Who are the ‘dalalas’? The middlemen preying on trapped domestic staff in Saudi Arabia

© Debra Nyanchoka / Facebook

Many foreign domestic workers in Saudi Arabia are forced to work in terrible conditions, often with abusive employers. However, they are trapped because of a system that ties their working rights in the country to the employer. Enter the dalalas, middlemen who prowl Facebook, offering desperate women help to flee their employers for better jobs and improved working conditions. These shadowy figures promise to help, but in reality, they are preying on the most vulnerable.

A video posted on YouTube in late 2022 shows about a dozen veiled women standing in a room together. The women are asking for help, most of them speaking Swahili. One of the women in the video says that they are domestic workers who are trapped in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia after fleeing their employers.

Some of us are very sick and can't help themselves, we have some who have gone mad but we dont get any help. In case one of us is sick there is no help [...] Some of us have been for six months without work, we have waited and we are tired.

In the time since the video appeared online, these women have been able to leave Saudi Arabia. But who are they? In Kenya, women like them are known as “kembois,” domestic workers who have left their legal employers in the Gulf States and are now undocumented.

The nickname comes from Kenyan runner Ezekiel Kemboi, winner of the 3000-metre steeplechase at four World Championships and two Olympics.

Kemboi can also be used as a verb, meaning to flee one’s employer.

In this video, Debra Nyanchoka, a Kenyan woman who was a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia for two years, warns women who are thinking about running away from their employer about the people who may try to prey on them.

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