Kenyan Domestic Workers’ Doomed Voyages to the Gulf

Trafficked, kept prisoner in Saudi Arabia Wanjiku Njoki was lucky to escape unharmed. She has since found work serving tea for a government parastatal. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

By Joyce Chimbi
Nairobi, Kenya, Jan 14 2022 – Distress calls from vulnerable Kenyan women in Saudi Arabia experiencing mistreatment and torture at the hands of their employers went from 88 in 2019/2020 to 1,025 just one year later.

And this fear is all too familiar for 28-year-old Wanjiku Njoki. The young woman’s whose search for greener pastures in the Gulf landed her in the hands of a physically, mentally, and verbally abusive employer.

In 2018, she travelled to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

That year, Wanjiku was one of an estimated 57,000 to 100,000 Kenyans who travel to Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain annually, for unskilled and semi-skilled work, according to the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Services.

“I heard stories of suffering and death, especially from Saudi Arabia, but the recruiting agent told us they only work with employers who have no history of abuse,” she tells IPS.

“They also lied about the salary. I received $180 per month and not the $700 promised. My employer would pay me, make me sign a document confirming the payment and then steal the money back. When I told them about the missing money, the man and his wife would slap me and refuse to feed me.”

Her life as a shagala, which she says is Arabic for house helper or servant, became a year-long nightmare. With her passport and mobile phone confiscated by her employer, cutting her off from the rest of the world, she saw no way out.

“I worked from 5 am to midnight every day. I spoke only when spoken to and was very depressed. With time, I befriended the gardener who allowed me to secretly use his mobile phone,” she says.

Eventually, she connected with Kenyans in Saudi Arabia through social media, who told her how to escape, get arrested and deported. In 2020, Wanjiku returned to her village in Kagongo, Kiambu County, empty-handed but alive.

Saudi Arabia has a modern slavery prevalence rank index of 138 out of 167 countries as per the Global Slavery Index. The index also estimates that 61,000 people live in modern slavery and that 46 out of every 100 people are vulnerable to modern slavery.

Confronted by unemployment rates that are among the highest in the world as per the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO), hundreds of vulnerable women like Wanjiku continue to take, more often than not, a doomed voyage to the Gulf.

The parliamentary committee on labour and social welfare indicate the number of Kenyans working in Saudi Arabia has risen from 55,000 in 2019 to 97,000. The number of deaths and distress incidences has also increased.

In 2019, three deaths were reported to the Kenya embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, rising to 48 deaths in 2020 and, as of September 2021, 41 deaths.

Thus far in 2021, three deaths have been reported in Qatar, one in the United Arab Emirates, two in Kuwait, nine in Oman and two in Bahrain.

“There are at least a hundred backstreet agencies linking workers to the Middle East. Only 29 agencies are government approved and licensed. Many agencies are very greedy and are least concerned with the safety and security of their recruits,” says Suzanne Karanja, a Nairobi-based recruitment agent.

“There is money to be made because a prospective employer will pay me $1,800 to $2,000 per head to facilitate travel to their country. Most agents do not intervene when trouble comes. Their work is done once they receive the commission.”

Karanja says the slave and master scenario presents itself among female domestic workers and employers in the Middle East mainly because employers incur the entire cost of processing travel documents, training, and travel.

She tells IPS that a potential employer pays at least $2500, split between a recruitment agent in the country of origin and the destination country.

If the recruited domestic worker leaves before the contract is completed, employers insist on a refund.

She says the government must step up and crack down on backstreet agents for violating terms of operation, not registering their businesses at a cost of $5000 or paying the $5000 to $10 000 once-off bond.

The $5,000, she says, is supposed to be used to rescue distressed women who, so far, are rescued by Kenyans of goodwill when their distress stories circulate on social media.

Additionally, Karanja speaks of Kenyans illegally detained in the Middle East for challenging poor working conditions and others stranded and living on the streets hoping to be arrested and deported.

“All the deaths are among young women, and their employers say they died of cardiac arrest. How is this possible? Young, energetic women who went through and passed mandatory medical tests dying within one to four years of being in the Middle East?” Karanja questions.

