Kenya ‘overwhelmed’ by job scam victims in Myanmar

Tuesday August 23 2022

Most victims are single women under the age of 30 who are lured into working as domestic workers and instead end up in the sex trafficking business. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


Kenya says it is “overwhelmed” by distress calls of nationals duped into non-existent jobs in the South East Asian region in a suspected cartel of human trafficking.

As a result, authorities in Nairobi are warning Kenyans against applying for jobs in Asian countries unless they can confirm their authenticity before leaving.

This week, the government said it was forced to rescue citizens in danger in countries like Myanmar. Other countries include Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, where officials said they received distress calls from Kenyans stuck there.

Kenya says most of them are young women who end up engaging in illegal activities, including being smuggled into Myanmar for the ‘dirty’ jobs in a country now under the leadership of an isolated military junta.

Kenya does not have diplomatic representation in Myanmar, but the Kenyan Embassy in Thailand said most of those duped are Kenyans from low-income families who had to sell their limited resources, including land, to foot the travel costs. They were reportedly promised jobs such as salespersons and teachers in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia.


“Once they are in Thailand, local networks then whisk them illegally across the border to Myanmar, where they are received by armed rebels and taken to “textile factories” to engage in all manner of work, including money laundering under the watchful eyes of armed men and the managers of the factories,” the Kenyan embassy said in a statement on Monday.

Unscrupulous agents

The number of victims has gone up as employment agents in Nairobi, and other cities like Eldoret make millions from innocent young Kenyans searching for employment abroad.

Unbeknownst to them, the unscrupulous agents issue them 90-day tourist visas and cut links with them before they realise they have been duped.

“Once they are abandoned in Thailand and Myanmar and without a return ticket, the embassy and their families at home are left with the burden of catering for their return home,” the embassy stated.

Five victims have since been evacuated from Myanmar after making distress calls to the embassy. They will be repatriated via Bangkok even as others continue to fall prey to the fake opportunities.

“Tens of other Kenyans were arriving at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, all of whom have been whisked across the border into Myanmar following the same pattern as the previous groups. The Embassy has now received distress calls from at least 30 Kenyans, and we are informed there are more than 50 in Myanmar and three in Laos,” the statement added.

Trafficking routes

This year’s US State Department report on human trafficking cited Kenya as a persistent fertile route for human trafficking courtesy of corruption and a generally cavalier attitude that has seen the crime persist in the country.

“One of the roots of human trafficking is other elements of forced labour and other points – parts of crime on the high seas that force people into or mislead them into situations of work opportunities,” said the US director of the Maritime Partnership Program in Africa, Jeffrey Spivey.

Besides Asia, Kenya also serves as a major trafficking route for migrants seeking to work in South Africa, with recruiters maintaining networks in Uganda and Ethiopia. They recruit Burundian, Ethiopian, Rwandan and Ugandan workers through fraudulent offers of employment in the Middle East and Asia.

Read: Tackle escalating human trafficking in Horn of Africa: IOM

Most victims include single women under the age of 30 who are lured into working as domestic workers and instead end up in the sex trafficking business.

Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan, Burundi, and Mozambique are listed as countries that do not fully meet the minimum standards of the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, but are making significant efforts to comply.

“Observers alleged that criminal syndicates colluded with various law enforcement and immigration departments to transport trafficking victims within Kenya,” the report states.

Humanitarian crisis

US Secretary of state Anthony Blinken said that corruption was a “top tool” of traffickers who count on a blind eye from governments forcing nearly 25 million people across the globe to be victims of trafficking.

The report cited Sudan as a primary transit point for irregular migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa seeking to reach Europe.

The unprecedented humanitarian crisis resulting from the situation in Ukraine, civil wars and coups in other countries were cited as having pushed citizens out of their homes, posing them at the risk of human trafficking.

“Traffickers increasingly recruit individuals through social media platforms and travel agencies with a growing level of network sophistication,” the report adds.