Kenyan security operatives on Friday conducted one of the biggest crackdown on a suspected human trafficking racket, arresting 71 people allegedly trafficked through and from Uganda.
Many of the arrested, it is claimed were on their way to Oman.
Majority of those rescued, 59, are Ugandan nationals or at least hold Ugandan passports. Seven are Burundians and the rest, five, are Tanzanians.
Dubbed “illegal immigrants”, the group composed of mainly women were picked at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi, Kenya while on their way to Oman.
Kenyan officials were alarmed on discovery that the suspects had “fake entry stamps” in their passports and consequently apprehended them pending possible prosecution and deportation to their respective countries.
The Kenyan Department of Immigration Services said they were using illegal documents.
“More than 50 illegal immigrants arrested while in transit to Oman. They are being detained at Nyayo House awaiting deportation,” the department said in a tweet.
Alexander Muteshi, the head of Kenya’s Directorate of Immigration Services, paraded the group before the media.
Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) reported that “investigating agencies were following crucial leads to establish travel agencies involved in the syndicate considering all those apprehended were headed to the same country”.
Ugandan officials, recently, accused unscrupulous officials from Kenya of aiding the trafficking of Ugandan girls to Oman and other Middle East countries with the promise of good paying jobs only to be subjected to near slave labour conditions.
Following the accusations and counter accusations, Uganda and Kenya entered an agreement to work towards harmonising the legal regimes of the two countries as a way of putting up a joint fight against human trafficking.
The agreement was reached on July 31 during a meeting at Lwakhakha border in Namisindwa District in Uganda.
Several Ugandan girls and women, believed to be victims of human trafficking, have since the start of this year been rescued or arrested by Kenyan authorities on their way to Middle East countries.
Just a week ago, a total of 22 Ugandan suspected victims of trafficking were rescued in Busia and Malaba Kenya and handed over to the Ugandan authorities.
Commissioner of Police Moses Binoga, the coordinator of prevention of Trafficking in Persons (CoPTIP) under the Internal Affairs ministry, told Sunday Monitor that the 22 were released by Kenyan authorities without being prosecuted for illegal entry or forgery of travel documents.
He said a Kenyan national who had hidden some of them in her house in Busia, Kenya was prosecuted for harbouring illegal aliens with another criminal case file was opened at Busia and Malaba, Uganda to follow up the criminal coordinators in Uganda in respect of the rescued victims.
A 2017 Sunday Monitor investigations revealed that the Uganda-Kenya trafficking syndicate involves police officers, other security officers and immigration staff from both countries.
The racket secretly, the investigation established, lures unemployed Ugandan girls with promises of lucrative pay, especially in the Middle East, process passports for them, transport them to Uganda’s eastern borders before helping them to cross into Kenya where they try to leave via JKIA.
Before attempting to leave Kenya, the girls are accommodated in different homes run by agents pending clearance to depart through compromised officials at JKIA.
Each girl or her family, it was revealed, pays at least Shs1.5m by the time they make it to Kenya’s main airport.
The money facilitates the girls’ crossing through the border, their accommodation, fake stamps and movement to JKIA.
Uganda is the recruitment centre but the trafficked girls, mainly between the age of 16 and 25, come from all the neighbouring countries, especially Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania.
Our attempts to speak to Kenyan immigration officials on the fate of the girls were futile but a source at JKIA said those arrested would most likely be deported to their countries of origin. Kenyan officials have previously sentenced those arrested to fines or prison terms.
What authorities say (Moses Binoga, Coordinator Prevention of Trafficking in Persons (CoPTIP)
“It is true intelligence reports had been received that many Ugandan youths have been travelling to several foreign countries through Kenya.
Most of them cross the Uganda/Kenya border through illegal routes to avoid the vigilant Ugandan security and Immigration officers.
There exists criminal syndicates of persons between Uganda and Kenya, plus some of the destination Arab countries; who coordinate the recruitment, transportation, illegal border crossings, forgery of the travel documents and transit hiding places, among others.
All the above criminal activities are done deceptively and in most cases without the clear consent of the victims.
In most cases the criminal gangs are paid a lot of money by the victims. Usually the victims face hard conditions when they reach the destination countries; either by being forced to work with little or no pay, overworked without proper welfare, sexually abused by their bosses or relatives, forced into prostitution or they find no jobs completely. Some of them are ignorantly made to travel on tourist or visitation visas.
Several strategies have been initiated by the concerned Uganda ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to counter this dangerous illegal practice. They include:
• Dissemination of awareness information to the general public on the existence of human traffickers and the safe ways of getting jobs abroad, including distribution of updated lists of licenced companies.
• Increased vigilance at all the border posts to identify and intercept suspected victims of trafficking.
• Sensitisation of the border communities at Busia, Malaba and Rwakhaka and at Entebbe Airport on the dangers of trafficking in persons and how to prevent trafficking in persons through those border areas.
• Prosecution of the identified trafficking agents. Since the beginning of the year, 15 cases of illegal labour recruiters and traffickers have been taken to court. Majority of the cases were registered along the Kenya-Uganda border.
• With the support from UNDP, the Ministry of Internal Affairs organised four meetings in Busia, Tororo, Rwakhaka and Nairobi, in July 2018, to discuss with the Kenyan authorities on how trafficking of Ugandans through Kenya can be prevented. Some draft guidelines on the subject matter, subject to further consultation and the bilateral discussions, are still going on.
• One of the major recommendations made was that the two countries work together to identify and prosecute members of the trafficking syndicates in both countries, through timely sharing of information and opening up parallel case files in both countries.
It was also recommended that intercepted victims should not be prosecuted as violators of the Immigration laws of the two countries.
We shall, therefore, request for information about the criminal coordinators in Uganda so that we prosecute them accordingly as the Kenyan authorities do the same on their side.
When the two countries continue working together in this way, we shall make it difficult for the criminals to continue confusing vulnerable Ugandans for their selfish benefits.
Otherwise, for this incident, the Ugandan Embassy in Nairobi shall be contacted to follow up the report and the Ministry of Internal Affairs shall work with the embassy on the repatriation of the victims back to Uganda.”