Hundreds of Kenyan migrants employed in Qatar as domestic workers, cleaners, drivers and chefs can now come back home freely after the Middle East nation abolished its controversial exit visa system, which requires foreigners to obtain their bosses’ permission to exit the country.
Qatar authorities said on Sunday the “Law No 13 of 2018… regulating the entry, exit and residency of expatriates would be implemented effective this week.
Kenya on Monday welcomed the move saying it raises hope of an end to mistreatment of locals seeking bread and butter in Qatar. It asked other middle east nations to follow suit.
“It is a welcome development of putting to an end a heinous and outmoded system that has sinister echoes of a dark and oppressive time of shackled labour and slavery,” Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said in an interview yesterday.
“We welcome the development and hope that Qatar’s enlightened leadership will resonate across the Arab Middle East, where similar systems of denial of free passage of peoples and labour continues to cause great difficulties and suffering among migrant workers and even some professionals,” Mr Kamau said.
Kenya has over the years called for abolition of the exit visa system as it had long been abused by employers who would confiscate passports of workers.
Most Kenyan migrants are employed as domestic workers and are vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, violence, rape and sometimes murder.
Many of them who have returned home from Qatar and other Middle East nations have come back with harrowing tales of mistreatment, torture and abuse by their employers, with many blaming the exit visa system for their predicaments.
But under the new law, all but five per cent of a company’s workforce-reportedly those in the most senior positions-can leave without prior permission from employers.
Those not allowed to exit Qatar “for any reason” can file a complaint to the Expatriate Exit Grievance Committee that will “take a decision within three working days”, the Qatar ministry was quoted as saying.
Employment contracts involving migrant workers in the Middle East are based on the ancient Bedouin principle of kafala, which many liken to modern-day slavery.
What was once essentially a code of hospitality – that encouraged families to host travelling strangers and treat them as one of their own – has evolved into the sponsorship of migrant workers, which gives employers enormous control over their employees. Common practices include the withholding of wages, confiscation of passports and long working hours in substandard or inhuman conditions.
Domestic workers, who are obliged to live in their employer’s homes, are particularly vulnerable to physical abuse, sexual violence and various forms of mental cruelty, while the almost total lack of labour laws for migrants provides little scope for redress.
Kenya in September 2014 announced a ban on export of labour to Middle East countries but later lifted it last year after instituting reforms that included vetting of recruitment agencies.
In 2013, the Kenyan embassy in Riyadh rescued more than 800 Kenyans languishing in Saudi jails.