brad brace

10/6/2008

How human cargo is trafficked through Kenya

Immigration Police have identified routes used by human traffickers and smugglers to move their cargo in and out of Kenya.

The most active route was discovered in northern Kenya in Moyale.

Immigration Police say that from Moyale, human cargo is ferried to Garissa, Isiolo then Nanyuki and Voi from where it is taken to Tanzania through Taveta border town.

Another route starts from Moyale to Isiolo and Nanyuki and to Nairobi’s Eastleigh.

Some of the human cargo, comprising girls and boys hidden in trucks carrying beans, is sold into slavery in this sprawling suburb, while the rest is taken to Mombasa destined for South Africa or to Busia for transportation to Burundi or South Africa.

South Africa is the launch-pad to Europe and Canada.

Panya routes

While there are three border points between Mombasa and Lunga Lunga, on the border with Tanzania, there are 820 ‘panya routes’ used by traffickers to transport their human cargo to Tanzania, according to an immigration officer in Lunga Lunga.

The route from Moyale is ideal because the vast expanse of land in Kenya’s north is poorly secured.

“There are only 20 immigration officers in northern Kenya, an area bigger than many European states,” said an immigration officer.

“But there are 4,500 policemen, mostly locals eager to see their people secure jobs in foreign lands and a good number of them collude with cartels.”

Sri Lankans, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis come through Mombasa disguised as ship crews because sailors are not required to have passports.

Ship docks

Once the ship docks, they are moved to Nairobi to await Kenya passports, genuine or otherwise, to move to Europe and North Africa.

The traffickers are reported to poison those who fail to secure jobs in Kenya or passage out of the country to avoid confrontation with victims’ relatives back in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh who would have paid dearly for the service.

“These things happen,” says Immigration spokesperson John Njehu.

International press reports indicate that key suspected traffickers, Nagaratnam Thavayogarajah, popularly known as Thavam, and Satkunarasan Satkunasingam (aka Rajan), used Nairobi as a base to ferry hundreds of Sri Lankans to the West.

Their offices were situated in a travel agency and a popular Nairobi restaurant where they charged $12,000 in the late 1990s for passage from Sri Lanka through Kenya and Malawi.

Most baffling

According to police and immigration officials at Busia, the most baffling route is from Somalia to Kenya through Uganda.

Hundreds of Somalis charter planes to Entebbe International Airport from where they get to the Busia border where their passports are stamped.

Instead of crossing into Kenya immediately, they return to Uganda to await nightfall when they cross over into Kenya using ‘panya’ routes.

“We don’t understand why they should go through Uganda immigration and then use ‘panya’ routes to get into Kenya,” says a Busia police spokesman. “We have arrested a number.”

Terror suspect

As these investigations were carried out in Busia, a Canadian of Somali descent was arrested for having inexplicably travelled through Uganda. “He is a terror suspect. We are interrogating him,” police said.

Three in every four foreigners arrested in Busia between May and August entered Kenya through ‘panya’ routes despite their travel documents being stamped in Uganda.

Authorities are convinced that the cartels use Uganda because it does not have sophisticated equipment to detect fake travel documents.

Somalis don’t require visas to travel to Uganda, which is not the case with Kenya. However, Ethiopians don’t require visas to get into Kenya, yet they are required in neighbouring Tanzania.

And to get around this, they come to Kenya and take up new citizenship to allow them passage through Tanzania to South Africa or elsewhere.

About 800 Ethiopians who passed through Kenya are languishing in Tanzania jails. The Indian Ocean has been a free-for-all gateway to and out of Kenya.

Recently, Kenyan authorities rescued a group of Somalis attempting to cross into Kenya by sea from drowning.

“They almost drowned,” said an officer at Lunga Lunga border post.

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