As the international day for counter trafficking in persons fast approaches, the world is more than ever before confronted by a highly versatile, complex and unpredictable nature of trafficking networks, rings and the larger context of the organized crime syndicates globally.
Recalling a report released in 2020 by the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), the East African human trafficking rings have been on an expansion mission of their operations
During the same year (2020), ninety-six Ugandan women, mostly children and youth, were stopped at Nairobi’s international airport in January en route to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for work opportunities. The girls, who lacked proper employment papers, were victims of a well-established human trafficking ring in East Africa, headquartered in Kenya and operating under the guise of employment agencies. This wasn’t the first such interception. Almost every month, Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations reports at least one interception involving victims not only from Uganda but also Burundi, Rwanda and to a lesser extent Tanzania. Most of East Africa’s trafficking takes place in and through Kenya.
Traditionally the value chain of this criminal network has comprised three links. First are regionally based recruitment brokers who ferry people from their respective countries to Kenya. Second are the Kenyan-based links who ‘receive’ the people and act as the country’s employment agencies. They move victims from Kenya to the host country. Third are the counterparts who often pose as foreign employment agencies. They are stationed in the host country and ‘receive’ people sent from Kenya. Recent cases and new research by the ENACT organized crime project suggest a shift in the workings of the trafficking value chain as far as the third ‘link’ is concerned. There is evidence that the trafficking of women and girls from East Africa to the Middle East is now being carried out entirely by East Africans.
The East African countries appear to lack power in negotiations with Middle Eastern countries on trafficking issues. This is because of gaps in their domestic legislation and regional trafficking strategies. Yet other regions that export labour to the Middle East have shown that this can be done. For example, the Philippines has 23 bilateral agreements with seven countries – most of which are in the Middle East. This allows authorities to oversee the protection and safety of workers and prevent them being exploited by trafficking networks and employers in destination countries. The labour export sector makes up a very significant portion of the Philippines gross domestic product, yet it also comes with challenges and is not an economic cure-it-all. East Africa needs to learn from approaches elsewhere that prevent trafficking and protect workers. Until more robust responses are in place, trafficking and exploitation are likely to grow in the region. This perpetuates the vulnerability of poor women and girls and undermines the prospects of labour exportation as a livelihoods option.
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