By Ali Abdi
A truck emerged from the tracks in bushes and then dropped about 30 passengers at Kambi Garba near Isiolo town. Immediately after they disembarked, two taxis pulled up and immediately some of the passengers entered before the cars zoomed towards Isiolo Town.
The taxis later returned to pick the rest of the passengers. They took them to a lodging in town. At the lodging they met members of a cartel promising to arrange their travel to South Africa.
On the same day, more than 60 people were dropped by a truck and two new Land cruisers at Archers Post, Samburu East District.
Victims of human trafficking from Ethiopia who were recently intercepted by police in Archers Post. They had been discretely ferried from Moyale passing many police roadblocks on their way to Isiolo.
Photos: Ali Abdi/ Standard
Taxis with tinted windows were sent to pick the passengers who had been discretely ferried to Isiolo town.
Unfortunately, 14 of them were arrested while the rest managed to travel to Isiolo.
This is part of a lucrative human trafficking and smuggling business that has taken root along the Kenya-Ethiopia border. It involves desperate Ethiopians out to join their relatives who are refugees in Western Europe and North America or those looking for greener pastures in South Africa and Namibia.
In the first case, the truck driver, who managed to pass through more than 10 police barriers in Moyale, Marsabit and Samburu drops his human cargo at Kambi Garba, about 5km from the Isiolo town centre, to avoid the police barrier that is less than 3km ahead.
They avoid the police in Isiolo mainly for three reasons; because there is a feeling police here are more vigilant, their bribery charges are higher or the fear that the illegal activity has been leaked to the authorities.
In the second incident, the truck driver who brought his passengers from various illegal entries along the border avoids the Isiolo-Moyale highway at Turbi in North Horr and instead use cattle tracks to Merti in Isiolo District.
Many of those trafficked are women and children, who believe the cartel means well for them.
But things do not often work out.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says many find themselves as slaves when they reach their destinations.
Kenya has been identified as a source, destination and a transit point for trafficked persons, a new form of modern slavery.
While admitting the existence of the trafficking cartels, Eastern Provincial Police Officer Marcus Ochola told CCI that they are so sophisticated that they use routes that are only known to locals.
“The cartels use their knowledge of local language and terrain to bring in the Ethiopians. Every day they use a new route. We are shocked that the Ethiopians are now using Merti road to avoid the police barriers along the Isiolo-Moyale highway,’’ noted Ochola.
The police chief noted that while the Government was focusing on the Somalia-Kenya border, that of Kenya-Ethiopia had been given little attention thereby increasing the number of aliens getting into Kenya through the unmanned porous border.
Ochola said the police and immigration officers were on high alert, but admitted that they lack enough personnel and resources like vehicles to properly cover the vast, porous and remote borderline.
He said the cartel had outsmarted his officers due to their knowledge of local terrain and language adding that the brokers use different routes that are not designated as
“They (cartel) are now using the Merti road taking advantage of the unusual heavy traffic resulting from the oil exploration in the division. We are now looking at all the possible routes,’’ said the PPO.
CCI learnt that the vehicles ferrying the immigrants use the Merti-Lososia-Archers Post route and drop the Ethiopians at night at the junction of the Isiolo-Moyale highway and Archers Post-Merti road. Taxi drivers later pick them in groups and take them to hotels in Isiolo town.
They use illegal entries in Moyale, Wajir, North Horr and Turkana to enter Kenya before travelling to Nairobi and thereafter to their preferred destinations abroad.
On the Kenyan side, a trafficking cartel operates from Moyale but has branches in Marsabit and Isiolo to assist the Ethiopians to get to their destinations through Kenya.
Our month-long investigation revealed that an average of 100 Ethiopians get to Isiolo daily. An average of 30 of them are arrested by police and charged with being in
Kenya illegally while the rest find their way to Nairobi.
Our findings, also confirmed by both the police and the Immigration Department in Moyale, show that most of the aliens enter through illegal border entries in Moyale’s Central and Sololo divisions, Forolle in North Horr and at entries bordering Moyale and Wajir districts through the assistance of the cartels.
The Ethiopians also use illegal entry points at the Kenya-Ethiopia and Kenya-Sudan-Ethiopia border at Lokichoggio (Turkana) and Illeret (North Horr).
From Lokichoggio, they board matatus to Nairobi while from Illeret, they use the Loyangalani-Baragoi-Maralal-Nyahururu route to get to Nairobi.
Sources said agents in Ethiopia connect those who can afford the trip with their counterparts in Kenya.
Those involved in the illegal trade speak Borana, Amharic and other Oromo languages while most of the victims hail from centres in southern Ethiopia.
To win their trust, the cartels assure the strangers of safely reaching Nairobi.
A source intimated that each person pays the agents an average of Sh50,000 for the journey between Moyale and Isiolo.
According to a member of the cartel operating in Isiolo who has since fallen out with his colleagues, Sh25,000 is meant for transport, Sh10,000 for the agents and Sh15,000 is to be used to bribe the police and the provincial administration officers along the route.
The trip is in two phases. The first phase is between Moyale and Isiolo and it is considered the most dangerous due to the high possibility of arrest by immigration
officials and police. The other phase is between Isiolo and Nairobi and is less risky.
After paying the required amount, the cartels load the Ethiopians on trucks bound for Nairobi.
But due to difficulties experienced at police barriers, the smugglers have come up with special vehicles to ferry the aliens up to Isiolo or Archers Post in Samburu East District.
Moyale border point deputy immigration officer Guyo Duba confirmed the work of the human traffickers saying they use illegal entries along the porous border to bring in the Ethiopians.
Duba said Ethiopians, mostly traders with valid travel documents, pass through the legal border point in Moyale town while the aliens with no papers seek the help of smugglers.
“Moyale border point was among the best manned last year. Only Ethiopians with valid passport pass through here but out there, we have problem with cartels aiding aliens to use illegal entries to get into Kenya,’’ said the officer.
Many victims of human trafficking believe those transporting them mean well for them.
‘I wanted to travel to Nairobi and thereafter see the possibility of travelling to America to join my big brother. I was connected to the Kenyan traffickers in Moyale by a friend in Ethiopia,’’ said a convicted Ethiopian alien who only gave his name as Haile. He said he hails from Dirre in southern Ethiopia.
He is now serving a three-month sentence at Isiolo GK Prison and faces repatriation afterwards.
Other victims interviewed said they had given all their money to the brokers. They lamented the agents had failed to protect them from the police adding that they were asked to bribe the police if they wanted to proceed with their journey.
“I gave out Sh50,000 to the agent 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 to protect us,’’ lamented Haile speaking in Amharic.
Duba lamented that his department lacks resources like vehicles to monitor the border. He said they often rely on police who sometimes work with the cartels to frustrate their efforts.
He, however, noted that most of the arrests are done on the strength of information forwarded to the police by immigration officers. He said they are working with the police to end the illegal trade.