Narrow escape from ‘jaws’ of traffickers
There is a misconception that only children and women fall victim to human traffickers. But the story of Bernard Gulo of Chembe Village, Traditional Authority Nankumba in Mangochi District, shows that anyone, except the traffickers themselves, can be a victim of human trafficking. YOHANE SYMON exposes how human traffickers can even trap unsuspecting adults in broad day light.
Gulo is a married man, a professional diver and an artisan skilled in making bracelets and necklaces.
His father had fishing boats which were plying their trade on Lake Malawi at Cape Maclear where he is originally from.
Gulo still stays at Cape Maclear.
Gulo started concentrating on making bracelets after his father’s fishing gear got lost while fishing on the lake.
His family fortunes changed.
Gulo had no choice but find another means of making ends meet.
Making bracelets and selling them to tourists in Cape Maclear was the only option.
In Cape Maclear, selling bracelets and necklaces is a hot business.
Apart from the usual walk-in tourists, bracelet makers in Cape Maclear have customers who buy them at wholesale and export them.
This is where Gulo and his friend got trapped.
A man called Grant started buying bracelets in bulk from Gulo and his friend.
This was a lucrative business for the two.
After buying the bracelets, Grant sold them in Zimbabwe.
“There was a man from Australia but based in Zimbabwe. He used to buy bracelets from us at a wholesale. He used to give us good business,” Gulo said.
After several interactions, Grant offered Gulo and his friends what seemed a lifetime opportunity.
He offered to take them to Zimbabwe and introduce them to customers who buy bracelets in bulk.
“We could not resist this offer because he was buying a lot of bracelets. We thought introducing us to his customers was a huge benefit for us,” Gulo said.
Before departing for Zimbabwe, Grant asked the two to make more bracelets.
For two weeks, the two men made over 3,000 bracelets.
“By then, I had a passport, but my friend did not have a passport. The man offered to pay for the passport for my friend,” he said.
After saying goodbyes to their families, the two, accompanied by Grant, set off for Zimbabwe via Blantyre where they were to get an express passport for Gulo’s friend.
But before departure, Grant told the two not to take with them money because he was going to take care of them.
He went to the chief’s house in Mangochi and gave him clothes and money thanking him for releasing the two men.
It was rosy. At least it seemed.
After a night in Blantyre, the three set off for Zimbabwe by public bus.
This was a journey the two wanted. A journey to their Promised Land.
But Grant had other plans.
Immediately after crossing Nyamapanda Border Post, Grant instructed the two to surrender the bag containing the bracelets for alleged safe keeping.
“When we arrived in Harare, we took a taxi to a lodging place. He left us and went to eat while we starved. That was the beginning of our problems. However, we could not do anything because we were in foreign land,” Gulo said.
The following morning, Grant and the two boarded a train to Bulawayo where the said buyers were located.
Still with nothing to eat for the two.
“We could not do much, because by this time our eyes were set on knowing who the buyers were. At a certain stage, the man [Grant] bought sausages and gave them to me only. He instructed me not to share with my friend, arguing that he [Grant] had spent a lot of money to pay for his passport,” he said.
At this stage, it was all clear that what they thought was their business opportunity was a trap.
Grant had suddenly turned into a monster.
Soon, they arrived in Bulawayo and went straight to some tinned house where Grant was staying.
While there , Grant confiscated the travel documents for the two and a bag containing their clothes.
He threw the items in the house and set for a hotel owned by one of his customers.
She was a woman.
“When we entered the gates at the house, the guards asked us if we knew Grant properly. We said we knew him from Malawi where he visits to buy bracelets. But the guards warned us about him saying he was a crook,” he said.
And when they entered the house of the woman, the two met a girl who had bracelets similar to theirs.
She also made sentiments like those of the guards.
Grant took the bracelets to the mother of the girl who was at another section of the hotel.
“While Grant was away, the girl asked the whereabouts of our passports. We told her that Grant had locked them in his house. Sensing danger, the girl instructed one of the guards in the absence of their parents.
Some of the children are forced into prostitution.
In most cases, the traffickers use truck drivers to transport their ‘prey’.
One of the truck drivers who ply his trade between Mangochi and South African touts the trade as lucrative.
“There ares ome Malawians who are in the business of finding dirty jobs for these children and women. They give us deals to bring them people and they pay us upon arrival. They pay us between R5,000 [K250,000] to R10,000 [K500,000] per person when we deliver the people to them,” the driver said.
Recently, the United States expressed concern with Malawi’s failure to meet minimum standards of eliminating human trafficking.
However, Minister of Homeland Security, Nicholas Dausi, feels that the country was going in the right direction tackling human trafficking.
He acknowledged that Malawi’s borders are porous, making it easy for people to beat the system into trafficking Malawians outside the country.
Through the porous borders, Dausi said Malawi have been recognised as a transit nation for human traffickers.
“What we are doing to mitigate or stop human trafficking is that we are designating additional border posts to close the unchartered routes. We are also coordinating with the chiefs and other opinion leaders to make sure that we get the information about human traffickers and it is working,” he said.
He added that the Ministry is also working with other partners such as the US government which is training the police and immigration officers on how best to investigate incidences of human trafficking.
In September this year, the Ministry announced that about 211 people were rescued from human traffickers.
Dausi expressed optimism that with some new legislation, Malawi will succeed in the fight against
Human trafficking is a serious threat to Malawians more especially as most people think only minors and women can be trafficked.
International Labour Organisation estimates that 40.3 million are victims of human trafficking across the world.
Of course, including Malawi Such statistics should jolt the government into action and create opportunities for the ever growing population.