By Jeff Andrew Lule
Halima (not real name) was thrilled and much hopeful when her uncle’s friend connected her to those she thought would get her employment in Saudi Arabia.
Like any other struggling Ugandan and married wife, she saw this as a golden opportunity at her disposal that she would not dare miss.
Unlike other fresh migrant domestic workers, Halima already had vast experience and knowledge of Arabic, which the traffickers used as an advantage to convince her. She took the offer with two hands, possibly, taking it as an answered prayer. Little did she know, she was becoming another victim of trafficking, and more so being married off without her consent?
How she was duped
Everything started in June last year (2021). Halima is said to have been contacted by her uncle’s friend only identified as Boaz.
Boaz told her on the phone that he would secure her a housemaid job in Saudi Arabia during the time of the COVID-19 lockdown.
He later connected her to one Ssempijja.
Ssempijja told her, that he was to support her in the process of getting all the necessary documents to travel to Saudi Arabia.
Agnes Igoye, the deputy national coordinator of Prevention of Trafficking in Persons, at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, says the Ssempijja promised the victim a monthly payment of $900 (about sh3.3m) because of her vast experience and eloquence in Arabic.
“Ssempijja told her that she was to be paid $900 because she had enough experience and she spoke Arabic,” she noted.
In September 2021, Ssempijja is said to have contacted the victim to go to Kibuli hospital for medical examinations which she did, on October 1st the same year.
“The whole process appeared to have been plotted wisely,” Igoye observed.
The case was revealed during the joint security briefing at the police headquarters in Naguru on Monday.
Igoye says the victim was later contacted by Ssempijja to take her medical report to Wakiso district where he claimed their offices were located.
“She reached Wakiso and found eight other girls that had come to see Ssempijja outside a building. So there was no clear office. So he met them actually outside. So that’s how they operate. They are very elusive,” she noted.
During the briefing, Ssempijja told the girls that they would be paid $250 (sh946000/=) which she protested shortly before he quickly re-assured of how she was a special case because she spoke Arabic. He also asked the girls to prepare for the trip on October 16, 2021.
“That is when they also coached that they would travel one by one immigration so that there is no suspicion that may be they are connected to one another,” she added.
Changing travel destination
The victims, according to Igoye, boarded the Egyptian Airline. “At that time, that is when Ssempijja tells them, you are going Iraq and not Saudi Arabia. You can imagine, you are boarding and now Ssempijja says you are going to Iraq and not Saudi Arabia. Those are all red flags,” she observed.
The victims are said to have arrived in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital on October 17, the same year.
On arrival, Ssempijja’s colleague is said to have called them and informed them that someone was to take their passports away. After about 30 minutes a gentleman confronted them and asked if they were connected to Lillian, which they admitted before they were driven off in different vehicles with their language and taken to an unknown place where they were kept until October 25, 2021.
Breach of promises
“You know she (Halima) was handed over to another person. Her boss told her she was going to be paid $250. That is when she rejected and cited that when left Ssempijja has promised that she would be paid $900,” Igoye said.
Halima is said to have further complained to Lilian and Ssempijja who promised to talk to her boss.
However, she only got surprised after getting paid only $500 after two months, which meant $250- per month.
Igoye said her continued complaints fell on the deaf ears and they started ignoring her.
After a week, a certain Abu Mustafa Muhammad (boss), is reported to have traveled to Uganda and met Ssempijja and Lillian, to finalize the agreement in which he was to fully marry Halima.
“When Mustafa returned to Iraq, his moods had changed. So you imagine he even traveled to Uganda. She overheard Mustafa and his mother because she was staying with them; talk about marrying her because he had paid her off,” Igoye noted.
Adding; “So Ssempijja and Lilian had hutched a deal with Mustafa and had sold her off now to marriage”.
When the victim rejected, they started harassing her, which prompted her to call and tell her husband.
The husband is said to have rushed to report the case to Kawempe Police Station in July 2022, leading to the arrest of the Ssempijja and Lilian.
On learning about the arrest of the two, Mustafa is said to have become irritated and beat up the victim.
“We even do not know how Mustafa even got information on the arrest of these two,” she added.
Mustafa is said to have revealed to her that he had paid a lot of money to buy her and that if she needed to return to Uganda Ssempijja and Lilian must first refund his money.
“So, after a week Ssempijja and Lilian were released on police bond and were told to bring the victim back, which has not yet happened,” he added.
Pursuing the case
Igoye said the Ministry of Internal Affairs is following up on the case and have also involved the Office of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (ODPP). “This is an unfinished business because someone’s life is in danger. We want these people to be held and be accountable,” she noted
Use licensed companies
Igoye urged all those intending to travel for work abroad to use the licensed companies to avoid falling victim to traffickers.
Many unsuspecting Ugandans mostly the youth, have ended up in the wrong hands, giving rise to human trafficking.