Red flag over Sh90m human smuggling racket through Kenya-Ethiopia border

by Zelalem

More than Sh90 million is illegally earned by human traffickers monthly by smuggling Ethiopian nationals across the Kenya–Ethiopia border with the prospect of sending them by road to South Africa. On average, 30 Ethiopians illegally cross the border daily in a racket that has been going on for the last 15 years.

But in many cases the victims end up being arrested, jailed and deported back to Ethiopia while in worse situations they end up in the jungles of East and Central Africa where they are abandoned after authorities discover the human trafficking racket and the smugglers escape.

According to a report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) titled, “In pursuit of the Southern Dreams: Victims of Necessity:” the Ethiopian Embassy in South Africa estimates that approximately 45,000 to 50,000 of their countrymen have made South Africa their home. The report says the numbers are increasing every week due to the influx of new arrivals, primarily from large-scale, successful smuggling operations from Ethiopia.

Ninety five per cent or more of these Ethiopian arrivals enter South Africa through irregular means and regularise their situations rapidly through its asylum policies. This figure provides some indication of the size of the business of smuggling Ethiopians alone (and in one geographical direction) in the last two decades. The IOM report reads in part: “Every trick is happening. Everyone is taking advantage of the innocence and desperation of the Ethiopians. No one is arrested because no one wants to kill the golden goose. Sixty per cent to 70 per cent of all wealth in Moyale comes from this business. The anti-corruption office should pay a visit to Moyale. … Even an angel would become corrupt in Moyale, Marsabit County,” says the report.

No guarantee

Brokers and/or agents charge the prospective immigrants between Sh70,000 to Sh300,000 before leaving Ethiopia. But what they are not told is the money is not a guarantee to safe arrival to their destination (South Africa). The money is usually paid through bank accounts owned by the brokers, after which it is withdrawn and wired to different brokers in other countries to facilitate the movement of the migrants. In Kenya, it is said people have started using money transfer.

The report claims that although the system has revolutionised rural transfer and banking habits, to deal with the limitation on quantity, some unscrupulous people have different SIM cards for their mobile phone. The would-be immigrants raise money through sale of property, livestock, and farmland, while some immigrants are financially supported by compatriots who have prospered in South Africa.

The human smuggling syndicate allegedly involves a group of notorious human traffickers, consisting of Government officials from both Ethiopia and Kenya. The victims and their relatives pay considerable amounts of money to the racketeers so that they can be shipped to South Africa where they expect a better life.

One of the latest incidents took place on October 19 this year, when 57 Ethiopians were arrested from a house in Kahawa Wendani, Nairobi, days after they had arrived. The victims were said to be in the country illegally and did not have traveling documents. They told police they had been brought there by an agent and were headed for South Africa. They were all taken to Kasarani Police Station where they were questioned and taken to court. A day earlier, 15 other illegal aliens were arrested in Muranga area after a salon car they were traveling in was involved in an accident. One of them died while the rest were arrested.

And on August 23 this year police officers nabbed a group of 71 Ethiopians on board a lorry along the Banane-Garissa Road, ten kilometres from Balambala Sub-county in Garissa County. They were charged at a Garissa court and slapped with a fine of Sh20,000 each or six month jail term in default. In the same court the truck driver and the smuggler were charged for aiding in the smuggling of foreigners into the country. Two weeks earlier, 73 other Ethiopians were arrested in Balambala after the lorry they were traveling in was involved in an accident. They were also charged at Garissa Court, however, the driver and the trafficker managed to escape after the accident.

Men and women between 16-29 years of age, from the southern parts of Ethiopia are regularly smuggled through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique before they finally find their way into South Africa. Investigations by The Standard on Sunday – supported by the Africa Centre for Open Governance Investigative Journalism Fellowship Programme – reveal the victims of human smuggling are largely from the communities of Kembata and Adiya from Hossana and Debu regions of Ethiopia. Although the data on the true extent of trafficking is contested by academics and human rights practitioners, in terms of global trafficking, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime stated in 2008 that, “some 2.5 million people throughout the world are at any given time recruited, entrapped, transported and exploited”.

The International Labour Organisation’s 2008 report on the regional distribution of trafficked forced labour estimates that 130,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa are coerced in a form of modern day slavery, and that 44 per cent of the global economic exploitation of trafficked people is male.

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