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Sabelo Mbokazi
Head of Labour, Employment and Migration Division of the African Union

AU Member States must cooperate to fight transnational criminal networks

Member states are reporting an exponential increase in Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants, reports the head of Labour and Migration Division of the African Union (AU) in an interview with BIZWEEK. Sabelo Mbokazi speaks of a well-organised transnational criminal network and drug cartels involved in modern slavery and human trafficking from Africa to Europe. The first regional popularization workshop of the new African Union (AU) policies, on the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and Prevention of Smuggling of Migrants (SOM) in Africa, was recently held in Mauritius. Member states called for a common enforcement framework.

Rudy Veeramundar 


First of all, we understand that the workshop is on the new AU policies on Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and Prevention of Smuggling of Migrants (SOM) in Africa. 



Can you tell us more about the context of the workshop?  

The workshop is one that is focusing on discussion of the continental policies of Africa on Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants. These two policies have been simultaneously developed and adopted by the heads of states. We are now rolling it out to member states, for them to appreciate the policy content, implement it at their level or take inspiration from some of the strategic pillars to shape and strengthen their respective national policies.


Before going further on the policy framework, can we have an overview of the situation concerning Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants?

The situation is alarming. The situation is of concern because all the member states are reporting an exponential increase in Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants. There are a few circumstances that are driving this illicit phenomenon: conflicts on the continent and in the region, poverty, climate change, ill treatment due to cultural practices, which include early child marriage…

We have also seen an increase in the number of (drug) syndicates and in the transnational criminal activities that are perpetuating the trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants.


What are the forms of human trafficking? 

They come in different ways and they are interrelated. There are cases where people are often being lured and deceived by job promises in the Middle East or in other places abroad. These people often don’t have the necessary papers, but find ways to travel because of high unemployment rates in their respective countries. An important number of them are young people, and it’s the youth who are easily trafficked, since they are the ones looking for employment opportunities.

Another way of trafficking humans is by making them drug mules. These are cases where unemployed people are paid to carry drugs.


Can we say that drug trafficking is one of the main issues?

Yes, because of the syndicates linked to transnational criminals. Once a route is identified and established, they are used by the syndicates. This leads to the trafficking in person network being a bit more complex, because it’s not only the trafficking of human beings. Victims are also at times forced to carry illicit substances and face various forms of abuse and violence.


What do we have to understand about abuse?

There are various forms of abuse. It’s also called modern slavery. The passports of the victims are confiscated when they reach the other side, so that they cannot go back. But it’s also to take the power of choice from them. They are kept in houses where they may not be able to go out, and even work without payment. Some of them are beaten up as a form of intimidation, so that they comply and not revolt. The victims experience many atrocities. This is modern slavery.


What have been the broad lines of discussions of the conference in Mauritius?  

The priority is to look at various policy propositions and see what has been proposed to strengthen the capacity building of various actors at a national level, and with regards to law enforcement agencies. Training is important because there are new ways that are used by the criminal networks. For instance, with the progress and access related to ICTs, the internet and social media platforms are used to deceive people in various ways. Young people are often lured by job promises, and also scholarships.

So, the policy propositions are providing some guidelines on how to tackle the trafficking in persons, and also the smuggling of persons. They are anchored on four pillars. The member states should focus on prevention, protection of the victims and vulnerable persons, prosecution of traffickers and the fourth one is partnerships.

The member states are guided by the policy to strengthen these four pillars, so that they can be able to tackle, with some level of effectiveness, the issue of trafficking of persons.


Speaking of prosecution, are we referring to a common legal framework among member states?

Yes, the fourth pillar is partnership, because it is admitted that we cannot deal with such a phenomenon alone, as a country, because of external influences. There is hence a need to work collaboratively and to cooperate with other member states. Should the perpetrator be somewhere else than our jurisdiction, the country will assist in prosecuting and convicting the traffickers.

What more can we expect from this workshop down the line?  What is the objective?  

This is a continental policy and the objective is to support member states so that they can then collaborate more effectively to be able to clamp down and to deal with the trafficking in persons. The objective is also to assist member states to harmonise the approaches, to implement the commitments through a harmonised partnership approach. The policy is to push them to enact specific legal frameworks that are focused on human trafficking at a national level.

Data generation and data collection are important in the fight against human trafficking. The methodologies of data collection and information sharing are also important, as are the partnerships with institutions like Interpol. AU also has an institution called AfriPol that works across the continent, so that there is intelligence sharing in order to be able to fight traffickers and clamp them down.


Are there countries which are more vulnerable, which need more assistance than others, regarding TIP?  



Are we referring to countries or regions? 

We found out that there are routes that have been established for TIP and smuggling of persons. There is a northern route, where people are moving to Libya with the intention of maybe moving across to Europe. The southern route concerns people passing through Tanzania, Malawi, down to South Africa. There is also a western route.

In all these routes, there are countries of origin, which are in fact countries of transit. Niger is for instance considered as a transit country, because most of the people who are coming from the west are passing through Niger, through the desert, and are trying to reach Libya.

Countries experience different forms of irregular migration and irregular practice, and people are trafficked along these routes. We found out that the conditions are different when they reach the destination in Libya.


Why is Libya the preferred route of the traffickers to reach Europe?

Currently, there is a way there, once you get to Libya, and they got to know about it. There are boats that cross the Mediterranean to Europe, and that’s what they want, because the pastures are seen as greener there.


Can we know more on the cooperation framework between the African Union and the European Union on this matter?  

We call it continent to continent arrangement, EU-AU, and the cooperation is on migration and mobility dialogue. There is cooperation, where EU and AU meet frequently, to discuss the challenges on both sides.

We, in Africa, are seen to be the supplying continent, because people are coming from our side, they are crossing, so we are a continent of origin. They are a continent of recipient destinations. We now have to discuss the challenges on our side and the challenges on their side, but we emphasise the importance of frameworks related to human rights.


We often hear of overcrowded boats capsizing with many people losing their lives. Is it so difficult to control boat movements and to find a solution to this?

 This is why these are called syndicates. This is why these are called transnational criminal networks. There is a demand, even from the European side. People who are operating there are expecting these boats to come, and there is a supply side from Africa. It is a syndicate and it is considered an underworld. It is difficult to clamp it down.

We noticed shifts in the places of operation in cases where countries strengthened their law enforcement policy. Right now, we see a shift. This is happening more in Tunisia, I think, because law enforcement upped their game on the Tripoli side. There is a shift towards Tunisia, and the day the law enforcement becomes strong on that side, they will move elsewhere, and it all happens clandestinely.


Our last question is about the situation in the Indian Ocean… 

Well, we don’t have that much data on the use of the Indian Ocean, because TIP mostly concerns ground movement, people who are moving on the mainland of the continent. We don’t have any reports and information on criminal activities in the Indian Ocean. So, maybe Mauritius, at the moment, is insulated from this.


Do you have a key message to conclude this interview?

The key message is that unless the member states of Africa work together, and until they increase collaboration and cooperation to fight the criminal networks, we believe that it will remain difficult for individual member states to fight the transnational criminal networks and the criminal activities. AU member states must cooperate to fight transnational criminal networks. We believe that cross-border cooperation is extremely important and strategic in the fight against the Trafficking in Person.


Are you more confident after this conference? 

Yes.  The participants also believe that working with other countries is our number one priority.

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