New Cooperation Agreement Among East, Horn of Africa States Address Overseas Worker Exploitation

Nairobi – The rescue last week of roughly 100 children and young Ugandan women here as they prepared to fly to United Arab Emirates to labour as domestic workers, reinforces the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) recent assessment that human trafficking has become a menace in East Africa over the past decade. 

The International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) staff in Kenya are all too familiar with these sorts of cases. Last May 19 Ugandan girls were rescued and in Sept 2018, nearly 60 others were rescued as they prepared to board a flight to Oman. 

“Sadly, there are similar stories from countries across the region,” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM Regional Director for the East and Horn of Africa.  

“It is important to ensure countries have policies and legislation in place to address the violations of migrant workers’ rights, smuggling and trafficking in persons as well as combatting organized crime.”  

A two-day forum of Labour and Social Protection Ministers and high-level government officials from the East and Horn of Africa this week signed a regional cooperation agreement that is an important step in that direction, making it harder for human traffickers to exploit young people looking for work in Gulf states. 

The agreement, finalized signed Tuesday at a forum hosted by the Kenyan government, with support from IOM and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), aims to harmonize labour migration policies in the region to make labour migration, safe, orderly and humane by establishing a common platform for engagement with the Gulf states and other countries that are major employers of African migrants. 

Attendees from Kenya, Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania.  

The lack of harmonized labour migration policies means migrants risk exploitation and abuse through unfair practices including excessive working hours, passport confiscation, confinement and denial of salary. 

Representatives also agreed to form a Regional Ministerial Labour and Social Protection Forum, with a rotational chairmanship. 

“This committee, with additional membership from development partners, will take the lead in driving the implementation of key agreements from the Forum,” said Kenya’s cabinet secretary for Labour and Social Protection Simon Chelugui. 

“It will also advise and provide progress reports to the ministers in charge of Labour Migration in the region on the Agenda of this and subsequent forums.” 

The ministers agreed to cooperate on the provision of diplomatic and consular assistance for migrant workers, especially in countries where some states did not have diplomatic representation, and committed themselves to expanding bilateral labour migration agreements beyond the level of unskilled workers, such as domestic workers, to incorporate other professionals. 

IOM recorded at least 140,000 people migrating on the Eastern route from the Horn of Africa to Yemen risking their lives in dangerous water crossings. These journeys usually start in Ethiopia’s rural communities of Oromia, Amhara, and Tigray regions, passing through Obock on Djibouti’s coast, or from Somalia’s Puntland region.

Yemen, however, is not their destination. Almost 90 percent of migrants arriving in Yemen last year were bound for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, whose long-established Ethiopian community comprises a considerable portion of some estimated five million undocumented migrants living in the kingdom.

IOM Regional Director Mohammed Abdiker, explained that the countries of the region face a challenging employment picture, and need to grow by at least 6 percent annually for the next two decades just to absorb a young, rapidly-growing work force.

“However, economic growth alone is not sufficient; it needs to be accompanied by structural transformation in the infrastructure and service sectors for true job creation,” Abdiker said.

“The lack of economic opportunity and the expectation to find better livelihoods elsewhere, continue to constitute two of the major push and pull factors for migration.”

For more information contact: Yvonne Ndege, Regional Office for East and Horn of Africa, Tel:  +2547 977 35977, Email: