic workers, in addition to incorporating other professionals.
In 2019, IOM registered at least 140,000 people migrating from the Horn of Africa to Yemen risking their lives in dangerous water crossings. These trips usually begin in rural communities in Ethiopia, passing on the coast of Djibouti or Somalia.
Nearly 90 percent of migrants who arrived in Yemen last year were headed for Saudi Arabia where about five million undocumented migrants live.
According to Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s regional director, the majority of these migrants are looking for a job in a country that is expected to grow at least 6% a year in the coming decades and therefore requires more foreign labor. “However, economic growth alone is not enough. It needs to be accompanied by a structural transformation in the infrastructure and services sectors to create real jobs ”.
A recurring problem
For the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), human trafficking has become a major threat in East Africa during the past decade.
Last week, some 100 children and young women from Uganda were rescued when they embarked for the United Arab Emirates where they would work as domestic servants. Last May, 19 Ugandan girls were rescued in the same situation. In September 2018, another 60 people were found in the same situation as they prepared to board a flight to Oman.
“It is important to ensure that countries have policies and legislation in place to address violations of the rights of migrant workers, smuggling and human trafficking, as well as combating organized crime,” concludes Abdiker, from IOM.