Porous borders allow human trafficking to flourish

Date: May 31, 2010
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Ressano Garcia, 31 May. Jose Antonio* admits he has never been employed in the formal sector. For the past ten years, Antonio has plied his trade at Ressano Garcia, the busiest border post between South Africa and Mozambique, assisting undocumented migrants to travel across the border. “It’s easy when you have enough money,” says Antonio.

Antonio is a human smuggler. Though illegal, this differs significantly from another kind of trade in human beings happening at many border posts – human trafficking. For the human smuggler, their fee-paying clients walk away after crossing the border. In the case of human trafficking, a person travelling to what they thought to be a new job or other opportunity finds themselves trapped and exploited.

Women and girls are most vulnerable, usually forced into the sex industry. According to research by the International Organisation for Migration, some women trafficked from Mozambique are sold for as little as US$150 when they reached their destinations.

Though Antonio is not a human trafficker, the ease with which he is able to transport people across the border from Mozambique into South Africa without proper documents shows just how porous these posts are. This comes at a time when police from both countries say they have stepped up efforts to curb illegal entry during the FIFA World Cup.

Each day, officials from both countries patrol the extensive border attempting to deter people from going through existing fence holes, or cutting more to pass through. However, recent observations by this journalist reveal that one can easily pass through the border post itself, even during peak hours, to freely walk into South Africa and jump into taxis on the other side.

Just for 500 rands each, a group of women passed through both immigration points without questions; in just a few minutes, they were in a taxi destined to Johannesburg, South Africa’s hub and dreamland for many.

This trend is especially worrisome when one considers that the United States’ State Department 2009 report on Mozambique recognises that women and girls are trafficked from rural to urban areas of Mozambique, as well as to South Africa, for domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation. “Traffickers are typically part of small networks of Mozambican and/or South African citizens; however, the involvement of larger Chinese and Nigerian syndicates has been reported,” according to the report.

In April 2008, the Mozambican national parliament passed the final version of a comprehensive human trafficking law, which President Armando Emillio Guebuza signed into law in June of the same year. The law prescribes penalties of between 16 and 20 years’ imprisonment for those recruiting or facilitating exploitation of people for the purposes of prostitution or forced labor.

However, critics continue to view the law as not binding. Two years down the line, there has been no convictions, and there are fears that without greater teeth, perpetrators are paying scant attention to what the laws say.

Another factor encouraging Mozambicans to turn to illegal migration methods is the hefty costs of the new biometric passport. At an equivalent of 1000 Rands, it is out of reach of many Mozambicans. The inception of the costly new passport has pushed migration further underground, especially for the most poor. Such a high barrier to legal migration is forcing more people to go the illegal route, which can make people more at risk to human traffickers who exploit the associated vulnerabilities.

As touts like Antonio rush through with their next client, the challenge remains for the governments of Mozambique and South Africa – not only during the time of the World Cup – to curb illegal immigration.

This phenomenon needs leaders from both countries to find lasting solutions to curb illegal entries. This means not only addressing the ease of illegal movement, but also finding ways to empower people economically, so that they are able to find opportunities at home.

Fred Katerere is a freelance journalist based in Maputo. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service, produced as part of the Red Light 2010 Campaign to say no to human trafficking.


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