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Africa Economic Institute

Human Trafficking in Africa

Somalia has become a target area for human smugglers, as poor Somalis and Ethiopians look for ways to escape poverty.

Thousands of individuals leave their country annually, migrating thousands of miles via East Africa, from the Horn of Africa to South Africa., with money as an incentive. Police officers are often involved in the trade.


In a recent report on smuggling in the region, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) noted that “guardians of national border integrity… are deeply compromised, creating a threat to national security”. The involvement of the police is what is keeping the smuggling business alive. The smuggling hub of the region is Nairobi’s Eastleigh district, according to the IOM.


Internal Organization for Migration’s Tal Raviv, in Nairobi, admits that the smuggling business is “sophisticated” because “Tens of thousands of people are able to move from Somalia and Ethiopia, all the way down to South   Africa, and they arrive successfully,” she says. Much of it has to do with how porous the borders are.


The BBC found out that immigrants pay smugglers an average of $1,500- $2,000 before they begin their journey.


The IOM estimates the smuggling business creates annual revenue of about $40 million. Immigrants lose much more due to robberies. The flow of Somalis has been increasing over the last few years, which has provided smugglers an “expanding and lucrative business opportunity”, since “there is nobody who is fighting for Somalia.”


A Somali migrant, Salma, says that everyone in Somalia is trying to escape the fighting there. She completed the Migration to South Africa and said that police were easily bribed in Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. She said, the “Smuggler paid some money and we came out.”


In its ninth annual report on human trafficking, the State Department said this week that the economic crisis has made people more vulnerable to the false promises and trickery that can lead to enslavement. Of the 175 countries and territories it rated, the 2008 report put 52 of them on its watch list, up from 40 the year before – a 30 percent increase.


Nigeria is a source and a destination for coerced labor. Boys are forced to work as street vendors and beggars, in stone quarries and as domestics. Women and girls are trafficked mostly for the commercial sex trade and as servants.


The African Union (AU) launched a new initiative to combat human trafficking called the African Union Commission Initiative against trafficking, launched behind “The idea behind the AU Commission Initiative against Trafficking is really aimed at galvanizing support, (a) against trafficking but also for the implementation of those instruments that have been adopted whether it is at national, regional, continental or International level.”

In Zimbabwe, the situation is similar. Sebelo Sibanda, of Lawyers for Human Rights in Musina has admitted that he has seen suspicious changes in a Migration that might number between one and more than three million people.

“A trend started in the last two or three months, where you see more and more women coming in with groups of children - the children are too numerous and often too similar in age to be from one mother,” he said.


A State Department report released on Tuesday, June 16, 2009 reported that the global economic crisis is boosting the demand for human trafficking because of a growing demand for heap goods and services.


“A striking global demand for labor and a growing supply of workers willing to take ever greater risks for economic opportunities seem a recipe for increased forced labor cases of migrant workers and women in prostitution,” it says.


It predicts that the economic crisis will push more businesses underground to avoid taxes and unionized labor, which will increase the use of forced, cheap and child labor by cash-strapped multinational companies.


Six African nations—Chad, Eritrea, Mauritania, Niger, Swaziland and Zimbabwe—were put on the State Department’s report’s “Tier 3” blacklist of countries whose efforts to combat trafficking are inadequate.