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Human smugglers play cat and mouse games with officers

BUSINESS
By | March 21st 2010

By Ali Abdi

A truck driver drops his 30 passengers at Kambi Garba in Isiolo. Two taxis then ferry the passengers to a lodge in the town.

At Archers Post in Samburu East, a truck and two brand new Land Cruisers drop more than 60 others.

One may mistake the passengers for Kenyans going about their businesses but the passengers are Ethiopians in transit to join their relatives abroad.

Foreigners use illegal entry points in Moyale Central and Sololo divisions and Forolle in North Horr.

In the first incident, the truck driver managed to pass through more than 10 police barriers in Moyale, Marsabit and Samburu before spitting its human cargo at Kambi Garba, five kilometres from Isiolo town to avoid a police check ahead.

In the second incident, the truck driver avoided the Isiolo-Moyale highway and instead used cattle tracks to Merti in Isiolo District. The truck and the two Land Cruisers used the Merti-Lososia-Archers Post route and dropped the Ethiopians at the junction of the Isiolo-Moyale highway and Archers Post-Merti road. Taxis then picked them in groups to Isiolo. Samburu herdsmen raised the alarm claiming that foreigners sighted in the bush were members of the Oromo Liberation Front rebels. Fourteen who were waiting for their turn to be picked by the taxis were, however, not so lucky. They were arrested.

Desperate Ethiopians, mostly young adults, are being lured by a well-established cartel of Kenyans and Ethiopians to use the porous border to travel abroad.

They use illegal entries in Moyale, Wajir, North Horr and Turkana to get to Nairobi and thereafter to their preferred destinations abroad.

Illegal points

On the Kenyan side, a cartel operates from Moyale with branches in Marsabit and Isiolo.

Investigations by The Standard On Sunday revealed that 100 Ethiopians arrive in Isiolo daily. About 30 are arrested and charged with being in Kenya illegally while the rest find their way to Nairobi.

Our findings, confirmed by the police and the Immigration Department in Moyale, show that most of the foreigners use illegal entry points in Moyale’s Central and Sololo divisions and Forolle in North Horr through the assistance of the cartels. The Ethiopians also use illegal entry points at Lokichogio (Turkana) and Illeret (North Horr). From Lokichogio, they board matatus to Nairobi while from Illeret, they use the Loyangalani-Baragoi-Mralala-Nyahururu route to get to Nairobi.

Afford trip

Cartels in Ethiopia connect those who can afford the trip with their counterparts in Kenya. Each person pays about Sh50,000 for the journey between Moyale and Isiolo. A source told The Standard on Sunday Sh25,000 caters for transport, Sh10,000 for the cartel and Sh15, to bribe the police and the provincial administration.

The trip is in two phases — the first between Moyale and Isiolo, considered the most dangerous, and the other between Isiolo and Nairobi.

Until recently, the cartels ferried the Ethiopians through the Isiolo-Moyale highway but due to the on-going crackdown by Immigration Department and the police, the cartels have resorted to other routes.

After paying the required amount, the cartels put the Ethiopians on trucks bound for Nairobi.

The second phase of the trip between Isiolo and Nairobi is easy as the foreigners are ferried in matatu shuttles.

Bribe police

"I wanted to travel to Nairobi and thereafter travel to America to join my big brother. A friend connected me to the Kenyans in Moyale," said a convicted Ethiopian who identified himself only as Haile.

He said he hails from Dirre in southern Ethiopia. He is serving a three-month sentence at Isiolo GK Prison before he is repatriated.

A family makes its way back to Somalia after being denied entry. Photos: Jacob Otieno/Standard

There are more than 100 Ethiopians serving three-month sentences in prison in Isiolo.

Those we interviewed said they had given all their money to brokers who claimed the money was meant to bribe the police.

"I gave out Sh50,000 to the cartel in Moyale. I was told part of the money was to be given to the police but on arrival here (Isiolo) I was arrested along with my brothers. My agents were nowhere," said Haile.

Last week 54 Ethiopians were charged at Isiolo court with being in the country illegally while the previous week 17 faced similar charges.

Eastern Provincial Police Officer Marcus Ochola told The Standard on Saturday the cartel was so sophisticated that they use routes that are only known to locals.

"The cartels use their knowledge of the local language and terrain to bring in the Ethiopians. Every day they use new routes. We are shocked that the Ethiopians are now using Merti road to avoid the police barriers along the (Isiolo-Moyale) highway," said Mr Ochola.

Ochola said the police and immigration officers were on red alert but admitted that they lack enough personnel and resources, like vehicles, to cover the vast, porous and remote border.

He said the cartel had an upper hand due to their knowledge of the local terrain and language.

Moyale border point deputy Immigration 0fficer Guyo Duba confirmed the existence of human trafficking cartels.

Mr Duba said Ethiopians with valid travelling documents pass through the legal border point in Moyale town while those without papers seek the help of the cartels.

He said lack of resources such as vehicles to monitor the border frustrate their efforts to fight the vice.

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