A report by the American State Department has revealed that Uganda remains a transit point for men, women and children who are trafficked into forced labour and prostitution, especially in the Middle East.
The Trafficking in Persons Report 2015, released recently, notes that licensed and unlicensed Kampala-based firms continued to recruit Ugandans to work as laborers in the Middle East, where many are subjected to harassment and torture.
“Some Ugandan women fraudulently recruited for employment in the Middle East were exploited in forced prostitution in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar,” the report says.
It speaks of a network of Ugandan women in Kampala who allegedly coordinate recruitment that ends into forced prostitution across East Asia. It accuses the Uganda government of failing to “fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”, although some progress has been made over the years.
For instance, in 2014, the report notes that government investigated 293 labour trafficking-related cases, prosecuted 23 and secured four convictions. This was a slight improvement on 2013, when 159 cases were investigated with only two convictions.
The report says that while government increased its efforts to prevent human trafficking through engagement with the media, its oversight of labour recruitment agencies remained inadequate.
Secondly, in 2014, the report notes that the Counter-Trafficking in Persons (CTIP) office–under the ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development–made efforts to raise public awareness but it was hampered by limited funding.
The report faults government for not reporting on its efforts to close down unlicensed recruitment agencies or suspend the licenses of those suspected of facilitating human trafficking. It merely recommended recruitment agencies should bear the responsibility for repatriation of victims or face deregistration.
According to industry players, about 30 labour recruitment firms are licensed by government although many more operate underground. The firms are required to deposit with government a non-refundable fee of Shs 50 million.
“The country needs to… use existing laws to investigate and punish licensed and unlicensed labor recruiters and criminal entities responsible for knowingly sending Ugandans into forced labor or prostitution abroad,” the report says.
Interviewed on Saturday, Milton Turyasiima, the coordinator of the External Employment Unit (EEU) in the ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development, declined to comment because he had not read the report.
Reacting to the report, Nooh Mayambala, the chief executive director of Security Link, one of the licensed labour export companies, said the abused workers were normally exported by unlicensed companies and individuals.
He said government needed to come down hard on these companies because they were creating a bad image for the industry. The labour export industry is very competitive but also lucrative, attracting an estimated 6,000 job-hungry Ugandans, including graduates.
Mayambala said his firm alone had exported 5000 people since it opened business in 2010. Job seekers headed to the Middle East normally pay labour export firms between Shs 2 million and Shs 4 million.