The high level of unemployment has driven many young Ugandans to seek job opportunities abroad, especially the Arab world.
While many have successfully turned their lives around through legally registered labour export firms, a good number has fallen prey to human traffickers posing as recruitment agents, who surprisingly extort huge sums of money, as Elizabeth Amongin discovered from one victim, Rosemary Oduya. The mother of six and resident of Lugazi narrates her story:
A woman called Hajat Zulaika Nkinzi, a resident of Lugazi who is known for helping young women secure jobs, told me I could go work in the Middle East so that I could educate my children, since I am a single parent.
The first question she asked was whether I owned a national ID, and thankfully, I had one. She then asked me to find Shs 750, 000 to process my passport. She then asked me for Shs 180, 000 for a blood test.
While at a clinic in Lugazi town for the blood test, Nkinzi and another doctor entered a room, but I could not hear what they were saying. Nkinzi later walked out and told me I did not have to wait for the results. After a week, she called me to say my results indicated I was fit for work.
In mid-September 2018, I received a phone call from her, saying I would travel abroad through Kenya, because it was easier than going through Entebbe international airport. Nkinzi then asked me to pay another Shs 800, 000. I therefore had to sell my plot of land to raise this money, ignoring concerns from my brother and other relatives.
Towards the end of November 2018, there was still no communication from Nkinzi and fear gripped me that perhaps I had been conned. However, early in December, she called me saying the passport process had to be completed with an additional fee of Shs 200,000.
I was then asked to join other women at her residence for a briefing. We were given soda and snacks. However, I was worried because I was yet to receive my passport. Towards the end of December, I received a call to prepare for a training that would cost me Shs 60,000 – some of it to pay for my lodging.
We handed the money to a man only identified himself as Shafiq. To my dismay, there was nothing like training.
Milking the poor dry
Instead, the three of us were put into a tiny room somewhere in Kampala and told that we would travel as a group. However, I was told afterwards that we would not travel through Kenya due to new restrictions.
Now Hajat asked me to pay another Shs 800,000, which she claimed was to cover costs at Entebbe airport. I paid the money and one day after that, I received a call from Shafiq. He asked if he was talking to Faridah Bukirwa.
I told him I was Rosemary Oduya. He hung up but called a few minutes later and asked if my travel abroad was being worked on by Hajat Nkinzi. When I replied in the affirmative, he told me my passport bore the name Faridah Bukirwa and that was the name I would use while in Dubai.
I immediately called Hajat to understand why the fake identity. She told me my name had been changed because we were going to work in an Arab country and it was important to have a Muslim name. I complied since there was nothing I could do.
Towards the travel day, Shafiq called me and asked for another Shs 800,000 to cater for the tickets. Since I had sold off all my property, I told Shafiq I would not be able to raise that amount. When Nkinzi was informed about this, she told me to raise the money at whatever cost.
My family had planned to construct a house for our mother who lived in a shack. I implored my family members to lend me that money. The house has never been built. As soon I paid the money, Nkinzi told me to buy a tracksuit, a cap, jacket and some sanitary towels; we were to leave on April 4, 2019.
On the day of departure, I was late to reach the venue we were to converge at and had to take a boda boda from Kireka to Kitooro in Entebbe. A Super Custom van ferried us from Kitooro to the airport.
We, however, did not go directly to the airport. We used a shorter route and stopped at the shores of Lake Victoria where the driver said we should enjoy the lake breeze for the last time since we were going to spend two years away. When we eventually reached the airport, the driver only introduced us to a one Meddie, who directed us to enter the airport through different entrances.
At the entrance, Meddie told a guard that we were few so he should not ask for a lot of money. He pulled out a Shs 10,000 note and we were let through. I found it difficult to lie about the purpose of my travel to Dubai, and was denied entry. We had all been told that the purpose of our travel was to visit our sister, Madina Nassuna.
When I was denied entry, I called Meddie, who also called someone and the man told me to return to the verification desk. I found a different person who asked me the same question, and she let me through.