Wanjiku says that the Kenya Embassy in Saudi Arabia should be scrapped because it is notorious for turning a blind eye.

“Families of women who died in the Middle East have video and text message evidence of their loved ones crying for help, but the embassy and agents did nothing to rescue them. The women record themselves on mobile phones and send these videos to their families and social media but help only comes through ordinary Kenyans.”

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Labour and Social Welfare travelled to the Gulf region in April 2021 to find solutions to the crisis.

Karanja stresses that the situation is dire, prompting the Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau to write to the Ministry of Labour in July 2021, strongly recommending a temporary ban on recruitment and export of domestic workers to Saudi Arabia until protection measures are in place.

Thus far, no concrete actions have come from the recommendation or others made by politicians after the Gulf visit. Meanwhile, blinded by poverty and desperation, vulnerable women continue to make their way to the Gulf.

 


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Fully Ready to Kill, Shockingly Unprepared to Save Lives

Credit: Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jan 14 2022 – While absolutely ready to kill, with the biggest military powers spending in 2020 nearly two trillion US dollars on weapons, the world is shockingly unprepared to save the lives of millions of unarmed, innocent civilian victims of wars… and other man-made catastrophes.

The military spending data come from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which also reports that global nuclear arsenals grow as states continue to modernise, thus sharply increasing the dangers of an unimaginable number of victims of the most devastating death machinery.

“As fighting continues to displace tens of thousands while disrupting access to nutritious food for millions of people, over half the population – 16.2 million people – are facing acute hunger, with 5.1 million people at risk of famine. Half of all children under 5 – 2.3 million – are at risk of malnutrition this year.”

Parallelly, the world’s politicians continue to subsidise fossil fuel with six trillion dollars in just one year, being fully aware that such fuels harvest the lives of millions of humans, while devoting a tiny portion of such huge amounts to public health care systems.

In fact, 27 December 2021 marked the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness.

According to the United Nations, “global health crises threaten to overwhelm already overstretched health systems, disrupt global supply chains and cause disproportionate devastation of the livelihoods of people, including women and children, and the economies of the poorest and most vulnerable countries.”

 

Otherwise, more epidemics to come

“In the event of the absence of international attention, future epidemics could surpass previous outbreaks in terms of intensity and gravity.”

The UN adds that “we need to recognise the primary role and responsibility of Governments and the indispensable contribution of relevant stakeholders in tackling global health challenges, especially women, who make up the majority of the world’s health workers.”

 

The poorest, hit hardest

For his part, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said “While we have all undoubtedly been impacted by the pandemic, the poorest and most marginalised have been hit hardest – both in terms of lives and livelihoods lost.”

Tedros said scaling up production and equitable distribution remains the major barrier to ending the acute stage of the pandemic. “It is a travesty that in some countries health workers and those at-risk groups remain completely unvaccinated.”

As countries move forward post-COVID-19, it will be vital to avoid cuts in public spending on health and other social sectors. Such cuts are likely to increase hardship among already disadvantaged groups, said the WHO chief.

“Instead, governments should target spending an additional 1% of GDP on primary health care, while also working to address the shortfall of 18 million health workers needed globally to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.”

 

An appeal to the world’s billionaires

“A perfect storm of conflict, climate crises, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising costs for reaching people in need is causing a seismic hunger crisis,” the Nobel Peace Laureate World Food Programme (WFP) for its part announced.

And launched a one-time appeal for the world’s billionaires: 6.6 billion US dollars would help stave off starvation for 42 million people across 43 countries.”

 

A breakdown

Of this required funding, 3.5 billion US dollars are needed for food and its delivery, including the cost of shipping and transport to the country, plus warehousing and “last mile” delivery of food using air, land and river transport, contracted truck drivers and required security escorts in conflict-affected zones –fuelled by warlords– to distribute food to those who need it most.

Another 2 billion US dollars are required for cash and food vouchers (including transaction fees) in places where markets can function. This type of assistance enables those most in need to buy the food of their choice and supports local economies.

