- says move is part of efforts to combat human trafficking
GOVERNMENT this week deported three Pakistanis and a Bangladesh national in a move Home Affairs Minister Motlalentoa Letsosa says is aimed at combatting human trafficking.
The four are Shamaz Idrees, Nasir Abbas, Shahzad Khan (all Pakistanis) and Hussain Sohag (a Bangladeshi).
They were denied entry on arrival at the Moshoeshoe I International Airport on Sunday and Monday respectively and were subsequently detained at the airport. The three Pakistanis were deported on Tuesday while Sohag was deported yesterday to enable him to get a connecting flight to his country on arrival in South Africa.
“Their permits are authentic but the businesses they claimed to own or work for are non-existent,” Mr Letsosa told a hastily arranged press conference at the airport this week.
“We did our own investigations and didn’t find any of the mentioned businesses hence we deported them.”
Mr Letsosa is also deputy leader of the Democratic Congress (DC), the second biggest party after the All Basotho Convention (ABC) in the governing coalition.
The DC faces allegations of victimising an immigration officer, ’Mapeete Jonathan, for refusing to allow two Pakistanis to enter the country illegally.
According to court papers filed last week by Ms Jonathan, she was reliably informed by a fellow immigration officer that another Pakistani national, Rana Qamar, had arranged for the two Pakistanis to come to Lesotho.
Ms Jonathan alleges that Mr Qamar, who is married to a Mosotho woman, is close to DC leader and Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu and other senior DC officials. He is alleged to have given the DC six campaign vehicles and this gave him leverage with the DC leadership to demand her transfer after she refused the two Pakistanis entry into the country in March this year.
Ms Jonathan is challenging her transfer from the airport to the ministry’s headquarters in Maseru. She says the transfer is meant to punish her for refusing to allow the Pakistanis into the country.
Her allegations have however, been dismissed by Mr Letsosa who said his party and government were committed to ending the scourge of human trafficking which has seen the country being placed in tier three—the lowest tier in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for 2020.
US Ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, is on record saying under normal circumstances, a country in Tier 3 on human trafficking like Lesotho would have already lost all development assistance from the US.
However, she said she had recommended a waiver of any punishment against Lesotho to enable Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro to act on the issue since he had only come to power recently in May this year.
She said Lesotho had until February 2021 to act against trafficking to get the country off Tier 3 and maintain its eligibility for development assistance.
These she said, included passing legislation to combat trafficking as well as ensuring that law enforcement agencies “investigate the many credible allegations of official complicity in human smuggling and human trafficking”.
Such pressure from the US government has pushed the government to take decisive measures against suspected trafficking activities.
Addressing the media this week Mr Letsosa said last week alone, five foreign nationals from Pakistan and Bangladesh were arrested and taken to court on charges of illegally entering the country and they were all released on M4000 bail each.
“Sadly, we can’t even monitor their (suspects’) movements as this will be viewed as interfering with court processes. That is why we decided to send the latest group of illegal migrants home without even arresting them.
“We have observed that Lesotho is being used as a passage to South Africa because it has more channels that can be used to get there without thorough searching. This makes us very vulnerable as a country and we fear this could taint our relations with South Africa.
“Most of the foreign nationals who have been nabbed are Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals. We have also learnt that many people have come into the country illegally as the stamps on their passports are fake. We have launched investigations to get to the bottom of this.
“We have therefore decided to pass the Anti-Trafficking (Amendment) Bill of 2020 to curb the trafficking of persons. The bill is now before the Senate (for approval before it is sent to King Letsie III to be signed into law),” said Mr Letsosa.
This publication also interviewed one Mr Saiyad Mustak, a Pakistan national who had also been fingered in the human trafficking activities.
He was at the airport to see his fellow countrymen who were denied entry into the country and deported on Tuesday.
The Teyateyaneng-based Mr Mustak would not say how long he has been in the country but he now has Lesotho citizenship.
He told this publication that he had facilitated their permits but had not been aware of the businesses they claimed to own in the country.
“I have a registered company called Saiyad Consultancy which helps people with information to facilitate their applications for permits. That is as far my involvement with them is concerned. I was not even aware that they didn’t own the businesses they claimed they had.
Meanwhile there was drama at the airport when one of the deportees, Shahzad Khan, protested the move. He shouted in fluent Sesotho, saying, “this is so unfair”.
“This is not right because even last week there were some foreigners who were allowed into the country after paying bribes. Some of those people are not even based here as they are working in South Africa.”
He said he was ready to name and shame those involved in the bribery ring and these included senior government officials and immigration staff. He was however, whisked away before he could spill the beans.
Meanwhile, a foreign national who spoke to this condition of anonymity, said foreigners paid bribes of up to M30 000 for residence permits depending on which government officials they dealt with.
“Most of the foreign nationals in the country do not have businesses at all and some are residing in Lesotho illegally through the help of some of the top government officials. This is not a new thing at all as it has been happening throughout the years,” the man said.