At least one big Botswana organization and a related private company are linked to a sophisticated human trafficking racket believed to be smuggling hundreds of Zimbabwean illegal immigrants into Botswana.
The human smuggling racket which is partly run from the organization and its sister private company (name withheld) is so sophisticated that it has so far slipped through the nets of both police and immigration officers’ net.
Sunday Standard investigations have revealed how big shorts at the organization and the associated private company are making a roaring business selling work and residence permits to Zimbabweans who are desperate to come to Botswana.
Investigations further turned up a number of work permits which have been granted to Zimbabweans under the organization although they are not in the organization’s payroll.
The Sunday Standard, however, decided to withhold the names of the companies linked to the racket until it has established whether the operation was sanctioned by the organization.
Driving the illegal trade is the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy which is forcing thousands of people out of the country.
There are thousands of Zimbabweans staying illegally in Botswana after fleeing a debilitating seven-year-old economic crisis at home that critics blame on mismanagement by that country’s President Robert Mugabe.
By 2003, Botswana was deporting about 1,600 Zimbabwean illegal immigrants every month and the Chief immigration Officer, Roy Sekgororwane, told the French news agency, AFP, that Botswana was unable to cope with the massive flow of illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe, prisons were over crowded and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship overstretched.
”We are seriously losing our battle to deal with this problem. This is the worst immigration problem we have ever seen in this country,” Mr. Sekgororwane said. It was estimated that 125,000 Zimbabweans legally entered Botswana every week, but many stayed behind after their travel permits expire.
Last year, the number of Zimbabwean illegal immigrants being deported every month had almost doubled to 2 500.
The new sophisticated human smuggling trade, however, defeats efforts by local law enforcement authorities and hundreds of illegal immigrants are able to slip through the cracks because they have valid work and residence permits. Matabeleland, the Zimbabwean region which borders Botswana, is among the worst hit by the food shortages faced by up to half of Zimbabwe’s population, some seven million people.
It is also a stronghold of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and people there say they are refused food aid from the government and are persecuted for their ethnic group and political beliefs.