In an unprecedented step toward protecting Kenyan migrant workers in Qatar, this past December, seven Kenyan licensed Private Employment Agencies (PEAs) participated in a visit to Doha to learn about ethical recruitment and worker welfare initiatives in Qatar, a key destination country for Kenyans migrating abroad for work. The study tour is part of Verité and the International Organization for Migration’s project to promote safe and fair labor migration from Kenya to the Gulf States.
Funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), the project aims to promote ethical recruitment of labor migrants in Kenya and to strengthen mechanisms to monitor and enforce recruiter accountability through collaboration with relevant recruitment industry actors and government agencies in Kenya. The visit by the Kenyan delegation was led by Verité’s Senior Program Manager of Research and Policy, Sarah Lince, and Senior Director of Assessments, Jon Pitoniak. The Kenya PEA delegation was accompanied by IOM Kenya staff, Heys Salamba.
During the tour, the Kenyan PEAs met with representatives of the ILO office in Doha, the Qatar National Human Rights Committee, the Embassy of the Republic of Kenya, the United States Embassy, employers hiring Kenyans to work in Qatar who are interested in ethical recruitment, and Kenyan workers in Qatar.
Key challenges identified through the discussions included: unethical charges by “middle men” that impose high recruitment fees on migrant workers even before starting work, which can lead to debt bondage and make workers vulnerable to forced labor and other abuses; contract substitution by employers or agents after arrival in Qatar; lack of transparency when contracts are drafted in Arabic; and illegal recruitment practices. Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of the Republic of Kenya in Qatar, Washington Oloo, emphasized the need to control the proliferation of unregistered and unaccredited agencies who are recruiting more Kenyans than the accredited PEAs. He explained that the cases of human trafficking and stranded Kenyans will continue to rise if this was not addressed.
The PEA’s tour included meeting with officials from the Qatar National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) and the US Embassy in Qatar to explore initiatives and protection measures to assist stranded migrants or workers who are experiencing exploitation and discrimination in Qatar.
At the Kenyan Embassy, members of the PEA delegation engaged with “stranded” Kenyan migrants and heard first-hand accounts of the deceptive recruitment they had experienced from unlicensed PEAs in Kenya. Given the limited resources available at the embassy in Qatar, the PEAs and the embassy staff agreed that protecting Kenyan migrant workers must begin in Kenya, and they committed to do more together to curtail deceptive and unlicensed recruitment. In addition, the Government of Kenya is currently rolling out a national program for all Kenyans leaving Kenya for work to attend a pre-departure training.
In their meeting with the PEAs, representatives of the ILO in Doha discussed their work with the Qatari government to engage with private sector employers in Qatar to promote ethical recruitment and improve oversight of issues faced by workers in the recruitment process. One facet of their work is the development of Qatar Visa Centers (QVCs) run by the Qatari government in countries of origin where foreign workers are recruited. The first QVC was opened in Sri Lanka, and the Kenya QVC is slated to open early this year. One of the primary goals of the QVCs is to reduce migrant workers’ risks of contract substitution, as well as other aspects of deceptive recruitment.
Toward the end of the tour, the PEAs were given a demonstration of a new app created by Fifty Eight, the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, and the Church of the Epiphany in Doha. Launching in both English and Swahili in the first quarter of 2019, the Just Good Work app will offer migrant workers extensive information on the employment experience in Qatar.
The Kenyan PEA participants on the trip reflected that the meetings and discussions with workers, private sector, government, and civil society illuminated pathways for greater cooperation amongst these key stakeholders towards improving conditions for Kenyan workers in the Gulf region. The PEA participants will be sharing their learnings and perspectives with colleagues of two PEA professional associations in Kenya which represent all licensed PEAs across the country. Verité and IOM Kenya will be conducting follow-up workshops with members of these associations in the coming year to develop more concrete plans to cooperate with stakeholders in Kenya and the Gulf to promote responsible labor recruitment.
For more information, please contact Sarah Lince.


Photo credit: Ahmed Hamid/