The death of 89 Kenyan domestic workers in Saudi Arabia over the past two years has been described as "suspicious" by the African state's foreign ministry. Saudi authorities have told their Kenyan counterparts that most of the deaths were from cardiac arrest but Kenyan officials highly doubt that is the case.
Appearing before parliament's labour committee last week, foreign affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau revealed the highly disproportionate rate of death between Kenyans in Saudi Arabia with other Gulf states.
"We have compared the deaths, so it's not possible that you have three deaths in Qatar, one in UAE, two in Kuwait, nine in Oman, two in Bahrain and you have 40-50 in the other country because the number may be larger but they are not that larger," Kamau said. "It's not possible that these young people are all dying of cardiac arrest," he added, dismissing Riyadh's explanation for the deaths.
As many as 49 Kenyans are said to have died in Saudi Arabia in the last nine months, allegedly due to heart failure. No independent investigation has been carried out to confirm the cause of death.
Wachira Kabinga, a lawmaker and chair of Kenya's labour committee, called for greater protection of its domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. He said that it was "priority number one" while urging for the adoption of proper and clear recommendations to "ensure that [our] people are not living as slaves."
The number of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia increased by 14 per cent last year, nearing four million. At least 100,000 Kenyans work in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, most as domestic workers or doing other menial jobs.
In March Riyadh signed a memorandum of understanding to increase coordination in protecting human rights and increase awareness to reduce domestic violence.