Zambia has become a major transit point for human traffickers who often smuggle people into the country enroute to South Africa. The government said tighter borders would be key in dealing with the crisis.
Zambia is tightening its border controls and would for the first time in its history employ border guards as the government grapples with rising instances of illegal migration into the country.
The Southern African country has been fighting human smuggling for years. Zambia has taken in more than 105,000 refugees from neighboring nations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Angola and Rwanda, according to the refugee agency UNHCR.
Additionally, irregular migration along the route from the Horn of Africa to southern Africa — which traverses Zambia — is often facilitated by an intricate network of people smugglers and human traffickers who put the lives of migrants in danger, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The traffickers take advantage of Zambia’s porous borders and have turned the country into a transit zone for migrants hoping to finally reach South Africa, the continent’s second-biggest economy.
In December, the bodies of 27 suspected Ethiopian migrants were discovered in an area north of Zambia’s capital, Lusaka.
Police investigations indicate the bodies “all males aged between 20 and 38, were dumped … in Ngwerere area [of Lusaka] by unknown people,” police spokesperson Danny Mwale said in a statement.
Two years ago, 64 Ethiopian men were also found dead in a sealed shipping container in Mozambique, which borders Zambia’s east.
Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema has voiced his concern about the human trafficking.
“Government has continued to intercept illegal migrants, who with the assistance of some of our own citizens, have continued to enter, some stay in the country, others, move on to other countries,” he said. “We have also noted, with dismay, that some of our people, are harboring illegal immigrants.”
“To prevent these vices, government has passed the Anti-Human-Trafficking Amendment Act. We are also strengthening our border controls and for the first time in the history of our country, we are employing border guards,” Hichilema added.
Zambia’s immigration department is already moving fast to implement the new law.
Namati Nshinka, a department spokesperson, told DW that the borders can be made less porous with border guards.
“Having border guards is the best practice in migration governance, worldwide,” Nshinka said. “For Zambia, with the borderline measuring 5,600 kilometers [3,480 miles] border guards are critical in ensuring that there is no illegal crossing of our borders.”
Before Zambia launched its first ever migration policy in December 2022, the country had several sector-specific coordination mechanisms.
These were “aimed at addressing migration issues, there was, however, no over-arching coordination framework, bringing together the different sectoral interventions,” According to Nshinka. “The migration policy introduced a coordinated form of government approach to effective migration management.”
Around 100 undocumented migrants were recently arrested for various offenses in Zambia.
“In fact, some law enforcement officers are among those that have been arrested for abating some of these incidences, and I wish to take this opportunity to warn that the government will make sure that all those that are involved in illegal human trafficking are held accountable,” Mwiimbu said in the country’s Central Province.
But rights activist Josphat Njobvu told DW that the effective handling of the migration crisis could have far reaching impacts on other forms of abuses taking place.
“It’s a human rights concern, of course when you are talking about human trafficking, smuggling of young girls, sexual abuse and other forms of abuse, that is happening,” Njobvu said.
He has called for a robust strategy to deal with what he considers a major crisis.
“So, we hope, that, as a country and of course other countries, we can work together and strengthen policies, strengthen the laws, that are supposed to curb trafficking,” he said.
New law receives backing
Some foreign nationals based in Zambia have told DW they hope Zambia’s newly-announced migration strategies succeed.
Jean Ndayisenga — a former refugee who arrived in Zambia from Rwanda over two decades ago — said Zambia must be drastic in its approach towards the crisis.
“Zambia, has some friendly laws for asylum seekers, somebody can apply for asylum from the border. Now, to see Zambia, start employing border guards, it is the right move, so they can try to curb human [trafficking],” Jean Ndayisenga said.
Edited by: Keith Walker