At least 70,000 registered Ugandans and another estimated 50,000 undocumented nationals are working in the Middle East, officials have said.
According to the Uganda Association for External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA), majority of these are currently working in Oman.
Speaking at the opening of the one-day expo and symposium on the Externalization of Labor in Kampala yesterday, Andrew Kameraho the president UAERA said the Ugandan economy isn’t built to employ most of its population, which he said is the reason why people move out to look for greener pastures.
Their departure from the country, he said however, has come as a blessing in disguise through the remittances they send back home.
“Over $500,000 is remitted annually by migrant workers from the Middle East and $870,000 from the rest of the world. It’s a substantial contribution to the economy,” he said.
Nonetheless, Kameraho said, a number of challenges still face the labor externalization sector, even with the establishment of the association.
“People who go on their own to find jobs abroad tend to end up not finding them, and when they don’t, they land into problems. Their visas run out and their money and they get stranded. These are the ones that end up sending messages on social media to cause public panic,” he added.
Presiding at the function, the permanent secretary Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development Mr Pius Bigirimana cautioned Ugandans to only use legitimate means of finding jobs, and promised that the ministry will always be at hand to address most of their problems.
The conference was also graced by the ambassador of the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Dr. Abdallah AlQuhtani, who thanked the government for looking out for its people who work in the Middle East.
He stressed that the Saudi Embassy cannot issue any visa without the authorization of the Ministry of Gender.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Gender, Labor and Social Development Hon. Janat Mukwaya who also represented the Present as the guest of honor, emphasized the prioritization of the welfare of the Ugandan migrant workers.
The minister urged the labor companies to avoid competition in the rush for profits.
“You must invest in your business in the first years. I am not your competitor but a regulator,” she said.
Minister Mukwaya stressed government’s commitment to fight the challenge of human trafficking which has been affecting the sector.
“It has become a multibillion dollar job, and victims get picked up on a daily basis due to ignorance. We have suspended any labor exportation to Oman due to exploitation due to the many case of violation of migrant workers. We have highly placed Omanians who were born here, raised here and now in government, they are with us here who have made human trafficking to Oman easy.
“We have adopted a number of measures like exporting workers to countries where we (Uganda) have a bilateral agreement, contracts of domestic workers must be reviewed by our workers, pre-departures orientation has been introduced to all workers,” she added.
The Expo was held at the Hotel Africana People’s space and was open to members of the public who had an opportunity to interact with labor recruitment companies and government officials.