Over the last 15 years there has been an increased interest and increased concern about economic migration from African counties largely eastern, Western and Southern Africa into the northern belt of Africa and often onwards to Emirati countries. People haven’t been silent, but awareness continues to be difficult to evaluate and for the best part the drift of people continues. 

In this last decade I have keenly followed a variety of accounts from people, particularly young women who have left their families and in some cases children and I guess there are there are probably thousands of stories from people who have travelled to the middle east assisted by “agents”.

There’s a fair bit of education about this out there but the allure of big payouts and lack of conscience never fails to convince fellow countrymen and women into becoming “agents” who specialise in going to or targetting villages and other deprived or semi deprived communities to groom young people into believing they stand better chances by going abroad to Emirati countries to work. Just like the traffickers often appear first in areas where war and displacement is in progress, foreign employment agents with specialty in recruiting unskilled workers simply appear to know who to pick and where to pick their crop.

In simplicity the cycle of the black economy is difficult to track, almost impossible to trace and pretty much impossible to police or so it seems. And so it continues. The black economy in Emirati countries is shrouded In secrecy, cloaked in a wall of silence, enabled by the complexities and legalities around women’s rights and  immigration motivated by what observably appears to be acquired and accepted socially conditioned cultures and belief systems. It suggests that lawlessness lives healthily amidst strong projections about lawfulness.

It is also discomfiting that  the same stories that make us uncomfortable about history in Africa particularly West Africa where the realities of knowing that chieftains and community leaders of old were inclined to sell fellow natives in exchange for porcelain ware, alcohol, arms and clothing in the 18th and 19th century are now reappearing in a different way with the same pattern. 

Agents will often flaunt their alleged successes in life supposedly gained by supposedly working in Emirati countries and use openly available and often untraceable digital and physical means and in a fair number of cases word of mouth to  recruit young people.

Most of the recruits have little means and are impoverished and their limited literacy or gullibility means they are malleable and easily coerced into believing the “agent” is doing them a favour and that they are particularly blessed to have found a connection. 

In these moments, because we as a people have become accustomed to practices of going through, with or via ‘knowledgeable’ people to acquire or process simple things that we can actually do ourselves like research a job abroad; coupled with the limited understanding people have about the risks of trusting any person who has no clear professional front with their money, passports and lives these situations continue.

The ills of Emirati black economy work and cash in hand pay where humans pay extortionate prices to acquire travel documents and tickets under the guise of working in hotels or restaurants or as labourers is not new. The fact that there are radio, tv and social campaigns warning that believing such agents will only lead to being spirited into  these nations and being assimilated into a black hole don’t seem to deter people. And the evils that occur when the are assimilated into well to do or judging by accounts not so well to do or should we say wicked, educated but apparently savage and respectable yet dysfunctional families are too numerous to discuss in this article. 

When a human goes to a foreign country and they are very evidently a minority and other humans begin to forget this is the new millennium and the times when serfdom and the perpetuation of circumstances that motivate keeping people as herlots don’t belong in this century, bad things happen.

I am not alone when I say that the culture of taking people on as ‘domestic helps’ even if they actually got a visa to be helps, carers, cleaners and au pairs only to put them to work as slaves is disturbing.

People are deprived of their passports, isolated from the world without leave or breaks in environments where they are poorly fed without access to healthcare. They are isolated from contact with family and largely their whereabouts are unknown to anyone (often the worker is kept like a house cat so they have no idea where they are either) and this is wrong. I am unafraid to say that it is not possible to stake a claim to piousness yet continue to look away from this societal/global evil. 

The verifiable accounts from those who did not die and those who escaped or those who managed  to pay off their peonage and return after being subjected to atrocious physical, sexual and emotional abuse having been placed in vulnerable positions are not deniable. They largely return penniless, emotionally and psychologically scarred and in some cases in ill health with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The extensive reports of missing people who are likely have been spirited into the sex work industry as slaves and the real potential that those who are deemed healthy amongst the missing but considered useless in the sense of non compliance with their masters have  likely become black market organ material are not dismissible either. Accounts of these situations are publicly spoken of and discussed but it seems these nations have yet to put paid to the  practices that enable them.

As I wrote this article, I kept wondering is one worse than the other and is the widespread concern misdirected? Who is the rogue and who should we tackle first, because those who desperately seek rapid progression to well paid jobs despite limited qualifications are not just told they are coached and groomed not to tell anyone so someone else doesn’t challenge their dastardly idea or enlighten them. They are conned into the sense that they were selected to take imaginary jobs and should feel privileged, but are they really that unwise and would it be victim blaming to say they should know better? 

I think they are victims of circumstance and victims of broken systems in the countries they leave and enter and that they are people who are vulnerable and likely to repeat the same process if another ‘opportunity’ arises. I ask these questions and say this  because the problems of taking girls to Italy from Africa to become sex workers raised dust that has yet to settle.

Yet it  did not and does not deter people who see going abroad as an achievement from seeing these deceptive and callous agents as a necessity and, a gateway to money and success. Each time people flock to them like ants to a blooming plant, they half know that once they arrive and money changes hands they will effectively fall into the labour black market which is in fact a black hole. The red flags and warning signs apparent when someone tells you to travel hush hush and coaches you to pass through borders when you’re meant to be going to a legitimate job should raise alarm bells but I guess the fear of losing what has been paid already and shame take precedence. Or perhaps its naivety.

Now the agents who accept huge fees from the ‘victims’, tend to be fellow countrymen and women and they continue to cathartically reap benefits while their victims remain in some form of purgatory risking life and limb and often never receiving pay as promised, often acquiring psychological and physical health problems and sometimes disappearing without a trace.  For the big money to be had in ‘legal’ trafficking the people who vanish are cannon fodder. 

Unfortunately the situation will likely continue until those who continue to look the other way in Emirati countries begin to realise that they are representatively asserting their indifference toward fellow humans which is frowned upon theologically and that they not only harbour but express degenerative behaviours toward those perceived to be of a lower caste than they are, but that they do not care about any life but theirs. 

I keep wondering now when I read these stories as they emerge from time to time if I have any right to tell potential victims it would be wiser to hawk peanuts and eke a dignified existence than to roam like a nanny goat propelled by a sense of follower-ship imbibed by an agent to potential death because as yet I have not heard of a single human who came back rich and so far not heard of an agent or Emirati employer jailed. Many of my peers would say it’s the suffering in Africa that has led to this, but I disagree. I disagree because migrating for work need not be a fatal or terror laden act. 

To kill a plant one often has to take out its roots, so in my view if Emirati countries adjust the legal caveats and conditions for foreign domestic workers and speak out and clamp down using their well advertised digital capacities to catch defaulters and shut down help auction apps and sites (yes there are Emirati Craigslist/ebay type sites and apps exclusively for trading slaves oops I meant helps) nothing will change.  We don’t need to be spies to know these things, people talk about it everywhere.

Labour laws in any country should exist with the capacity to prevent people from depriving others of their wages, basic rights, liberty, dignity and safety and if everyone knows they have to comply, the Emirati black economy will shrink or turn a tide such that going to these countries to work will cease to be a potential death sentence. But there are other problems you see, because there is a market for this in other places too and while it is only appropriate that I think of southern Asia it’s probably best to discuss that in another article.