UN uncovers human trafficking at camp in Malawi

Human trafficking/VCG

United Nations on Monday said it had uncovered a refugee camp suspected to hold trafficked men, women, and children in Malawi.

According to a statement from the UN, the camp was uncovered by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Malawian Police Service during routine monitoring of trafficking routes.

The UN said that measures are underway to dismantle the human trafficking networks operating within the Dzaleka Refugee Camp, identify and rescue victims, and bring those responsible to justice.

“The situation was much worse than we first envisaged,” UNODC’s Maxwell Matewere said. Matewere initially visited the camp in October 2020, where he trained camp staff and law enforcement officers on how to detect and respond to trafficking cases.

Most of the victims rescued are men from Ethiopia, aged between 18 and 30. There are girls and women too, aged between 12 and 24 from Ethiopia, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Various types of human trafficking were identified in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp; children are trafficked within and outside of the camp for farm labour and domestic work while women and girls are exploited sexually inside Dzaleka, in Malawi or transported for the purpose of sexual exploitation to other countries in Southern Africa and male refugees are subjected to forced labour inside the camp or on farms in Malawi and other countries in the region.

The UN statement also said that the camp is also being used as a hub for the processing of victims of human trafficking. Traffickers recruit victims in their home country under false pretences, arrange for them to cross the border into Malawi and enter the camp.

However, according to the Malawian Police Service, efforts to convict human traffickers and migrant smugglers are being hampered because the people affected are too scared to testify in court.

The Dzaleka Refugee Camp, the largest in Malawi, was established in 1994 and is home to more than 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers from five different countries. It was originally designed to accommodate 10,000 people.

“We do fear that this is just the beginning, and there are huge numbers of victims. Authorities strongly suspect there is a highly organised, international syndicate operating from within the camp,” UNODC’s Maxwell Matewere said.

Awareness-raising material about human trafficking will be distributed soon in the camp and is expected to lead to more victims coming forward for assistance.

“All security agencies operating in the camp must be frequently reminded about their role to eradicate human trafficking through regular training,” UNHCR’s Owen Nyasula said.