Why Ugandan migrant workers in Saudi Arabia are rioting?

Recently appointed Uganda’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, H.E Isaac Biruma Ssebulime (L) has an uphill task ahead. (PHOTO/Courtesy).

The Uganda Embassy in Saudi Arabia has dismissed as baseless, unfounded and malicious – claims from a section of migrant workers based in Riyadh that their bosses as well as commissioned authorities were violating their rights.

The Embassy’s statement dated May 8, is in response to several allegations contained in a video making rounds on various social media platforms.

The maids claim, in the video that the managers of a firm – Sakan, which the Saudi Arabia government contracted to handle their grievances was instead mistreating them – through extortions; locking them up like prisoners and roughing them up. It’s at Sakan, were run-away maids are accommodated before finally repatriating them to their respective country of origin.

The women add, in the same video clip that they had overstayed at the Sakan managed facility for up to eight months, without any medical provisions extended to the sick, many of whom have no money, reportedly after working for months without pay, yet; “the (Ugandan) Embassy wasn’t doing enough in assisting to resolving the situation.”

But in a statement, the Ugandan Embassy noted: “Attention has been drawn to a video circulating on social media, purportedly dated May 8, 2021 of Ugandan nationals, seeking assistance from the general public and making various allegations.

“The Embassy would like from the onset to inform the general public that the above claims and stories are baseless, unfounded and authored with malicious intent to taint the image of the country –Uganda,” read the statement, in parts.

It continued: “The Ministry of Labour and Human Resources of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in advanced stages of restructuring the management of distressed migrant workers and as such has contracted an agency called Sakan Company to receive and process the return of the distressed migrant workers with genuine challenges.

“Sakan Company is a private entity, partnering with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to provide accommodation facilities for the distressed migrant workers.
“This company has replaced the government run housemaid reception centre where female workers sought shelter and redress to their issues when in distress. The facility started its operations on April 4, 2021 and received the first group of Ugandans on April 5, 2021.

“The Embassy has engaged the relevant authorities in the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) to secure the necessary information on the workings of this entity and a separate report is being prepared to this effect.

“Unfortunately, some of the key government agencies like the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Justice have not yet started operations at the facility.

“Ugandan Embassy officials visited the Sakan housing facility on two (different) occasions prior to this video. In the first encounter, the Embassy was seeking clarity on the preparedness of the facility to receive the distressed migrant workers and also find a way of securing the necessary exit visas for the 27 Ugandans, who were currently residing at the Embassy. On the second encounter, it was in response to a call from the management of the facility about our nationals rioting.

“On April 21, 2021, the Embassy was called to Sakan facility to handle issues related to the distressed migrant workers. At its engagement with the ladies, it was agreed that the management of the facility pardons the ladies who had rioted to an extent of destroying property, on condition that they remain calm as the process of repatriation was underway,” Embassy official labored to explain.

The statement enlightened further that that Embassy officials visited the facility on May 8, 2021 to cross-examine the allegations – establishing that Ugandans at Sakan were 63 in total, who had never been forced to hand over their valuables including money but rather one lady had voluntarily surrendered her pulse for safe-custody upon, which she received a receipt.

“Whilst it is true that one lady died at the facility – she wasn’t a Ugandan – and the circumstances leading to her death were natural and a police report to that effect has been prepared,” noted the statement, adding that the death of this particular woman at the facility was the catalyst to the Ugandans’ riot.

“Whereas, it is true that some of the ladies have genuine cases, the vast majority are those who absconded from duty or refused to work – demanding to return home. Some ladies are agitated because they have families to fend but can’t do so while at the facility. However, this is no justification for sharing false information,” added the statement, before concluding that the first batch of 17 Ugandans would return home around May 15.

We were unable to get a comment from the Foreign Affairs’ ministry in Kampala. However, a source in Riyadh insisted that the Ugandan Embassy wasn’t up to the task of assisting migrant workers.
“Personally, I am in Riyadh but Allahamudullillah – am Ok. But many people are suffering and our Embassy is just seated. Many girls are languishing in prison; many are not paid; died food; some are sick without treatment – so many issues, not all Arabs are good or bad. There are those who treat maids like human beings and others – especially women, who mistreat them,” revealed a source, whose two-year contract, expires in July.

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