Through the Office of the Senior Advisor on Diaspora Affairs, His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni has extended a helping hand to more than 30 Ugandan migrant workers, who were stranded in Saudi Arabia to return home.
The Senior Presidential Advisor on Diaspora Affairs, Ambassador Abbey Walusimbi, recently returned home following a fruitful first leg tour in the Gulf region. This was aimed at familiarising himself with the dynamics of the living and working conditions of Ugandan Migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.
Before Ambassador Walusimbi left for Saudi Arabia, held a meeting with Amb. Jamal Mohammed Hassan AlMadani of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia to Uganda were they discussed several ways through which labor externalization can be streamlined for the benefit of both countries.
While in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ambassador Walusimbi alongside the Presidential Advisor -Political Affairs, Mary Kawuma met and interacted with more than 500 distressed migrant workers, who shared stories behind their plight. This prompted Walusimbi to instruct the heads of the shelters, where the girls with genuine challenges spent sometime to have them processed and return home with immediate effect.
Juliet Nabbanja is one of the girls that was rescued by Amb. Walusimbi, she had been ill treated by her female employer exposing her to life threatening chemicals and deliberately infecting her with Covid 19 before running for her dear life.
During the tour, most issues raised by the girls include; being forced to work in different family and friends house without their consent, harsh treatment by their female employers, denying them decent meals, working beyond 15 hours, sexual harassment from some male employers and their relatives, delayed or no payment of their salary dues among others.
Positively, Uganda signed a couple of bilateral labour management agreements (8) with Middle East countries in a bid to foster the overall safety and well-being of Ugandan migrant workers. However, only two (2) MoUs are in place, hence, the SPA/DA called for a review of these agreements to bridge the loopholes.
While visiting the different recruitment offices and their accommodations, Ambassador Walusimbi and team encountered a number of girls who allegedly had failed to work after serving less than a year of their contracts owing to non-medical health conditions which is not provided for in the bilateral contract.
Ambassador is still in arrangements to bring them back through the companies that recruited them.
Walusimbi also highlighted the need to increase funding to the Ugandan Mission in Saudi Arabia noting that although the embassy is renting a house to accommodate the distressed nationals, it’s practically struggling financially to maintain the costs involved because they have no budget allocated for this.
Ambassador Walusimbi added that, “Most Ugandans in Saudi Arabia, our sisters, daughters, brothers and sons are generally doing well. Majority of them have sensible and good bosses that treat them with respect, however there is a section of them that is not fine. The ones doing well have constructed houses here and remotely set up businesses home. So, our emphasis is on the ones who are suffering. Even though they are a minority, but to His Excellence the President, they matter the most.”
The Ambassador noted the need to protect the rights, dignity and benefits of Ugandan migrant workers, “His Excellency the President is extremely concerned about those girls in the accommodations and reception centers, who have no idea on when they are coming home. They need urgent help, and we as government are out to secure them.”
To the distressed migrant workers, Amb.Walusimbi assured them that the office of the President is working with the Embassy in Saudi Arabia to have all the gaps filled.
“Do not lose hope, we are working with the Uganda Embassy in Saudi Arabia, we have so far had 2 separate meetings to discuss the issues affecting our citizens, we have come up with a team comprising the different stakeholders and we are out to work together in crafting ways to fill the gaps.” Walusimbi said.
According to Walusimbi, meetings are being held with the intention of initiating a document that clearly explains to the migrant workers their rights and ensure that the employers of the girls understand what is at stake if they breach the rights of Ugandan citizens, which will be included in the next bilateral labour agreements with clear standard operating procedures and Key performance indicators for all parties involved.
Generally, Walusimbi sounded a strong caution to the individuals and companies involved in illegal recruitment.
“A good number of the girls we talked to were not attached to any Saudi company and the types of visas they are on are not right which puts them at risk of abuse. His Excellency is keeping a keen eye on those into the illegal recruitment business, so everyone involved is advised to endeavor to follow the right channels of recruitment, which is through the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social development,” Walusimbi noted.
Ultimately, the SPA/DA stressed the need to conduct pre-departure courses for the potential migrants, sensitisation of recruitment agents and training of anti-trafficking Police and Immigration officers.