As well, 700 million US dollars would be devoted to country-specific costs to design, scale up and manage the implementation of efficient and effective programmes for millions of tonnes more food and cash transfers and vouchers – adapted to the in-country conditions and operational risks in 43 countries.

 

The case of Yemen

For its part, UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children has launched an appeal to help support the agency’s work in war-torn Yemen as it provides conflict and disaster-affected children with “access to water, sanitation, nutrition, education, health and protection services.”

Specifically, UNICEF requires 484.4 million US dollars to reach 8 million children among 11.3 million infants in need.

Meantime, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has appealed  for 170 million US dollars in 2021 to meet the increasing needs of displaced, conflict-affected and migrant communities in Yemen.

As of today, only half of these funds have been received. The 3.85 billion US dollars Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen is also only funded at 50 percent.

Yemen’s grim picture takes place in a moment in which the World Food Programme (WFP) warns that seven years of conflict show no sign of abating, nor does rising hunger.

“As fighting continues to displace tens of thousands while disrupting access to nutritious food for millions of people, over half the population – 16.2 million people – are facing acute hunger, with 5.1 million people at risk of famine. Half of all children under 5 – 2.3 million – are at risk of malnutrition this year.”

 

Infectious diseases: not only COVID

COVID-19 continues to demonstrate how quickly “an infectious disease can sweep across the world”, pushing health systems to the brink and upending daily life for all of humanity, the UN chief said on Monday, marking the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness.

“It also revealed our failure to learn the lessons of recent health emergencies like SARS, avian influenza, Zika, Ebola and others”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message on the World Day.

“And it reminded us that the world remains woefully unprepared to stop localised outbreaks from spilling across borders, and spiralling into a global pandemic”.

 

Halting infectious diseases

Noting that infectious diseases remain “a clear and present danger to every country”, Guterres maintained COVID-19 would not be the last pandemic for humanity.

“Even as the world responds to this health crisis, he spelled out the need to prepare for the next one.”

This means scaling-up investments in better monitoring, early detection and rapid response plans in every country — especially the most vulnerable, he said.

“It means strengthening primary health care at the local level to prevent collapse… ensuring equitable access to lifesaving interventions, like vaccines for all people and…achieving Universal Health Coverage.”

 

Spreading like wildfire

Meanwhile, as cases of the new Omicron variant continue to spread like wildfire, 70% of COVID vaccines have been distributed to the world’s ten largest economies, while the poorest countries have received just 0.8%, according to the UN, calling it “not only unjust, but also a threat to the entire planet.”

To end this cycle, the United Nations underscored that at least 70% of the population in every country must be inoculated, which the UN vaccine strategy aims to achieve by mid-2022.

 

Deaf ears… again

Although this will require at least 11 billion vaccine doses, it is doable so long as sufficient resources are put into distribution.

In short, the three above-mentioned funding appeals represent an astonishingly irrelevant fraction of the giant amount of 2,000,000,000,000 US dollars of the world’s spending on killing machines.

In spite of that, such appeals for saving lives fall, once again, on deaf ears.

 

Democracy Under Assault

A woman, accompanied by a child, casts her vote during the general elections in Mozambique. Meanwhile, the United Nations marked the annual International Day of Democracy last September calling on world leaders to build a more equal, inclusive and sustainable world, with full respect for human rights. Credit: UNDP/Rochan Kadariya

By Simone Galimberti
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Jan 14 2022 – There is no doubt that the building the magnificent Women’s Pavilion at the Dubai World Expo 2020 deserves unconditional praise and admiration, a bold landmark that projects the concept of gender empowerment and gender equality.

Yet at the same time I am wondering why the organizers of the World Expo didn’t come up with a different kind of pavilion, one focused on democracy and people’s participation in policy affairs.

On many ways, celebrating women but overlooking democracy and with it, one of its prerequisites and at the same time, byproducts, human rights, is a contradiction that, unfortunately should not shock us considering the overall state of democracy and human rights around the world.

In this context the Summit for Democracy organized by President Biden in December was an important undertaking.

