Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Human Trafficking: Too Many Loopholes - Smuggling Human Beings in Southern Africa

Source: ISS

Too Many Loopholes: Smuggling Human Beings in Southern Africa

Erin Torkelson, Researcher, Organised Crime and Money Laundering Programme, ISS Cape Town Office

Human migration in Africa has a long and complex history, and predates the drawing of national boundaries and the formation of the state. Migration has always been a survival strategy in response to social, economic and environmental necessity. Only with the hardening of borders has migration been considered a crime, in turn making human smuggling a profitable criminal economy. Given the uneven geographical development of Africa, smuggling routes have been formed from the horn of Africa to Southern regions, with workers traveling long distances in search of economic opportunity. Interestingly, international examples show that punitive consequences do not lessen the incidence and impact of illegal migration. Rather, addressing unequal political and economic development, partly through regional integration plans, may go further to stem the flow of undocumented migrants.

Perhaps because of the history of internal migration on the continent, there is some confusion in the literature about what actually constitutes human smuggling, as it is often conflated with human trafficking. Generally speaking, the difference between the two categories can be attributed to the motives of the central actors: a smuggled person knowingly commits an offence by violating national boundaries, whereas a trafficked person is deceived and may be exploited. Unlike smuggling, in the case of trafficking, an offence is committed not only against the state, but also against the individual. While there is much debate about the prevalence and significance of human trafficking in Africa, it is clear that human smuggling is very common.

According to an ISS study, Effective Responses to Organised Crime, almost 2000 people from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia destined for South Africa were held in custody in Tanzania in 2009. Information from the same study showed that human smugglers profit from Tanzania’s strategic position as a peaceful and stable country, with access to waterways, roads and railways. Smuggling bosses, facilitating agents, bush guides, drivers and fraudsters all work in large amorphous networks to transport migrants through the country and to South Africa over an 8 – 15 week period. Migrants can be unsheltered for days or weeks, transported under unsafe circumstances, dumped in geographically challenging areas and led into dangerous situations where they suffer financial exploitation and abuse by bandits, highwaymen, or even corrupt state officers. An unpublished report on human smuggling in Tanzania suggests that police officers are key members of smuggling networks, collecting bribes from cargo trucks at roadblocks, and assisting smugglers in crossing borders.

At the same time, it is important to point out that not all human smuggling results in the secondary victimisation of illegal migrants. One Malawian migrant interviewed by the author of this article laughed about how easy it was to come in and out of South Africa, even after being deported. He had lived and worked in South Africa for several years, before being sent to Pollsmoor prison for a violation of his visa conditions. One month later, he was deported to Malawi, and two weeks after that, he was back in South Africa with a new passport and a false identity. According to this migrant, “In Malawi, at Home Affairs, they do not even charge extra for false paperwork.” This suggests that the fabrication of information and the exportation of labour are not actively prohibited by the Malawian state, as remittances prop up the local economy. The Malawian migrant has come to South Africa on three different occasions with three different names, and follows roughly the same procedure each time. He takes the bus through Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and at the border points, the passports of all passengers are collected as a group and stamped by customs officials. Without fingerprinting technology, there is no way of linking any particular passenger to a recent deportation.

Clearly, there are many loopholes militating against the management of human smuggling in Southern Africa. It appears that one of the most promising ways to limit illegal migration in the future may be to legalize the free movement of labour simultaneously with regional economic integration of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). While this may seem counter-intuitive, international examples have shown that rigid migration policies may actually increase the vulnerability of workers and exacerbate human smuggling. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a good example of this. While the tri-lateral agreement opened markets across North America, it ignored the impact of free trade policies on workers from Canada, Mexico and the USA. After a decade and a half, the opening of Mexican markets to highly subsidised agribusiness in the North displaced millions of peasants and agricultural workers and sparked what might have been the largest illegal migration of workers in history. Displaced agricultural labour travelled North to US-run factories or maquiladoras in Mexico, and after the local demand was met, continued across the border, looking for work in the US and Canada. This has resulted in a situation where the price of labour remains highly unequal, illegal migration continues unabated and the benefits of NAFTA accrue to the strongest regional economies.

As far back as 2003 SADC’s Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) laid out a road map for the formation of a free trade area (by 2008), the establishment of a customs union (by 2010) and the creation of a common market (by 2015). While some of the early targets have not been met, member states have made considerable progress toward integration, by harmonising economic policies and regulatory frameworks. Recognising that the success of any common market, not only depends on the free movement of goods across borders, but also the free movement of labour, the RISDP specifically aims to establish “appropriate mechanisms and frameworks for an equitable, smooth and sustainable movement of labour within the region.” While some of the stronger regional economies might fear the opening up of borders, in a region as economically diverse as Southern Africa, stifling migration would lead to further inequities.

Recognizing this potential to exacerbate regional economic differences, the SADC Secretariat has agreed on “a principle of asymmetry” meant to ensure that the policies adopted for trade, industry, finance and investment are appropriate for less-developed countries. For example, the RISDP states that plans will be formulated to address “industrial development for peripheral areas or countries that may not be as competitive as others.” While it remains to be seen exactly how labour will be dealt with, as SADC works toward regional integration, it appears that there has already been a conscious attempt to address the unequal geographical terrain of development.