Our monitors are trained to look for signs of trafficking, these can include someone looking nervous, lost, disorientated or someone who shows signs of physical abuse.
Kendra* was sitting in the transit lounge staring blankly into space, she looked impoverished and our monitors could tell she was from a southern African country. James* approached her saying ‘You look lost, can I help you?’ Her eyes were glazed over and she could barely communicate with him, so he took her passport and flight details and saw that she was a Malawian travelling from Kuwait and had just missed her connecting flight back to Malawi.
Our team had just read about 200 Zimbabwean girls who had been rescued from slavery in Kuwait and so decided to interview her, suspecting something was wrong. After spending time gently asking her story it came out that she had been recruited in Malawi by her neighbour who knew somebody who could get her a job in Kuwait working as a housemaid. The money was good and seeing as there were no job prospects where she lived she took the opportunity. The agency paid for her ticket and organised her a work visa and she flew to Mozambique where she met up with four other girls from different parts of Malawi. They flew to Kuwait where they were met at the airport by a representative of the agency who took them to their offices and assigned them each a household. The house Kendra was assigned to was enormous, with more than 20 rooms that hosted a large extended family. She was put in a small room with two other housemaids and made to sleep on the floor. They were required to work between 20 and 22 hours a day and were fed if they were lucky, three times a week. She was never paid a cent. If they were slow, or woke up late they were beaten by their handler. Soon Kendra fell ill and her owners returned her to the agency, complaining about her poor performance. She was sent out to two other families, each time falling ill and being returned. The agency eventually lost patience with her and notified the police that she was an illegal citizen. She was arrested and taken to prison where she was detained in appalling conditions for 8 weeks. They eventually put her on a flight back to Malawi, which transited in South Africa.
This is where she met our team, bruised from her beatings, impoverished and traumatised. As she had missed her flight she was stranded and in no position to navigate her return home, she also did not have the money to pay for a new ticket. Our team took her under their wings and shared the story with the airlines who then agreed to put her on another flight for free. We arranged for a place her to stay overnight and helped her get on her flight the next morning. We involved Crime Intelligence in Malawi who arranged to meet her when she arrived in Blantyre and paid for her to get to her home town safely. When we phoned her to check she was ok and safely home, she thanked us for our help and said she was doing well, and that she was currently looking for a job in Malawi.
The story with Kendra helped us see what could happen to people travelling to Kuwait and gave us insight into the modu operandi of traffickers working to recruit girls into these lives of slavery. This information was incredibly valuable when a month later we identified five girls each from different parts of Malawi travelling to Kuwait. Again a distant friend had recruited them and an agency had paid for their flights to Kuwait where they were going to work as housemaids. The girls had little knowledge of where they would work or the legitimacy of the agency they would work with. We intercepted these girls, sharing with them the horrors of a life in slavery in Kuwait and sent them back home. A month or so later we intercepted another 5 girls headed for the same hell, sparing them the ordeal that Kendra went through. Kendra is in the minority, the majority of the women headed to Kuwait never return.
We have reported these crimes to Crime Intelligence both in South Africa and in Malawi.
*Not the real names