BY TAFADZWA KACHIKO
“A lot of things happen here at the airport. It all depends on the money on offer,” an immigration official at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport said.
In October 2021, Roselyn Dunga, a 31-year-old woman working as a security screener at the RGM International Airport stole a bag containing US$2 million from an unknown passenger, who boarded an Emirates flight to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Dunga told police the bag belonged to a man of Pakistani origin, and that the total amount being smuggled out was US$10 million, with each bag containing US$2million.
“As you’re aware workers are not being paid on time. What then do you do if you find a gap to make money?
“You are forced to dance to the tune playing at a particular time,” the airport source said.
In 2014, two immigration officers and a security officer at RGM International Airport appeared in court facing human trafficking and criminal abuse of duty charges after they connived to allow Muhammad Aslam, a Pakistani national, to slip into the country without a visa.
They were charged for contravening Section 3 of the Presidential Powers (Temporary) Measures under the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Act or alternatively criminal abuse of duty as a public officer under Section 174 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
The cases are said to be a tip of the icebery. Security sources said human trafficking syndicates were using the Robert Gabriel Mugabe (RGM) International Airport as a hub, bringing people from mostly African countries that would ordinarily need a visa to enter Zimbabwe such as Eretria, Somalia and Ethiopia.
The immigrants whose passports are never stamped on arrival at the airport are then moved to safe houses around Harare before they are transported to Beitbridge where corrupt officials facilitate their illegal entry into South Africa.
Investigations by The Standard revealed that police, immigration officers, Central Intelligence Organisation officers and soldiers who man the airport are involved in the human trafficking, which police have since described as a security threat.
“They work with syndicates who will be having links and would have paid bribes beforehand to avoid having challenges at the airport.
“When you see them being smuggled into thecountry you won’t even suspect it,” the source said.
“Everything would have been properly planned to pass easily.
“What happens is that a passenger name list (PNL) is sent to Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), immigration, border control, and state security.
“All those are interested parties who do that. They won’t check visas, but just names.
“Those responsible would say I will be working at this point on this day so give me this amount for the job.
“Syndicates can get up to US$2000 or more for smuggling foreign nationals into the country.”
The syndicates are said to be working with kingpins based outside the country, who make travel arrangements for immigrants from mostly the Horn of Africa.
Airlines flying into Zimbabwe from different countries in Africa are allegedly used by the suspected traffickers.
“But the highest number of nationals I see sneaking in these days are the Chinese,” the source said.
Director of an Anti-Trafficking organisation called Vukarhani Trust, Gerald Shirichena said the porousness of the country’s borders have made Zimbabwe a source, transit and destination of choice for human trafficking syndicates.
“The porousness of points of entry and corruption kill all efforts to contain human trafficking,” Shirichena said.
“There are known prescribed routes being used to ferry people. The traffickers have conduits right through from the borders.
“At the Road Port in Harare there is a cartel of people, who facilitate those movements.
“The buses from East Africa have their connections at Road Port and at Mbudzi roundabout.
“There are hideout houses in Waterfalls where they are kept.
“The trend affects Zimbabwe on its tier rating. Currently we are on ter 2 and we risk being downgraded to tier 3.”
Efforts to get a comment from the Department of Immigration were futile as the head of protocol and public relations, Memory Mugwagwa did not respond to emailed questions.
Airports Company of Zimbabwe (ACZ) acting chief executive officer Walter Lungile Ndlovu said: “Your query is more appropriately suited for the Immigration Department, which is mandated with the processing of travellers as they enter and leave the country.”
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said police had handled cases of human trafficking at the RGM Airport.
“I was checking with officers on the ground and yes there have been such allegations,” Nyathi said.
“We are now conducting investigations and I can confirm that the police and other arms of government are conducting investigations.
“Obviously once that happens (border crimes) it becomes a national security threat and whoever will be doing it deserves to be arrested.
“Certainly they deserve to be arrested so that the law can take its course.”
Nyathi said police would issue a “comprehensive” statement once investigations were complete.
“Investigations are going on and we are casting our nets wide,” he added.
“We can’t pinpoint the involvement or the non-involvement of anyone now.”
Zimbabwe is used as transit by immigrants from all over Africa, who take advantage of the country’s porous borders.
In January, police said they had arrested 89 000 people in a blitz to curb illegal migration.