NEWS: Huge slave trade racket targets South Africa

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Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network (jkanics@igc.apc.org)
Fri, 23 Oct 1998 13:32:12 -0700 (PDT)


Huge slave trade racket targets South Africa
Cape Argus, October 22, 1998

Johannesburg -- International syndicates are using South Africa as a
transit point for a huge slave trade between developing countries and
Europe, the United States and Canada.

According to police and immigration authorities in South Africa and the US,
the main sources of this human cargo are China, India, Middle Eastern
countries, former Eastern bloc countries and famine ravaged African countries.

A detective from a South African police unit investigating the trade said
migrants from foreign countries such as India were being lured to a number
of "transit countries", including South Africa, "with stories of money and
jobs - land-of-milk-and-honey stuff" - in the Western world. He said aliens
had to pay for air tickets and were then helped into South Africa, entering
either at Johannesburg International Airport or landing in neighbouring
countries and "jumping the fence".

Once in South Africa criminal agents provided the migrants with
accommodation and documentation before they moved on to the next
destination - where they had to pay off their debt.

The victims were forced into prostitution, drug dealing or other criminal
activity or ended up as virtual slaves in factories to pay off their debt.
The trade is said to number hundreds of thousands of people in transit or
in captivity at any one time.

Phyllis Coven, who heads the new US Immigration and Naturalisation (INS)
branch in Johannesburg, said that since 1994 South African travel documents
had been used increasingly by alien smugglers, illegal migrants, fraudulent
document vendors and corrupt officials.

Ms Coven has been based in Johannesburg for four months, and her primary
concern is to prevent illegal migration to the US and North America. Her
office is among the newest of 40 INS branches around the world working to
combat the smuggling of aliens.

"Some smugglers use boats which they pack with people who spend months -
sometimes more than a year - in inhumane conditions while they are
transported to China Town (New York) where they are then held in virtual
slavery until their debt is paid off if they even live that long," Ms Coven
said.

She said inadequate food and sanitation was common on ships which weaved
from port to port around Africa to avoid contravening open-sea regulations.

According to a report by an inter-agency working group, including Interpol,
the South Africa Home Affairs Ministry and police, and the INS, hundreds of
thousands of illegal migrants are being moved by international smuggling
syndicates from their countries of origin to Western Europe and United
States, with the floating population at various stages in the pipeline.

The human trade syndicates have identified Johannesburg as a convenient
centre to obtain fraudulent documentation. They are taking advantage of the
fact that South Africa also has direct flight and shipping routes to most
countries in the developed world.

South Africa is also regarded as one of the countries in the developing
world whose citizens do not try to enter other countries illegally in
significant numbers, enabling syndicates to evade suspicion at ports of
entry in destination countries.

Trading in human cargo earns smugglers billions of dollars in annual
profits, as illegal migrants duped into life-threatening scams pay anything
from a few hundred dollars to China's standard $35 000 fee for resident
status in North America and Europe.

The police aliens investigation unit has sources posted on the borders at
airports and inland to crack down on illegal migration.

A detective from the unit, who asked not to be named because of the
"sensitive" nature of his work, said: "Human smugglers operate from
agencies all over the world.

"There's big money in it for them and they run international operations."

He said he had 1 200 illegal applications for South African travel
documents on his desk, intercepted at a single Home Affairs office in the
past six months.

Willem Vorster of Home Affairs said while his department worked with the
police and Interpol, its role was limited to dealing with illegal aliens
and those believed to be aiding and abetting them.

In March, two Home Affairs officials were arrested for running a false
passport and ID racket and last year another 12 were charged with helping
foreign nationals to obtain documents fraudulently.


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