17 DRC basketball players smuggled into Malawi
Malawi is ranked as a transit and destination for human trafficking and whatever efforts there are to stem the tide, it looks like the country is not winning
A group of 17 youthful basketball players from the Democratic Republic of Congo were duped to pay US$100, 000 for their trip to the United States of America for a tournament.
They ended up being “slam dunked” in Lilongwe Area 49 New Gulliver two months ago.
According to the details made available in court on Thursday, their trafficker (name withheld), who also carries himself as a pastor, was once at Dzaleka Refugee Camp.
Later, he managed to resettle in Canada and has been the lynchpin of a human trafficking syndicate responsible in the smuggling of the 17.
The court heard that the man has been coming to Malawi several times to facilitate these deals.
In the deal, he recruited another refugee at Dzaleka, who is suspected to have approached the parents of the 17 basketball players on the possibility of assisting their children to go to the USA.
The victims entered Malawi through uncharted routes through Songwe Border in Karonga and were registered as refugees at Dzaleka Refugee Camp before proceeding to Lilongwe into a rented house where they spent two months before they were rounded up and got arrested by Malawi Police.
During a court hearing, Rumama Ziryayimana who accompanied the young boys told the court that he was sent by the parents of the children to come to Malawi in order to see if all the children are safe and if indeed the traffickers would process their trip to the USA.
He said some man called Nathan linked him up with the trafficking syndicate kingpin.
“He [the trafficker] was a refugee in Malawi and resettled in Canada and he has been coming to Malawi for business several times,” Ziryayimana said.
He told the court that the two men, Nathan and the pastor, took all the players’ documents in Area 49, telling them that they would be given back after processing.
According to him, they collected $8, 000 from each one of them in order to process all documents needed for the USA trip.
The team pleaded guilty before Principal Resident Magistrate Roderick Michongwe for entering and staying in Malawi without valid travel documents.
Michongwe has ordered the Immigration Department to bring to court the owner of the house that has been keeping the Congolese nationals for two months.
State Prosecutor Binwell Kachingwe told the court that they are hunting for the mastermind.
National Project Officer on Trafficking in Persons for United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Maxwell Matewere said the organisation is expected to work with government officials to bring to book those behind the syndicate.
UNODC suspects that Dzaleka Refugee Camp may even be a transitory point for larger international human trafficking networks.
“This is not the first time that we have heard of people that have been resettled in other countries from Dzaleka Refugee Camp being involved in human trafficking,” Matewere said.
He further explained that human trafficking at Dzaleka Refugee Camp takes many forms.
Traffickers force men into hard labour while women and girls face sexual exploitation inside the camp or traffickers move them to the city or other countries in Southern Africa.
The traffickers even recruit children as farm and domestic labourers.
Often times, traffickers require refugees to pay off a debt accumulated from “being smuggled into Malawi.”