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Lack of Coordination Among Gov't Agencies Frustrating Efforts to Address Complaints from Migrant Workers

During the meeting, the officials noted that there are over six million nationals from the region working abroad. They noted that the workers face similar challenges such as lack of access to health care, delayed payment or non-payment of wages, physical torture, mistreatment, confiscation of personal and travel documents, sexual harassment and long working hours.
Gilbert Kabuzire, A Principal Immigration Officer, makes a presentation on behalf of participants from Uganda as the facilitator Taehohn Lee looks on. IOM Photo

Audio 4

The lack of coordination among government agencies makes it difficult to address the issues affecting migrant workers, Labour officials from the East and Horn of Africa-EHOA region have observed.  

This came up during a regional meeting convened by the International Organization for Migration under the theme “Identifying Opportunities for Migrant Worker Health Inclusion into Labour Migration Governance in EHOA” at Lake Victoria Hotel, Entebbe involving Labour officers from Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.  During the meeting, the officials noted that there are over six million nationals from the region working abroad. 

They noted that the workers face similar challenges such as lack of access to health care, delayed payment or non-payment of wages, physical torture, mistreatment, confiscation of personal and travel documents, sexual harassment and long working hours. 

Hillary Talemwa, the Head of the External Employment Unit in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, said that it is difficult to address the concerns of migrant workers including the illegal body organ trade because it requires the involvement of several ministries such as foreign affairs, health and justice and Labour in Uganda and the countries where the labourers are deployed.  

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An estimated 250,000 Ugandans migrant workers are stationed mainly in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Talemwa says that information from the Bank of Uganda shows that the migrant workers remit an average of US$1.3 billion approximately Shillings 4.7 trillion annually. Raymond Wasukira, a Senior Labour Officer in the Gender Ministry, said that the ministry is concerned that some migrant workers acquire passports after falsifying their ages so as to travel. 

The gender ministry currently clears only citizens aged 21 and above to work abroad. He called for increased vigilance from the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control when processing passports for such applicants because it derails efforts by the gender ministry to protect Ugandans from irregular recruitment, child Labour and human trafficking other issues.

 

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Gilbert Kabuzire, a Principal Immigration Officer, says the directorate relies on the data captured by the National Identification and Registration Authority-NIRA to issue passports. "So if an applicant under declares his or her age, we cannot verify. But in case there is a doubt, the passport is withdrawn and the applicant is sent back to NIRA for verification,” he said.

Kabuzire agrees with Talemwa and Wasukira on the need for a multi-sectoral team to handle issues concerning migrant workers. Abel Gebregzihaber, a Senior Public Prosecutor from Ethiopia’s Justice Ministry and Javan Karima Nkundabakura from Rwanda’s Public Service and Labour Ministry shared similar challenges.    

Nkundabakura said that coordination on migration management, systematic gathering, disseminating and exchange of migration data remains a challenge because Labour migration is mainly managed by the Directorate of Immigration and Emigration, which is under the National Intelligence and Security Service. 

Gebregzihaber says it is hard to protect the rights of migrant workers or even pursue legal cases against perpetrators due to the lack of cooperation and coordination among government agencies and other stakeholders such as recruitment companies.     

He said that an estimated 100,000 Ethiopian migrant workers are abroad and some of their issues include long working hours, low income, exposure to unsafe environments and the failure to ensure employers provide health services and observe their human rights.     

Shariff Meymuna, a Labour officer in the Ministry of Labour in Kenya, said that there are about 4 million Kenyan migrant workers abroad, with the majority working in the Middle East, USA, Canada, Australia, Europe and African countries. She said that they licensed 702 recruitment agencies and established three Labour attaches offices in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE with the mandate to protect the right of migrant workers.

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Shariff noted that “in the last decade remittances have significantly increased reaching US$3.7 Billion in 2021 compared to US$ 104.6 Million in 2004. “Diaspora remittances is currently Kenya’s highest foreign exchange earner having overtaken tea, coffee and tourism,” he said. 

Last week, Richard Opio, an official in the Foreign Affairs Ministry castigated other government agencies and ministries for not sharing information relating to migrant workers.     

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Lucy Daxbacher, the IGAD Head of Mission to Uganda agreed with Opio on the need for better coordination among government agencies so as to get long-lasting solutions for migration and forced displacement in the region.