WHEN 20-year-old Samantha Chiripo (not her real name) got the news that her Kuwait visa was out, she was ecstatic — her dream was finally coming true. She thought finally she would be kick-starting her career in the hotel industry, having struggled to get employment despite graduating several years ago.
For Samantha, this was a God-sent opportunity to escape Zimbabwe’s economic implosion. Her cousin, who innocently alerted her to the seemingly bountiful opportunities in the Persian Gulf state, must have been an angel sent by God, she believed at the time.
On arrival in Kuwait, the first week seemed fine, as she was treated well while staying at an agent’s house.
Her highway to hell started when she was handed over to her male “master”, who paid US$2 000 for her.
She found herself in a world of sexual slavery and violence, something she never dreamt of in a million years.
Her master, or sponsor, as they call them in Kuwait, raped her several times on arrival at his house. The master’s son also raped her, whenever he pleased.
As weeks passed she was sexually abused by her master’s friends.
“My sponsor who was the father of the house raped me. Sometimes he would let his son sexually abuse me. If his friends came over for visits over the weekend, anyone who wanted to quench his sexual desire did so on me. I lost count of the number of times I was raped,” she says.
“I was terrified, but with no passport and money, I was vulnerable and helpless. Anyone could do as they pleased with me. The pain was unbearable because the men were very rough with me. To them I was nothing but a sex object.
“What pains me the most is that I was in this situation because of my own government which could not ensure that I got a job when I graduated. If I had a job here, or even hope of getting a job, I would not have travelled all the way to Kuwait to seek employment. My government is responsible for what I went through.”
Chiripo is one of 200 Zimbabwean women known to have been trapped in Kuwait, where they were treated as forced labourers and in many instances sex slaves.
The government believes there could be more Zimbabweans trapped in Kuwait and other Persian Gulf states and is trying to rescue them with the assistance of the Parliament of Zimbabwe, International Organisation of Migration and Young Women Christian Association.
Some businesspeople have also made cash donations to rescue the victims of human trafficking,a serious crime and grave violation of human rights.
Chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on foreign affairs, who was also part of the delegation which travelled to Kuwait to facilitate the return of the girls, Kindness Paradza, on Wednesday said government had so far succeeded in repatriating 104 women.
“The Zimbabwean embassy in Kuwait is still working frantically to rescue the women. The challenge we are facing is communication. Some women have been transferred to other Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar,” he said.
“Government has set up a fund which will raise money to bring back more women. The women went through horrible experiences. People must never be lured by any form of adverts of domestic jobs in questionable countries.”
The trafficked women all have one thing in common. They left Zimbabwe to escape poverty and suffering mainly caused by government’s leadership and policy failures. The human trafficking victims to Kuwait are among millions of people who have been driven out of the country by the harsh economic climate to seek job opportunities elsewhere.
While some Zimbabweans, especially professionals, have done well, making immense contributions to the economies of their host countries, many are living in squalor and are being subjected to abuse and ridicule.
Some have endured xenophobic attacks in South Africa where they were heavily assaulted or witnessed their neighbours and friends being killed. Some had their homes and household property burnt. But despite the harrowing experiences, they still choose to live in countries where they are subjected to inhuman treatment, rather than come back home because the government has nothing to offer.
Political commentator Stanley Tinarwo said Zimbabweans will remain vulnerable to human trafficking caused by unemployment and adversity as long as the economic problems persist. He said in the case of the Kuwait trafficking victims, the pull factors were too strong to resist.
“It’s mainly motivated by economic hardships, no jobs at home and also an element of gullibility of always wrongly assuming the grass is greener or that we are welcome in other countries, particularly in Europe and in the East,” he said.
“Government is entirely to blame in two respects. Firstly, in its mismanagement of the economy and failure to create jobs, secondly in its acceptance of the dehumanisation and borderline enslavement of Zimbabwean citizens,” he said.
Most Zimbabweans have over the years fled to South Africa to escape unemployment and poverty. Some even risk their lives by using illegal entry points where they expose themselves to criminal gangs operating on both sides of the border. The criminals are known for mugging and raping border jumpers.
As a result, many Zimbabweans have lost their limbs or lives to crocodiles, while trying to cross the crocodile-infested Limpopo River into South Africa. With companies either shutting down or downsizing on a daily basis, there is little hope for the millions who are unemployed.
The International Labour Organisation last year said that 5% of the country’s population is formally employed.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa revealed 4 610 companies closed between 2011 and 2014, while presenting his 2015 national budget.
According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Zimbabweans migrate to South Africa where some are forced to labour for months on farms, construction sites, or in mines without pay before their employers report them to authorities for deportation. The report also states that Zimbabwean women and men are lured into exploitative labour situations in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Nigeria, South Korea, South Africa, China, Egypt, Zambia, United Kingdom and Canada.