The current economic situation in Ghana and increase in unemployment has forced many Ghanaians to migrate to other countries to seek greener pastures; most popular among them are countries in Western Europe and North America. Recently, attention has been shifted to Kuwait and other countries in the Gulf States. The desire to travel abroad is driven by the belief that living overseas is a safe haven where dreams can come true.
Ghanaians working in Kuwait face challenges in their work just like other Ghanaians in different parts of the world. Some of the working conditions are harsh but it does not stop employees from living a happy life. The stories that run in Ghanaian mainstream media about life in Kuwait if far from a happy one. There are several allegations about life in Kuwait that likings it to ancient day slavery. These allegations have not prevented desperate travellers for embarking on a journey to the Gulf State.
The Kuwaiti employer pays the travel costs of the employee to the recruitment agency in Kuwait. The agency’s branch in Ghana proceeds to recruit people and promises them of free visa, free accommodation, free food, free air ticket, a good job and a good salary. These sound good in the ears of Ghanaians who wish to travel but cannot afford the costs. The traveller only pays the medical cost. According to reports from some Ghanaians who have made it to Kuwait, the promise of good job is a deception.
Marcus Peterson who is a recruitment agent in Ghana says the only job Ghanaians, especially the ladies do in Kuwait are house help and shop attendant. The men normally are drivers or work as labourers on construction sites or a warehouse. He is aware that some recruitment agents promise heaven on earth to people about Kuwait and charge their clients before they process their documents even though the employer has already paid the costs.
Harsh working conditions
A person can earn from 70 Kuwaiti Dinar (210 Euros) to 120 Kuwaiti Dinar (355 Euros) depending on the contract signed. The public relations officer of Ghanaians in Kuwait association (GIK), Nana Fosu says the Kuwaiti employers seize the passports of all employees and the passports are only returned to the employee after the working contract expires. But he was quick to add that some of the employers are kind and can release your visa to travel to your home country for a holiday.
However, the Ghana Embassy in Saudi Arabia says employers do not seize the passports of Ghanaian employees but rather, “employers in the gulf region mostly take the passport of their employees in their custody to prevent them from running away”.
According Fosu, some house helps are treated harshly, which pushes them to run away from their employers. But they cannot leave the country because the employer still has their passport. If the employee wants to travel back to Ghana, the Ghana Embassy in Saudi Arabia gives a document that allows a safe exit from Kuwait to Ghana.
Many reports about Ghanaians living in Kuwait have made it to Ghanaian mainstream media for various reasons. There are some reports that some Ghanaians engage in prostitution and others receive serious maltreatment from their employers to the extent that a Ghanaian lady allegedly went mad. Some of these stories are witness account of returnees from Kuwait or audio and photo speculations on social media.
Fosu confirms the harsh treatment some of the employees receive but disputed earlier reports that some Ghanaians engage in prostitution. According to him Kuwait is an Islamic state and engaging in such act is a serious offence. Recent report on GIK Facebook page shows that a Ghanaian house help has been assaulted and thrown out of the house by her employer. According to the report, the ordeal occurred when she requested for her 3 months unpaid salary.
In a witness report of a Ghanaian returnee from Kuwait cited by Myjoyonline, the witness worked 20 hours a day as house help, was given little amount of food and her salary was withheld for months. Also in the same media, the Ghana ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Alhaji Sinare confirms that each day three to four Ghanaian house helps complain about unpaid salaries, beatings, rape and working for 20 hours per day. The ambassador mentions that rape cases and physical assault towards Ghanaian house helps are real.
Language barrier as a factor
Samira Yussif, a Ghanaian businesswoman in Kuwait believes that most of the challenges Ghanaian workers face is due to the language barrier which makes it difficult for new comers to sometimes understand what their employer ask them to do. She is part of a group who plan to give a 3-months workshop in Ghana to teach basic Arabic language skills and educate people about the culture and working life in Kuwait to interested Ghanaians before they travel to Kuwait.
Yussif worked as a teacher before becoming a businesswoman, she says not all Ghanaians work as house helps or labourers; some work as doctors, nurses and lecturers. Yussif sees living in Kuwait as similar to any other foreign country where Ghanaians work to support their families, and not as bad as some Ghanaian mainstream media portray it. She explains that, “unlike in Saudi Arabia, women in Kuwaiti are able to drive and can even wear jeans. There are churches here and Christians are free to worship on Sundays”.
Fosu and Yussif are of the same view that the Government of Ghana should establish an Embassy in Kuwait to assist Ghanaians there. They say that in emergency situations, Ghanaians have to fall on other Embassies for help, which in their opinion is not the best.
Photo: Kuwait Times