More than a hundred suspects, including local Asian businessmen, police officers and labour consultants, are being investigated in a Diamond and Narcotics Squad (DNS) probe targeting a large-scale human trafficking network in Botswana, officials confirmed on Friday.
The suspects are believed to be part of an organised smuggling ring that has been trafficking illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan into Botswana. The police operation, which has been running for sometime, is understood to have broken a number of organized cells which had been using Botswana as a destination and transit for trafficked persons. Assistant Commissioner of Police and Deputy Director Criminal Investigations Department, Mathews Maduwane, confirmed on Friday that for the past two weeks they had interviewed close to 100 suspects including police officers, labour consultants, Asian businessmen some of whom are Botswana citizens who trafficked illegal immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The investigations are ongoing and at the time of going to press, a number of suspects were still being interviewed. Maduwane told The Sunday Standard that the trafficked Pakistanis and Bangladeshi had been coming into the country in groups at a time, suggesting that organized cells were at work.
“At the moment we are still trying to establish how they get into the country, where they come from and who helps them,” said Maduwane, adding that there were indications that some police officers, local labour consultants and Asian investors were part of the human smuggling web, but they had not been charged yet.
The Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information that because of its attractive economic performance and absence of anti-human trafficking legislation, Botswana has become an emerging destination and major staging area for the movement of illegal aliens to South Africa. The Botswana police first detected human trafficking from Pakistan and Bangladesh into Botswana two years ago. Around the same time, they also smashed a ring of Somali human trafficking brokers who were facilitating the smuggling of illegal immigrants from East Africa into Botswana and South Africa. This was confirmed by Maduane.
He said some of the trafficked people “are employed by their own” in Botswana while others are sold to South Africans. The Botswana Police Service is currently working with their South African counterparts to break the smuggling ring. “We are also looking at a number of cops and consultants to establish how involved they are and what facilitation they have been offering, but so far no one has been charged,” he said.
Diamond and Narcotics Squad Officer Commanding, Merafe Kebonyemodisa, confirmed that they had identified Lobatse as the headquarters of Botswana’s human trafficking operation, and had already identified a number of Batswana and Asian investors. Arrests were to be made on Friday.
It is understood that the human trafficking operation in Botswana has contracts with small criminal rings and large scale organized criminals in Bangladesh and Pakistan who act as immigrant smuggling brokers to solicit individuals wanting to be smuggled out of their countries. Further investigations by The Sunday Standard have turned up information that human trafficking in Pakistan and Bangladesh rivals illegal drug and arms trade because of its high profit and low penalty nature.
This illicit business has become attractive to small criminal rings and large-scale organised crime, forcing a growing number of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis into slavery around the world.
Even though the figures of different sources differ from each other, one thing is clear: trafficking is a major problem in Bangladesh where extreme poverty forces tens of thousands of people to look for work abroad making them vulnerable to traffickers.