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We bust human trafficking ring

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Malawian women are being trafficked to Kuwait where they are trapped and subjected to all sorts of abuses, a Malawi News investigation has established.

Once in the Middle East country, the women are made to engage in sex work or some odd jobs and they are not paid the money they are promised when being trafficked out of the country.

In one case, relations of a trafficked woman have had to involve the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who facilitated her rescue and travel back home this week.

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The women are being trafficked through Kamuzu International Airport to Kuwait where upon arrival, they have their passports confiscated and they are deployed into sex work or domestic tasks in a hostile environment.

We can also reveal that at the heart of the syndicate is a Democratic Republic of Congo national who is the coordinator of the ring, a Burundian national who is working as a medical doctor at KCH and two Malawians including a woman, Flora Gondwe, who is working in the Ministry of Information.

Gondwe and the other Malawian who we have not been able to trace collect women’s medical reports and submit them to the DRC national commonly known as Fatiki who communicates with an agent in Kuwait who finally sends the air tickets.

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Malawi News can report that the process begins with medical tests for interested women.

This is where a Dr Eugene Kayisile, the Burundi national, conducts the examinations including HIV tests. This doctor is working at the hospital’s outpatient medical department (OPD2).

KCH Public Relations Officer Mable Chinkhata confirmed on Wednesday that Kayisile works at KCH.

Each girl pays K15, 000 for the examination before they are finally flown to Kuwait.

“This money is a token of appreciation for the work this doctor is doing but the girls don’t pay anything else. They get a free air ticket to Kuwait (three flights), free accommodation and food. They are paid an equivalent of K300, 000 monthly,” said Gondwe in a telephone conversation with our reporter who posed as a potential client.

Sounding impatient and very willing to help, Gondwe further admitted that this had to be done so fast as jobs for the women in Kuwaiti are so limited and she said they would soon be sending young men.

“The jobs available include domestic work and office assistants. Women aged 21-40 are eligible. They go almost every week and today five are going through Kamuzu International Airport,” said Gondwe who claimed that she sent two of her children a month ago.

But, apparently realising that she was in illegal business, Gondwe warned: “Zomangitsana takana. Tili ndi udindo wambiri. Munthu yekha amapereka osati kumulamula ayi. Komanso timayamba kukamuyedzetsa ku cento ngati alibe HIV. Ndiye timapitiriza ploses bola passport pamanja. Tikiti yaulere, visa yaulere. Kokagona ndi zakudya ndiulere. Mwezi ukatha ndi 3 handredi thousand ya Malawi.” [Do not get us arrested. We have responsibilities. The process starts with HIV test and continues as long as one has a passport. They get free air ticket, accommodation and food. They get an equivalent of K300 000.]”

On Thursday, Gondwe checked with us after noticing that we became silent.

She said: “Mwadzuka mama? Ine ndiye chikondi ndinapanga. Zavuta ndinu. Atsikana panopo akhala pang’ono kukwana. Oti panopa ndikupita ndi atsikana ena ku sento kukawayedzetsa.”[How are you madam? I have shown interest to help you but it seems you are not ready. The girls are about to go. As I talk to you, I am on my way with other girls to the Kamuzu Central Hospital for medical checkup.”

Without necessarily disclosing where the medical reports are submitted to, she confidently said: “We have a special doctor at Central (KCH) who helps us with the tests but it’s not necessary for you to know him just bring the girls this is a rare opportunity.”

We have established that Gondwe works as an office assistant at Lilongwe District information office based at Lilongwe district Council.

Lilongwe District Information Officer Kondwani Chitosi confirmed on Thursday that Gondwe works at his office as Office Assistant.

On Thursday we paused as a client with two girls needing medical checkup and called Kayisile who welcomed us to bring along the girls for the exercise at K15 000 each.

According to one of the victims whose location at the moment we cannot disclose, the agents are taking advantage of people’s poverty, vulnerability and illiteracy.

“My close relation linked me up to these agents. I only realised that I had been sold off when my passport got confiscated and I was told to be wearing Muslim attire all the time regardless of my faith,” recalled the victim (name withheld) who was trafficked to Kuwait.

She added: “I used to wake up at 3am and sleep at 23:00 hours. I took a bath once a day or a day could go without. I ate only one meal a day. I was not allowed to use any phones or get out of the house.”

The victim further narrated that where she was working, there were three people and 15 cats. The cats, she said, are treated like human beings and taking care of them was also her duty.

“I washed their beddings daily and cleaned their dirt with my bare hands. They beat me up for making mistakes and they didn’t want me to rest,” recollected the victim.

Another victim said her Kuwait employer bought her at $7,000 (about MK4.5 million) from an agent.

She also said there are many other Malawian women who are trapped in sex trade and are suffering all manner of abuses – quite against the expectations they were given when they were being trafficked.

Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) said even though Malawi has not done comprehensive studies on the magnitude of human trafficking, there is a growing body of evidence that shows that a significant number of vulnerable populations, particularly women, girls and children are exploited and trafficked both within Malawi, and across borders.

Executive Secretary for MHRC, Grace Malera, said human trafficking usually takes the form of highly organised and clandestine crimes noting that it also offers a lucrative business for those involved, at the expense of lives of other people and serious abuses of human rights.

“….If it is true that people end up being abused in the receiving countries, there is a need for comprehensive investigations into the matter. Therefore people that may have reliable information on the issue should engage us or other relevant authorities,” she said.

Malera urged law enforcement mechanisms, namely Police and the Judiciary to intensify activities for building the knowledge and skill sets of relevant officers especially with respect to the recently enacted Trafficking in Persons Act, and other related laws, in order to ensure that criminal justice system effectively responds to this vice.

She added: “The Commission is aware that there is an increased number of young people looking for opportunities in other countries due to high rates of unemployment and lack of access to education opportunities especially at a tertiary level. This makes them vulnerable to false promises of lucrative employment in other countries, evident from the growing trends of young people moving to South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique.”

Malera also disclosed that the commission has dealt with several cases that raise elements of human trafficking, including incidences where people were trafficked from Malawi to Zanzibar, Mozambique, and Zambia.

Reacting to the human trafficking reports, Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, Jappie Mhango, said he was not aware that this is happening but said the agents deserve to face the law.

“We now have a law in place and anyone involved in human trafficking deals will pay dearly as they will be arrested and prosecuted accordingly,” he said, appealing to the public to be careful with ‘well-wishers’ offering to help them or their children with international jobs.

“Double check with the Ministry of Labour or report them to the police if you have more suspicious,” Mhango advised.

Meanwhile, the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Act, 2015 is now a law and in force.

President Peter Mutharika assented to it on April10, 2015, and was gazetted on November 1, 2015.

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