Nairobi - There was no shortage of surprises in the five years that Esther Wabai spent in Libya.


The mother of five is back in Kenya and looks back to her time attending to the needs of three families in Benghazi.


Her first surprise was finding that despite having been recruited to work as a domestic helper, she also had to act as a nurse, looking after a mentally ill family member who was often violent. 


The second shock came much later: For seven months she had worked without any time off or the promised salary of USD300. This only changed when Esther caused a scene and threatened to leave. “They paid USD2000 that day,” she says.


Finding another employer promising a better salary, Esther changed jobs. But within a short period the new employer had set up a catering business and Esther’s responsibilities increased. In addition to the house chores, she was now also required to be involved in the business, preparing the food and even serving customers.


Not long after, the Libyan Dinar collapsed in line with the political situation in the country, slashing her month salary by two thirds as the employer had resorted to paying her in local currency.


Libya had degenerated into a dangerous place, ruled by marauding gangs and militias. Raids on foreigners became a regular occurrence. It was during one of these invasions that she lost her stash of savings. At that time, the prevailing remittance fee was so high that sending money home was unviable.  


The EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa (the Joint Initiative) assisted Esther to return home. Her decision to leave Benghazi was the logical outcome of having fallen ill without much hope of getting medical assistance in Libya.


She is now looking to re-establish her life in Nairobi, also with the support of the Joint Initiative. Esther is determined to support herself in business, an area that she knows well. Prior to her departure for Libya she was involving in trading milk and eggs. Her plan now is to sell children’s shoes.


While Esther left Kenya with the help of an agent and had a job waiting, many others are not so lucky. Extreme exploitation among irregular migrants is a common occurrence. Standing in the way of escape is usually the reality of a migrant’s passport being confiscated – something Esther fiercely resisted.


At the beginning of 2019, the government of Kenya launched a website meant as a one-stop site for migrant workers seeking safe employment in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. The site is also aimed at assisting would-be migrants to identify accredited employment agencies.


In the meantime, Esther has received psychosocial counselling through the Joint Initiative. She will now await her turn at reintegration.


Special assistance is provided to those who need medical or psychological help, as well as to victims of trafficking, the elderly, female headed households and children travelling alone.