The BBC recently ran a report about a company that was recruiting Ugandan women to work in Iraq. They were made false promises about the nature of their employment. When they arrived in Iraq, they ended up being servants to Iraqi families, and treated like semi-slaves. Several were able to escape and return home, but a large number of women are unaccounted for.
In 2009 a company called Uganda Veterans Development Ltd. began recruiting Ugandan women to work in Iraq. They ran ads in Kampala promising high wages for women willing to work at American army bases in Iraq. 146 eventually signed up, and were flown to Iraq. When they arrived, they were told that they were going to be maids in Iraqi homes. The few that escaped their employment claimed that they were given little food or water, were locked inside the houses, and some of them were raped. One woman got in contact with a Ugandan security contractor at a U.S. base that ended up rescuing her and fourteen others with the help of an American officer. The base was eventually closed so they could not assist any others. The refugee group, International Organization for Migration ended up flying them back to Uganda. The director of Uganda Veterans Development told the BBC that they checked in on the women, but that it was only a recruiter. Ultimately, the company claimed, the women were under contract with their employers in Iraq.
When the story originally broke in Uganda, the Labor Minister revoked Uganda Veterans Development’s license to operate. The owner however, was connected to the ruling party in the country, and re-opened his business in December 2009. 100 of the 149 women sent to Iraq that year are still unaccounted for.
This is the latest example of human trafficking Iraq. The country has become a center of people flowing both in and out since the 2003 overthrow of Saddam. Iraqi women, children, and organs are being sold to foreigners, while cheap labor is being imported from other countries. There have been stories of illegal workers brought to Iraq from Georgia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, as well as Uganda. Many of them had the same experience as the Ugandan women, being told that they were going to work for the Americans, when in fact, they were going to work for Iraqis. Despite the high unemployment rate in Iraq, especially amongst the young, it is following the example of the Gulf States by importing cheap labor, a trend that started under Saddam. (1) The lack of strong government controls, border enforcement, and rule of law has allowed this trade to flourish. Until those larger issues of governance are resolved, there will probably be more stories like this one in the future.
1. Houk, Marian, “Iraq Shakes Off Vestiges of War,” Christian Science Monitor, 4/17/89
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor, “2009 Human Rights Report: Iraq,” U.S. State Department, 3/11/10
Houk, Marian, “Iraq Shakes Off Vestiges of War,” Christian Science Monitor, 4/17/89
Kampala, Anna Cavell, “Ugandan women tricked into domestic slavery in Iraq,” BBC, 3/31/11
U.S. Department of State, “The 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report,” August 2010