Kwale County in Kenya, the human traffickers haven

Kenya Today,10-16 January 2011 ,pg.16  By Mercy Ndirangu

The fight against human trafficking in the Kwale county has been stepped up, with at more than 60 arrests of suspected illegal foreigners on transit being made last week alone. Kwale is a haven for those engaging in the illegal movement of human cargo out of the country. Between October and December 2010,545 people of Somali and Ethiopian origin were arrested while on transit through the county. In the January 4 incident, 49 Somali nationals and six Ethiopians were arrested in the night operation. Only two of the suspects were women. Fourteen escaped. The group was intercepted on its way to the Msambweni coastline.
Msambweni DC Muzne Abdulatiff said the group was accosted by the Mivumoni chief after their vehicles broke down on the rough and unfamiliar road. Had they made in to the coastline, they would have been loaded into a boat destined for South Africa. The DC said that the aliens were accosted by the Mivumoni chief after some of their vehicles had an accident due to the rough and unfamiliar terrain. They were using salon cars which are too delicate for the roads. On January 3, another group of seven had been arrested.

Why is Kwale so an attractive route to purveyors of human beings?
Most of the trafficking cartels bosses cannot resist its proximity to the sea. The Kwale County has a long stretch beach along the Indian Ocean that is dotted with official and traditional ports. Small and medium –sized sea vessels have been docking along this coast for hundreds of years. Slave traders loaded their human shipments at Shimoni in the 18th and 19th centuries. Shimoni is now, however an official port with Customs and Immigration officers, making it difficult to move human beings through. The sea-stretch along Msambweni District, however is dotted with islets and inlets that provide safe harbor for vessels intended to move people. Kwale police boss (OCPD), Mr. Richard Muguai, confirms that the region is popular with human trafficking on transit with their cargo to the sea front. The closer and more secluded a boarding point is to the Tanzanian border, the more favorable it is to the traffickers.
The county is at the Kenya –Tanzania border. Given that most people believe that the grass is greener at the other side of the fence, there are always people crisscrossing the boundary. Some communities in- cluding Maasai and digo, have relatives on both sides of the border and had over time devised traditional routes to get across. Trafficking seem to have taken advantage of these crossing points. Although the traffickers prefer using the sea to get their cargo out of the country,Mr.Muguai says they continuously change tack and occasionally opt to cross the border on land and go to the sea through Tanzania. A group of 108 men arrested in the county mid December was intercepted at Gulanze,16km from the Tanzania border.
The county especially Kinango district also has large tracts of sparsely populated ranchland, through which anything can be moved undetected. It has few designated roads but is replete with temporary trails that charcoal and wood dealers often use to transport their consignment to Mombasa and other neighboring districts while avoiding police road blocks.
A sizeable section of the Nairobi –Mombasa highway is in Kwale. Mr. Muguai says foreigners who may have travelled in batches of two to five people in regular passenger buses drop off at Mackinon Road ,Taru and Samburu towns,which are all on the highway,and are ferried through trails and rough roads in the remote Kinango ranchland. According to one of the suspect s arrested at Gulanze ,the group had been in Nairobi for one week ,before travelling on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway and dropped off at Taru town where they hid till night fall.In broken Kiswahili, the Ethiopian explained that they boarded a lorry , which transported them to Gulanze without raising any suspicion. Most local residents assumed it was carrying charcoal. Someone ,however noticed the huge number of people inside and alerted the area DO who made the arrest.
Previously, the trafficker who preferred the Mombasa-Lungalunga route used Mojoreni as their point of departure. In August, 119 illegal foreigners were seized in Majoreni as they tried to escape after getting word that security personnel had been tipped off about their presence in the area. In December, 64 Ethiopian men were apprehended at about 8.00pm in Majoreni as they waited to board a boat out of the country.
Having been arrested frequently, the traffickers decided to try other exit points for their clients. They attempted to use Kiwegu near Vanga but the entire group of 117 was arrested.
Mrs. Abdulatiff says many locals had for long worked with the traffickers for a fee. She however, adds that after sitting for meetings with local elders and other community members ,many have realized the risk of harbouring illegal foreigners. The results of the consultations has seen increased number of arrests.
Those who manage to slip through reportedly get travel documents from other countries ‘ports ,which they use to enter South Africa. Mr. Muguai concurs with Mrs. Abdulatiff that the hunt for illegal foreigners is difficult and requires the goodwill of the local community. “It is difficult to engage in suspicious activities without assistance and involovement of community members. They are often paid to hide and feed the aliens in their homes or turn a blind eye as they are moved about. The county’s police boss says his officers and the provincial administration have sensitized the people about the dangers of harbouring foreigners,who he warns that they may be armed.
They are also a health risk because of low immunization standards in their countries of origin. “Some of them may be carrying diseases that had been eradicated in the country, re-infecting locals.Infections such as tuberculosis are difficult to control in such a scenario, especially due to the crowded and unhygienic mode of transport,” he said. Mr. Muguai warns that harbouring illegal foreigners is a crime and three residents have already been charged in court. “The fear of arrest has made the local apprehensive of putting up aliens,”he said.
Those who operate human trafficking cartels have proved elusive as they use proxies. They facilitate the movement of aliens from one point to another without ever setting foot at the scene. “Even as the aliens fork out money to be moved through Kenya, they have no idea who the money goes to. “ says Mr. Muguai.
Mrs. Abdulatiff says that since most victims of trafficking know neither Kiswahili nor English, it is difficult to get any information about their handlers. “And even in cases where one of the victims knows a little Kiswahili, they are unwilling to talk for fear of reprisals,” she says. Some security officials have however been heard to complain that the Sh5,000fines or three-month prison term in default sentences meted out to the trafficked foreigners is too lenient. “The fight,” says Mrs Abdulatiff, “can then only be fought by communities making the area so hostile that traffickers fear sending their human cargo through it. I appeal to communities not to compromising their lives by the allure of easy cash.”


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. consolationafrica
    Feb 07, 2011 @ 15:25:06

    I looked at the entire article, it is quite misleading and confuses smuggling, illegal immigration and trafficking. It also is marred by prejudices of the government officers against the illegal immigrants.



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