The government demonstrated uneven protection efforts as services for adult victims in-country remained negligible, whereas it continued to make improvements for domestic child victims and victims abroad. In conjunction with NGOs, authorities reported identifying and referring to care at least 400 trafficking victims (adults and children) during the reporting period, of which the majority were subjected to forced labor. During the reporting period, the government provided 60 million Kenyan shillings ($589,390) from the federal budget for anti-trafficking efforts, including implementation of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and the victim assistance fund, which was a steady allocation from the previous year. Though the government trained relevant stakeholders on the NRM’s identification and referral provisions, the mechanism was not fully functional or widely implemented; local authorities continued to bypass the NRM and directly contact NGOs to provide assistance to victims, although NGOs reported strong working partnerships with key ministries. In 2018, the government funded the National Assistance Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking and gazetted the board members; however, the authorities did not distribute the available funds to any trafficking victims during the reporting year. According to multiple government and civil society stakeholders, identification of child trafficking victims remained stronger than for adults, and the issue of forced prostitution was largely ignored. There were direct referrals to NGOs from victims or concerned witnesses; police during investigations; or via calls to the government-operated gender-based violence or NGO-run hotlines. The two national hotlines were operational 24 hours per day, year round. The government did not report how many trafficking-related calls either line received during the reporting period.
Victim care varied in quality across the country. Services consisted of medical care, psycho-social counseling, rehabilitation and reintegration support, food and clothing, legal aid, and transportation. The government and NGOs across Kenya jointly provided these protective provisions, although sometimes NGOs acted alone when the government was slow or failed to respond. Victim care was particularly challenging in the coastal region, due to lack of training and resources, where NGOs and government officials worked in tandem to provide trauma counseling, medical services, shelter, and reintegration support for trafficking victims returning from Somalia—some of whom left or fled al-Shabaab—and the Arabian Gulf. In 2018, the local police began providing complimentary overnight security to shelters in this region.
To continue addressing the exploitation of Kenyan nationals in Arabian Gulf States, Ministry of Labor (MOL)-assigned labor attachés continued to work in Kenyan missions in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE and assisted an unreported number of citizens employed there. Reportedly, the attachés advocated for Kenyan workers’ rights with host governments, helped identify trafficking victims, resolved workplace disputes, and partnered with licensed employment agencies to find legitimate work opportunities for Kenyans. The government concluded a bilateral labor agreement with the UAE during the reporting period, adding to previously concluded agreements with Saudi Arabia and Qatar to coordinate efforts to reduce cases of exploitative labor and other abuses against Kenyans abroad, to include trafficking. Also in 2018, officials commenced negotiations on bilateral labor agreements with Jordan, Lebanon, and Oman, and engaged in ongoing negotiations with Kuwait. It provided ad hoc monetary and logistical support for repatriation of its citizens subjected to trafficking outside Kenya. In some cases, NGOs and destination-country governments coordinated and funded the repatriation of Kenyan nationals with partial government support. Officials assisted 71 Kenyans with their return in 2018, the vast majority of whom were Kenyan laborers with unresolved workplace grievances in the Arabian Gulf States.
Authorities reportedly penalized victims for crimes traffickers compelled them to commit, due to inadequate screening for trafficking indicators among vulnerable groups. NGOs across Kenya alleged the government charged an unspecified number of trafficking victims for contravening immigration laws as some officials continued to conflate smuggling with trafficking. Reports also alleged that some authorities treated potential victims as criminals, particularly women in prostitution. The government had formal procedures to encourage victims’ cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes, but did not report how many victims utilized the government’s victim-witness protection program in 2018; it reported seven victims used the program in 2017. Under the anti-trafficking act, officials may grant permission for foreign trafficking victims to remain indefinitely in Kenya if it is believed they would face hardship or retribution upon repatriation; the government did not report using this provision during the reporting period. In some cases, authorities obtained protective custodial orders for victims from courts to formalize provision of protection services pending repatriation. However, the government continued to initially misidentify foreign trafficking victims as violators of immigration law and consequently held them for deportation.