The announcement that Kenya is sending 1,500 farm workers to Israel arrives nearly two weeks after Malawi dispatched 221 young individuals to labor on Israeli farms, leading to considerable criticism in Malawi. These workers, on three-year contracts, are guaranteed a monthly net income of $1,500 (£1,195), Kenya announced.
Israel has sought workers from Africa to address a critical labor shortage on its farms after a significant exodus of foreign workers, especially Thai nationals, following the conflict with Hamas. As a result, Israel has turned away Palestinian workers, constituting nearly 20% of the agricultural workforce before the conflict.
Michael Lotem, Israel’s ambassador to Kenya, revealed Israel’s plans to recruit farm laborers from Uganda and has already commenced recruitment in Tanzania, citing East Africa’s success in student internship programs.
The labor shortfall stems from about 360,000 Israeli reservists called up for military service during the ongoing war, rather than restrictions on Palestinian workers or the departure of foreign nationals.
While the UK needs 30,000 to 40,000 farm workers, concerns have surfaced in Kenya regarding the safety of workers, following an attack in which 32 Thai farm workers were killed and a Tanzanian student lost their life.
Previously, migrant farm workers in Israel faced unsafe working conditions and unexplained deaths, as revealed by a BBC investigation in 2018. Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have criticized Israel’s treatment of foreign farm laborers, although Israel has since asserted that foreign workers receive the same rights as citizens.
Despite concerns, some Kenyans support the employment opportunity as Kenya contends with rising unemployment and living costs. Conversely, Malawi’s government persists with its decision to send more workers to Israel, stating people are leaving due to desperation.
However, Lotem assures that the workers won’t be placed in conflict zones, emphasizing their safety measures. For many Malawians, the promise of better pay and job security outweighs immediate safety concerns.
Jamison Kupatamoyo, a Malawian worker in Israel, emphasizes the job’s value, providing agricultural training and higher wages than in Malawi. He and others express faith in the agencies’ assurances regarding their safety in Israel.
While concerns persist, individuals like Alex from Lilongwe, unemployed for four years, are hopeful about job prospects in Israel. Despite apprehensions, he is reassured by security measures communicated by the employment agency.