Exposing the Vultures: How Rogue Agencies Are Profiting from Vulnerable Job Seekers

Job Seekers

A visit by the National Assembly Committee on Diaspora Affairs and Migrant Workers to private employment agencies in Mombasa unveiled operations of rogue agencies defrauding Kenyans of their hard-earned cash under the guise of overseas job recruitment.

Chaired by Taita Taveta MP Lydia Haika, the committee uncovered disturbing practices at agencies like Al Hadhramy and Mahla, which has been in operation for 12 years.

Despite claiming to have facilitated the deployment of over 600 Kenyans abroad, the agency lacked essential office documentation, raising serious concerns.

Nestled inconspicuously along Makadara road near Barka Restaurant, the agency’s deceptive practices thrived in secrecy and trickery. From the busy Makadara road where traffic zooms past left and right, Al Hadhramy and Mahla’s faint signboard at the entrance easily goes unnoticed. It is almost impossible to imagine that this has been the silent gateway to the ruthless betrayal of hundreds of unsuspecting Kenyans in their quest to earn decent living.

A narrow steep plywood staircase leads to their suspicious looking offices upstairs. The visibly domineering Director Mutaila Masoud, shows up as her two workers are on standby clearly awaiting “further instructions” from the boss.

Masoud failed to produce any operational documents, and their business permit expired in 2020.

“Our guy in charge of records is in the field but we can print the files,” Director said, while instructing a worker to “locate the documents.”

Clock ticked and the wait got longer but the documents were nowhere to be seen. The staff, tasked with locating the files, quietly slipped away, adding to the agency’s suspicious behaviour.

Masoud, when pressed, admitted to occasional legal violations, including deploying workers with visit visas instead of work permits, a risky practice she attributed to the decline in UAE job orders post-Covid pandemic. It was such deceit that appeared to have angered the legislators who left in a huff.

Al Hadhramy and Mahla is reportedly involved in a con scheme where the director is said to have collected close to Sh20 million from over 300 Kenyans and left them stranded. Through availed evidence in form of receipts, OB numbers and video recordings, the committee learnt that some 387 young men and women who were desperately keen to travel and work abroad hoping were left in the dark after paying Sh50,000 each to the agency.

A total of Sh19,350,000 went down the drain in the said scam, according to Omar Said, one of a victim. “I was planning to go to Qatar for a security job by August last year. Having paid the Sh50,000 deposit, I was anxious to leave the country. They then told us that there was a slight problem with the Embassy and we ought to be patient…We understood like human beings. August, September and October were over. It was the same story and we continued being patient… Come November we started our own process. Initially they had placed us in the admins only AhatsApp group and we could not  comment and our voices could not also be heard. So, we formed our own group to forge the way forward,” Omar said.

That November, he recalls the agency called them for “an interview” in what would turn out to be a hoax meant to calm down their nerves.

But the wait would get even longer and drag all the way to January, 2024 where the director began ranting, telling “those who are impatient” to immediately withdraw.

“She said those who will withdraw will be deducted Sh35,000 each and refunded Sh15,000…we were shocked because we had no problem. It was the agency which had problems since it had failed to confirm our travel…we tried to seek assistance through police but we are yet to succeed,” teary Omar said.

He added: “We need the government to intervene. We have cracked our backs for the money. We have borrowed loans and sold our land parcels just to get the money hoping to get the job and now someone is defrauding us. If I pick a machete and begin stealing from people what will the government say?”

Another victim

Aisha Rashid Mohamed, another victim, blamed Masoud for wasting young people through a choreographed con game and asked the government to intervene and help them recover their money and documents from the agency.

“She seems to enjoy some protection because she does not want to listen to us. Even if you go there in the company of police nothing will happen because she will also call police who are loyal to her and it will be chaotic. We have waited for seven months to no avail,” Aisha said.

Masoud had told the committee that the agency has been recruiting Kenyans to work mostly in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“After the pandemic, business took a nose dive and there were no more orders from UAE which had also cancelled all their sub agents. Now the UAE doesn’t issue working visas anymore,” Masoud told the committee. She did not shy away from revealing some of her dirty tricks and admitted to have occasionally violated the law and deployed workers to the Middle East with “visit visa as opposed to working visa.”

“Sometimes we are forced to deploy workers with a visit visa hoping it can later be altered into a work permit…which is a very big risk. This is partly why the UAE market has declined because nobody is willing to take that big risk,” she told the committee.

While citing Government bureaucracy and delays in accessing crucial documentation to facilitate travel clearance as some of the key setbacks that have continued to bog-down operations of the agencies, Masoud openly admitted that she often pays bribes to get passports and police clearance for her candidates.

For instance, she said: “If I have a client and maybe they do not have a passport. For the client to attain a passport it might take even more than three months, unless it somebody with detailed connection to help them fast track the process. Also, the Certificate of Good Conduct nowadays expires after six months even though you don’t get it in time.”

Another agency, Attawakul Limited, was found in a similar state, with its director, Yussuf Ibrahim, unable to produce staff files or contracts, underscoring the secrecy surrounding these operations.

In contrast, Al-Shifaa, led by Director Mwalimu Mwaguzo, presented all necessary records, highlighting proper operational procedures. According to Haika, the committee aims to address challenges facing migrant workers.

However, she expressed frustration at the lack of accountability and professionalism among some agencies, referring to them as “mere briefcase agencies.”

Over the weekend, National Employment Authority (NEA) Director General Joseph Njue came under fire for accrediting rogue agencies, with MPs urging the authority to take action against them.

Despite some MPs defending the agencies, calling for better policies to support them, concerns remain over the exploitation of Kenyan workers abroad.

Better policies

Njoro MP Charity Kathambi questioned NEA’s seriousness on the matter, saying the authority was doing injustice to Kenyans who are suffering abroad.

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