It wasn’t because United States of America was behind it, a country that, as we know, it is dealing with some deep fractures in terms of in issues related to voting rights and universal franchise.

It was but because the Summit was a symbolic gesture, a statement about, on the one hand, the relevance and resilience democracy still has for millions of people around the world and, on the other hand, almost paradoxically, about its vulnerability and fragility.

If many people still can exercise their franchise and freely express their opinion, global reports like the Global State of Democracy 2021 Report published by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, IDEA, it is clear that democracy is under assault both in traditional liberal democratic settings as well as in regions with emerging democratic practices.

Unfortunately, the ongoing geopolitical dynamics are preventing a neutral debate about the future of democracy and instead a clash of perspectives and with it, different political systems, is prevailing, hampering an important conversation.

On the one hand, there is the liberal democracy model based on periodic elections and on the other side of the spectrum, we find the one-party ruling system.

In the between, a mix of hybrid models that, while formally embracing electoral democracy, act more like authoritarian regimes.

Yet perhaps there is another way to look at this equation, a possibility that would put universal human rights at the center of any political system being embraced, regardless its voting practices.

“The response to the pandemic, and to the widespread discontent that preceded it, must be based on a New Social Contract and a New Global Deal that create equal opportunities for all and respect the rights and freedoms of all.” – UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: United Nations

You might not be able to periodically elect your representatives but still in practice, you could enjoy freedom of opinion, the liberty to express your judgement on the current status of affairs in your country.

It is unclear how criticism and divergent opinions are continuously seen as such a lethal arms that can put at risk the survival of nations but this is what is happening almost on daily basis.

For example, while Dubai is celebrating its mesmerizing Expo, the U.A.E. are still jailing human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor detained since March 2017.

Whatever the charges against him, the authorities are showing contempt for the most basic human rights and this is not just an isolated episode but rather a consistent pattern of abuses.

Undoubtedly, it can be certainly be better in relation to basic human rights and that’s why the Summit for Democracy could become an opportunity to press nations like the U.A.E. to show leadership rather than fear and insecurity in matter of democracy and human rights.

The U.A.E. like many other authoritarian or totalitarian regimes are a success stories in so many extents.
Events like the Expo or the upcoming World Cup in Qatar, another democratic outcast despite the recent election of the Shura Council or the soon to happen Winter Olympics and Paralympics Games in China, are showing how such countries have found their own path to excellence and prosperity.

There are risks associated with a nation like the USA pushing the democracy agenda but still the follow up summit that will be organized by the Biden Administration in 2022 could offer a way for more nations to step up and show some commitment at least to human rights.

Will those nations who did not get invited to the summit this year, nations like the U.A.E. and Qatar do more in this area or simply will they carry on with business with a “business as usual” approach?

To be clear, there is no doubt that it would be a mistake to just promote the liberal democratic model based on elections and representation as the only blue print to be followed universally.

There are, indeed, other ways to reinvigorate democracy and human rights and for example, the ongoing conversation on the New Social Contract being promoted by the United Nations could offer such venue to rethink the relationships between people and their governments.

That’s why it is so relevant to be as inclusive as possible in building on the momentum opened by the UN Secretary General with its push for a New Social Contract because such discussions could enable nations like the U.A.E. to also join and contribute, on their own ways, to the formulation of a better and just, not just more efficient, governance models.

Involving youth is going to be paramount.

Recently during the World Youth Forum organized by the Egyptian Government, another nation falling well behind in human right standards and practices, Secretary General Guterres, invited youth to “keeping speaking out”.

I am not entirely sure how such invite would be digested by President El-Sisi, the convener of the Forum but Guterres is right in asserting youth’s right to speak up and share their voice.

More than ever, the United Nations have an enormous responsibility to keep focusing on human rights and freedom of expression and such an effort can help move forward, even indirectly, the global agenda being embraced by President Biden.

While Guterres might not be able to explicitly talk about democracy and elections, he is well positioned to further enhance the debate around the New Social Contract and with it, bring up inconvenient topics to those leaders uncomfortable to talk about democracy and human rights.

