How Nepalese girls are lured into a life of slavery in Kenya

They came hoping to strike it rich and help their families back home, but they have now been arrested after police burst a human trafficking ring

Asali Bai, 20, came to Kenya in November last year hoping to find a way to support her family back home in Nepal. But when she got here, the young woman, who had been forced to drop out of school while in Class Seven when her ageing parents could no longer pay her school fees, became a sex slave.

Asali is the firstborn in a family of seven. To earn money after dropping out of school, she became a dancer. It was in the course of her work in Nepal that she met an agent who identified himself as Bishal. She told him her problems and he offered her a way out: How about a job in Kenya?

“(Bishal) told me he knew a person who was looking for an artiste. I got interested,” she says. “He connected me to a Mr Asif.” Within a week of making the connection, Bai had received a passport and an air ticket that would bring her to Mombasa, courtesy of this Asif.

On November 12, she arrived at Moi International Airport. Asif picked her up. He took her to an apartment in Bamburi, allowed her to rest for one day, then had her report to her new job. It would be a dancing gig at a restaurant called New Rangeela Bar in Nyali, and she would be practising a dance called mujra. And then Asif confiscated her passport.

Canadian, UK passports

Asali is one of four women who have shared their stories with the police investigating an international human-trafficking syndicate based in Kenya. The girls’ statements illustrate clearly how Kenya, once thought to be merely a transit and collection point for sex and child slaves, is now also a destination.

The New Rangeela club, where the young women performed, is the focus of this investigation. It is owned by Mombasa tycoon Asif Amirali Alibhai Jetha — the ‘Asif’ who helped Bai get into the country.

Jetha is a well-connected tycoon who has been operating the club since at least 2014. Documents seen by the Saturday Nation show that he holds Canadian and United Kingdom passports. According to his Facebook profile, he has allegedly worked with Canada Wide Media, an independent magazine publisher and digital media company.

Jetha, who is married, claims to have studied at Simon Fraser University and Burnaby Central Secondary School, both in British Columbia, Canada.

He is thought to be well connected to some known businessmen on the Kenyan coast. He also has connections in the security sector, which has complicated his arrest despite his legal transgressions.

He has now been charged with three counts of trafficking, promoting human trafficking and interfering with travel documents through the act of seizing the women’s passports.

The suspect is also accused of allowing the New Rangeela Bar to be used for trafficking purposes.

The club is open only to a few who-is-who, people who can afford the hefty entrance and tip fees. “When you visit the club, the doors are always closed and one has to knock. The guards check you out and if they know you, that’s when you are allowed in,” says a man who has visited the club, but who refused to be named for this story.

Mujra is an erotic dance performed by females in a format that emerged in South Asia. Revellers tip the dancers during the entertainment sessions, and if a reveller is attracted to any of the women, he may pay for a private session with her, say other sources who have also visited the club.

Given nicknames

The women are given nicknames and money targets for each night. Their pay ranges from Sh50,000 to Sh80,000 a month. However, they only receive between Sh10,000 and Sh15,000 directly.

According to their statements, all the women live together in one apartment in Nyali and are not allowed outside except at night, when they go to the club, and during one outing a month, which is always chaperoned by one of the club staff.

Sanjita Ale, 26, lived in that apartment for 10 months with 10 other Nepalese women, during which time she was only let out between 9pm and 10pm — when she was driven to the New Rangeela club — then driven back to the apartment at 3am after the club closed. Sanjita knows so little about her surroundings that she cannot locate the Bamburi apartment on her own.

“We were not allowed to leave the house unless we were going to work,” she says. “We only had one day off in a month (during which the) boss would accompany us,” she adds. The women were not allowed to use their phones except between the hours of 3pm and 6pm.

Sanjita, whose stage name was Ashiko, says she was given a monthly target of Sh400,000 and a salary of Sh80,000. “On the stage, customers used to give us tips, which were put in a bucket that had the name of each dancer.” Each month, one of Jetha’s workers would extract Sh60,000 to Sh70,000 from her salary to send to her parents.

The story follows much the same script for Ranjita Bik, who also dropped out of school very early due to financial constraints to fend for her family of four. The 30- year-old says that after leaving school, she started dancing and in the process, learnt that Kenya offered opportunities and great packages for people like her. “My friend connected me to a person by the name Asif, who interviewed me (by) phone. I asked him for a one-month salary advance. He bought me a plane ticket and sent me Sh80,000 to settle bank loans and buy clothes,” she said.

Ranjita flew into the country in August last year via Moi International Airport in Mombasa. At the airport, she found Jetha and his driver waiting for her, upon which she was driven to the apartment in Bamburi where she handed over her passport to Jetha. “At the apartment, I found about eight Nepalese (women). The same evening at around 9pm, we were picked up by a vehicle and dropped off at the club.”

Ranjita also testifies to the women’s movements being severely restricted. They were not allowed to go anywhere or leave the building on their own. They could only be picked up from and dropped off at the club.

Source:Daily Nation, By Mohamed Ahmed

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