Once inside the FlyDubai aeroplane, Meddie called and wished us a safe journey. In Dubai, we were picked up by a man whose name I do not remember. He held a huge phone tablet and started reading name by name. He read my name as Faridah Bukirwa. We were driven to another office where we met a lady called Fufu.
On arrival, we were ushered into a small room that had more than 20 other girls, some of them Ugandans. When the Ugandan girls saw us, they asked whether we had been flown into the country with the help of Hajat and Shafiq. When we answered in the affirmative, they said we were going to face it rough. I got scared and started crying.
A few hours later, Fufu later entered the room with clients who wanted labourers. The first client wanted a Ugandan lady who could wash seven cars a day. He chose me. I refused that job.
After four days, a couple walked in and I was chosen to work as a housemaid. After the first month, I was asked by my boss to verify my religion and I told him the truth; I am Catholic.
My boss then asked for a bank account so that my salary could be paid into it. I had agreed with Nkinzi that my salary be paid into an account she would open for me, but that first I send the money to her account. Upon receipt, she would deposit it into my account.
My boss also established that my documents were forged, so they claimed that I had TB and could not allow me to work for the family. They asked me to get treatment at home, then they would organize a ticket for me to return to the job once I recovered.
So, I came back home thinking I would get my first salary from Nkinzi to cater for my medical bills, but this was not the case. On arrival, everyone was shocked; my daughter was home for lack of school fees, yet I had sent my first salary. I had to go and meet Hajat Nkinzi and demand for my money.
To my dismay, she only gave me Shs 170,000 instead of Shs 800,000, and told me not to demand for more. She had kept my National ID. After four days, I lied to her that I had to register my sim card and needed the ID. She asked one of her daughters to bring a small bag. When she opened the bag, it had a bundle of national IDs and passports.
I went to police to get her to pay my money.
I went to Lugazi police station, where I was asked to record a statement and asked for directions to Nkinzi’s home. She was arrested and forced to deposit the rest of my money with the police.
The police took my passport, the receipt and a photocopy of my identity card. But after that, the police kept tossing me from one office to another, until Hajjat’s relatives came and started sweet-talking me into taking my money and dropping the case.
I told them I would indeed take my money but would not drop the case, because I had lost a lot of property in this botched deal. Even then, the police refused to give me the money although Nkinzi was released. That week, they kept dodging me. Then later they told me all my documents and statements had been sent to the Anti-Corruption Unit of State House, headed by Col Edith Nakalema.
I went to the Anti-Corruption Unit office in Kampala and was advised to write a statement to a commissioner, requesting for my money. They told me to wait for two weeks. They also kept on telling me to wait… come tomorrow… the concerned person is not in office…
Eventually I went to Betty Nambooze, the Mukono Municipality MP, for help. She asked one of her aides to accompany me to the Anti-Corruption Unit office. That is when I was paid the money.
I am still fighting to get a refund for the money I paid for a fake passport.
Understanding the math of this ‘business’
Hapless Ugandans caught up in the traffickers’ webs are usually categorized among Uganda’s poorest, yet none of them pays zero shillings for this misadventure. The Observer analyses how much Oduya spent (Hajjat’s earnings) vis-à-vis what Oduya got out of this.
- Shs 750,000 for a passport (ordinarily that costs no more than Shs 150,000).
- Shs 180,000 for a blood test whose results she never received.
- Shs 800,000 for travel to Dubai through Kenya, which never happened.
- Shs 200,000 in additional passport expenses.
- Shs 60,000 for a non-existent training.
- Shs 800,000 for travel through Entebbe.
- Shs 800,000 for plane tickets (a return air ticket to Dubai costs about Shs 1.4m in Economy class)
Her total expenses were Shs 3,590,000 (almost $1,000), enough money to pay rent and start a decent business in most Ugandan towns. But what Oduya got out of the misadventure was Shs 800,000 (about $200 – one month’s salary) and a wasted flight to Dubai.
That leaves Hajjat and her accomplices with close to Shs 1.4m ‘profit’, from Oduya alone. Hajjat walked free, as did her accomplice Shafiq; free to mint money from more desperate Ugandans looking for greener pastures.