And such leaders from states like U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Brunei, China or Nicaragua, just to mention few nations certainly not trailblazers in human rights, should not only listen to but also get engaged with such issues.

Will Biden tactically find a way to allow the United Nations, with its proclaimed neutrality, to be involved in such difficult conversations?

Human rights abused cannot be condoned anywhere and this is also a standard applicable to everyone, including to those states who proudly burnish strong democratic credentials, for example, nations of the E.U. or the U.S.A. itself.

We hope that one day not too far from today, the U.A.E. and other likeminded nations might be able to tell their own success stories in terms of human rights protection and people’s participation to local affairs.

They do not lack the creativity and resources to find their own solutions that, while meeting the highest human rights standards, at the same time, can be localized enough to offer novel ideas to make their societies more inclusive, more open and just.

After all, a social contract just based on economic prosperity, while doing the job now, won’t go too far nor will be resilient enough to navigate future crises.

Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities. The opinions expressed here are personal.

 


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AscendEX Lists the Marvelous NFT Token, MNFT

International, Jan. 13, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — AscendEX is excited to announce the listing of the Marvelous NFT Token (MNFT) under the trading pair MNFT/USDT on AscendEX starting on January 14 at 5:30 p.m. UTC.

Marvelous NFTs is a blockchain game development company and the official intellectual property licensee of Bad Days, a decentralized strategy game and blockchain–powered site. Running on the Ethereum network and utilizing the Polygon Layer 2 protocol, Bad Days implements ERC–721 and ERC–1155 custom–developed smart contracts to enable users to own, collect, breed, sire, battle, and play unique limited–edition digital assets and crypto collectibles.

Bad Days players can develop and customize their assets, creating an immersive and multi–dimensional user experience where players can personalize and tailor their strategies to compete against other players in a series of battle scenarios.

The core token of the Bad Days ecosystem is the Marvelous NFT token, MNFT. Operating as the core currency in gameplay, MNFT allows players to not only make in–game purchases but also stake their assets to earn increased yield. MNFT tokens additionally feature two deflationary mechanisms, including fee distribution and buy–back mechanism, to maintain the stability of the token and broader game economy.

Players of Bad Days are also able to interact with the Fuse Token, yet another operational token within the Bad Days battle environments. The Fuse Token, similar to MNFT, aims at producing player–generated wealth throughout the game ecosystem. Ultimately, players are rewarded for continuous engagement and top–tier game strategy within the Bad Days platform.

Through the development of Bad Days, the Marvelous NFTs team has continued its mission to drive mainstream adoption of blockchain and GameFi by delivering high–quality blockchain–based gaming, unique opportunities for NFT ownership, and easy–to–comprehend play–to–earn mechanisms.

With the listing of MNFT, AscendEX strives to continue demystifying the world of blockchain–based gaming, allowing for more individuals to participate in the blockchain ecosystem.

###

About AscendEX
AscendEX is a global cryptocurrency financial platform servicing more than one million institutional and retail traders with the resources needed to obtain more value from their crypto investments. Operating at the nexus of centralized finance and decentralized finance, AscendEX's platform features access to margin, futures, and spot trading, a robust wallet infrastructure, and staking support for over 200 industry–leading blockchain projects, all producing industry–leading yields and returns, further driving the growth of the crypto ecosystem. In efforts to cultivate scalable and secure forms of decentralized financing, AscendEX has emerged as a leading platform by ROI on its "initial exchange offerings" through supporting some of the industry's most innovative projects from the DeFi ecosystem.

To learn more about how AscendEX leverages best practices from both Wall Street and the cryptocurrency ecosystem to extract the highest value per dollar to its users, please visit:

Website: https://ascendex.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AscendEX_Global
Telegram: https://t.me/AscendEXEnglish
Medium: https://medium.com/ascendex

About Marvelous NFTs
Marvelous NFTs is a blockchain game development company and the official intellectual property licensee of Bad Days, a decentralized application that runs on the Ethereum network utilizing the Polygon layer two protocol to avoid high gas fees. Bad Days was designed to be a fun and interactive game that gives users the ability to own, buy, sell, collect, upgrade, battle, and play unique limited edition digital assets from the Bad Days universe in an exciting player vs. player strategy game.

