By Enyichukwu Enemanna
As the war between Israel and Hamas militants rages, the Kenyan government says it has concluded plans to send at least 1,500 farm workers to Israel.
The announcement by the Ministry of Labour in Nairobi comes barely two weeks after Malawi dispatched 221 young people to work on Israeli farms, a decision that attracted widespread criticism against the government.
According to the ministry, the Kenyan casual workers will be deployed on three-year renewable contracts, “with a guaranteed net income” of $1,500 (£1,195).
Africa provides a fertile ground for recruitment for Israel in filling acute shortage of farm workers following the mass exodus of foreign workers in the country.
More than 10,000 migrant farm workers – mostly Thailand nationals – have left Israel since the start of the war with Hamas in early October.
Israel has also barred Palestinian workers, who made up nearly 20% of the agricultural labour force prior to the war. Gaza, a territory of Palestine serves as shield for Hamas militants that attacked Israel Oct. 7 in which several persons were kidnapped while others were killed, a development that sparked the war.
Israel needs about 30-40,000 farm workers to replenish its labour force, the agriculture ministry told CNN last week.
Safety of the 1500 workers has attracted concern in Kenya, sparking diverse reactions.
At least 32 Thai farm workers were killed and several others taken hostage after the Oct 7 Hamas attack.
Rights groups, including the US-based Human Rights Watch have previously raised the alarm over Israel’s treatment of foreign farm labourers.
In 2018, a BBC investigation found that many migrant farm workers in Israel were subject to unsafe working practices and unsanitary living conditions.
Some were overworked, others underpaid, and there were dozens of unexplained deaths.
Some Kenyans have however backed the deal, saying it provides the needed jobs at a time when Kenya is battling an unemployment crisis and the rising cost of living.