Stories

Exposed Human Trafficking

Lusaka, Zambia Breaking News 10 Jan 2023

By DOROTHY CHISI
A MULTI-MILLION dollar human trafficking ring spanning eight African countries with Zambia being at the centre of the trade has been exposed.
An investigation has revealed that the war between the federal government in Ethiopia and a separatist group in Tigray is fueling the trade as hundreds of able bodied men are running away from conscription in the Ethiopian army.
'Human merchants' have taken advantage of the exodus as those fleeing are ready to pay up to US$10,000 for a one-way trip out of Ethiopia to the more lucrative job markets of South Africa.
In Zambia, traffickers demand up to US$1,500 per illegal immigrant to see them through Zambia.
According to the investigation, a high number of the migrants have ended up dead due to the inhuman conditions in which they are trafficked and for the less fortunate they have ended up being killed by their couriers for the money and possessions they carry on their person.
Highly placed sources said the illegal scheme is being orchestrated by sophisticated gangs that include police and immigration officials from different territories.
The Whistleblower, an online publication, gave credence to the allegations of collusion by some law enforcement personnel after it reported that two Zambian police officers were in custody in Zimbabwe on human trafficking charges.
However, there was no independent verification by the Sunday Times.
The covert trek begins in Ethiopia through the territories Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and end up in South Africa.
Recently, 27 bodies of predominantly Ethiopian men were found dumped in a Lusaka suburb on the peripherals of the city suspected of having died of suffocation.
A truck suspected of dumping the bodies was arrested by local police after an investigation.
No official post-mortem report has been released by authorities, however, sources have revealed some of the dead were found naked raising the suspicion they may have been robbed of their valuables.
Police in Lusaka have remained tight-lipped only adding that an investigation by a combined team of security wings was on-going.
Recently, in the border town of Nakonde, seven naked bodies of suspected Ethiopians were found with scratches while others had signs of strangulation.
And last year, dozens of Ethiopian people whose remains were found in mass graves in northern Malawi most likely suffocated to death while being secretly transported.
“There are thousands and thousands in transit. There could be so many [dead] we don’t know about,” said Caleb Thole, a national coordinator at the Malawi Network Against Trafficking. This was according to the Guardian newspaper.
Two years ago, immigration authorities in Mozambique discovered the remains of 64 Ethiopian men who had also suffocated in a sealed shipping container on the back of a truck believed to have been travelling from Malawi to Zimbabwe.
The final destination of the victims was thought to be South Africa.
Zambia has become a major transit centre for human traffickers with over 400 Ethiopians and Somalis detained in remand facilities for illegal entry.
In an exclusive interview, Menghsteab Hagos an Ethiopian resident in Zambia revealed the migrants from his home country were desperate to get to South Africa where immigrants are granted refugee status and work permits.
“Families pool resources together to help their relatives to leave, others to sell belongings. These are desperate times,” he said.
Mr Hagos said because of the war in Tigray, many were running away and they preferred to die trying to get to a safe haven rather than being conscripted.
“The amount they charge depends, some are charged US$3,000 and some are charged as much US$10,000. It also depends on how many traffickers are involved," he said.
He said regardless of the status of the migrants, their families fight hard to have them leave the country for the perceived change of status while others go further by selling property in order to migrate to South Africa which was their preferred destination.
Mr Hagos said the mode of transport was mostly sealed containers and other dangerous modes which were not conducive for human transportation.
He said in order for such migration hurdles to be tackled, countries should emulate Zambia which was a peaceful country and people were able to return to their houses once they go out for other activities.
Mr Hagos said South Africa was the most preferred destination for most Ethiopians and Somali migrants because of its rich economy where they are assured of finding jobs which could improve their economic status.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) notes that those travelling on the southern route face “harsh experiences including violence, exploitation, abuse and a severe lack of access to basic needs and services”.
Last week, President Hakainde Hichilema assented to the Anti-Human Trafficking Act of 2022 which provides among others, for the establishment of an anti-human trafficking department and reconstituted the State committee on human trafficking. It is hoped the law would help mitigate the vice.
The laws, which has replaced the 2008 Act, also provides for the prohibition of trafficking in children and provides for the certification of victims of human trafficking.
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