For more information and updates, please visit:

Website: https://marvelousnfts.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarvelousNfts_
Telegram: https://t.me/baddayscom

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AscendEX Lists Battle of Guardians Token, BGS

International, Jan. 13, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — AscendEX is thrilled to announce the listing of the Battle of Guardians Share Token (BGS) under the trading pair BGS/USDT starting on January 14th at 2 p.m. UTC.

Battle of Guardians (BOG) is a real–time, multiplayer NFT fighting game that allows players to utilize their NFT assets as fighting avatars in an all–out battle of skills, where heightened skill is recognized with in–game rewards. Developed in Unreal Engine and built atop the Solana Network, BOG was designed with multiplayer capabilities that allow global players to engage in fierce, multi–realm battles in the expansive Sci–Fi game ecosystem. The project currently offers a selection of 30 unique NFTs and is equipped with an NFT Synthesis feature that allows players to upgrade the tier of their fighting avatars. BOG is being developed for PC–based gaming, with iOS and Android cross–platform multiplayer features becoming available in the future.

Recently, the play–to–earn model has become the standard for new–to–market, blockchain–based gaming ecosystems. The convergence of gaming and finance through NFTs has become an exciting and interactive way for players of games, and owners of NFTs, to earn real–world rewards. BOG aims to emphasize the "play" aspect of the play–to–earn movement by offering multiple modes of play. In BOG gameplay, players can battle in Player vs. Environment (PvE), Player vs. Player (PvP), or Tournament modes, using their collection of NFT avatars. With a tiered system of playable NFTs, a variety of gaming modes, and a rewards model in place, BOG will become the go–to platform for players to test their skills and agility while earning rewards in–game.

A unique feature of BOG's NFT structure is the ability for players to rent NFTs, which adds yet another revenue stream for players looking to leverage the BOG ecosystem. Owners of specific NFTs can rent their assets out to players who are eager to play the game, but do not yet want to commit to purchasing their own asset. By implementing this mechanism, both established players and inquisitive newcomers can earn increased in–game rewards, maximizing the utility of the NFTs featured in the BOG game.

To further incentivize players for continued gameplay and reward players for remarkable in–game achievements, Battle of Guardians will feature two tokens: the Battle of Guardians Share token (BGS) and the Fighting Points token (FP). Both tokens will be utilized within the game's various modes for purchasing NFT characters and in–game assets, whereas BGS can uniquely be leveraged as a governance token to contribute to the development of the game. Players will also have the ability to stake their BGS tokens to generate additional yield and further their involvement in the BOG ecosystem.

AscendEX is excited to debut the trading of the BGS token and support the growth of the play–to–earn GameFi Ecosystem.

###

About AscendEX
AscendEX is a global cryptocurrency financial platform servicing more than one million institutional and retail traders with the resources needed to obtain more value from their crypto investments. Operating at the nexus of centralized finance and decentralized finance, AscendEX's platform features access to margin, futures, and spot trading, a robust wallet infrastructure, and staking support for over 200 industry–leading blockchain projects, all producing industry–leading yields and returns, further driving the growth of the crypto ecosystem. In efforts to cultivate scalable and secure forms of decentralized financing, AscendEX has emerged as a leading platform by ROI on its "initial exchange offerings" through supporting some of the industry's most innovative projects from the DeFi ecosystem.

To learn more about how AscendEX leverages best practices from both Wall Street and the cryptocurrency ecosystem to extract the highest value per dollar to its users, please visit:

Website: https://ascendex.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AscendEX_Global
Telegram: https://t.me/AscendEXEnglish
Medium: https://medium.com/ascendex

About Battle of Guardians
Battle of Guardians is a real–time multiplayer NFT Fighting Game that allows players to utilize their NFT asset as Fighters in the battlefield. Battle of Guardians is multiplayer ready, built by a game studio with 7+ years of experience.

For more information and updates, please visit:

Website: https://battleofguardians.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOG_Official_
Telegram: https://t.me/battleofguardianschat

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