Laxity, porous border to blame for surge in illegal foreigners
- During a visit to the Moyale border control point, the Nation team noticed that people walked across without being questioned by security or immigration officers.
- For the deal to succeed, several people have to be bribed. Key among them are immigration officials, public transport operators and police officers.
Stay calm, act natural, keep walking without talking to anyone.
That is all it takes for immigrants to sneak into the country without documentation at the Moyale border point in Marsabit County.
Crossing into Ethiopia from Kenya is as easy, and if you do not draw any attention to yourself you can even sneak souvenirs into Kenya and import goods duty free.
“Hapa kuvuka ni rahisi sana. Hakuna mtu anakuuliza swali yoyote. Bora tu ukuwe kwa shughuli yako. (Crossing over is very easy. Nobody will bother you. As long as you mind your business),” Mr Khalif Hassan, a guide based in Moyale, told the Nation during our investigations.
For Sh50,000, you will travel all the way to Nairobi and even beyond to the Tanzanian border without being intercepted by police officers stationed at more than 15 roadblocks along the way.
Ideally, Ethiopians entering Kenya do not require a visa, but a passport is a necessity. In the case of the Moyale border point, no document is checked.
Construction of the Isiolo-Moyale road was finished in 2017 much to the relief of Marsabit County residents and the northern frontier.
Completion of the Sh46 billion project was the final phase in connecting Kenya to Ethiopia along the Trans-Africa Highway from South Africa to Egypt.
The highway was envisioned under the Kibaki regime as part of Vision 2030, and its completion meant trade and economic opportunities would open up the north.
True to its objective, the highway has created business opportunities in counties such as Marsabit. For instance, the journey from Nairobi to Moyale took up to four days in the past due to poor roads, but now it takes only 10 hours.
Besides bringing down fares, the cost and time taken to transport goods significantly reduced.
However, the majestic corridor has also brought with it an ugly form of trade in human trafficking.
The route that was envisioned to open up trans-national trade has now become an ideal channel for aliens to enter the country without proper documentation, and in some cases with no papers at all.
Over the past one year alone, not less than 300 foreigners from Ethiopia, Eritrea and even Egypt have been arrested having entered the country illegally, using the route.
The most recent bust happened on April 21 when 24 foreigners were arrested in Merti, Isiolo County.
After months of investigations, the Nation has uncovered a human trafficking syndicate involving rogue immigration officials, corrupt police officers and public transport operators facilitating illegal entry of foreigners into Kenya and other countries.
Our findings show that the foreigners are usually looking for a fresh start in life through employment, majority end up settling in towns, especially Nairobi.
The illicit trade stretches beyond Kenyan borders to Tanzania and even South Africa. In some instances, the migrants end up being trafficked to Asian countries like Thailand.
While the trade mostly involves adults, children have not been spared as they are often sneaked into the country to work as house helps.
Strategies for Northern Development (SND), an NGO based in Marsabit and Wajir, projects that up to six children are trafficked daily.
“In most households in Moyale, Mandera, Wajir and Garissa you will find Ethiopian and Eritrean children working as domestic workers,” said Mr Elema Tache, the programme manager.
Immigration Principle Secretary Gordon Kihalangwa maintained that the department is aware of illegal immigrants, but the matter requires a multi-agency approach to fix it.
“This is not a matter to take at face value. There are very many dynamics to look into because it is not just the border point that the immigrant could be using. The porosity of the Kenya–Ethiopian border is an issue we are looking into from very many angles,” Mr Kihalangwa said.
During a visit to the Moyale border control point, the Nation team witnessed shocking laxity in handling of business - people walked across without being questioned by security or immigration officers.
The Nation team decided to cross into Ethiopia without documentation and returned through the same route.
Much to our dismay, nobody seemed concerned about our motive except for one police officer who seemed sceptical of allowing our photographer to get across with his digital camera. The officer only cautioned us to be careful with the camera.
On the Ethiopian side, Moyale town is bigger and there is more to explore, especially on culture and cuisines.
To get to Nairobi untroubled, each foreigner pays between Sh30,000 and Sh50,000.
The amount covers bribes for police and immigration officials, public transport drivers and fake documentation. The fee usually rises when police heighten checks along the highway.
For the deal to succeed, several people have to be bribed. Key among them are immigration officials to validate visas, which usually are under the tourist category.
The cartel is said to have a bunch of passports which are reused to sneak in migrants, usually by swapping the photo of the holder with that of the migrant.
A detective who has been investigating cases of how migrants enter the country confided in the Nation that most were caught after they contradicted themselves on the number of times they used their passports.
“Someone will tell you that it is their first time to come to Kenya, but their passport has many stamps,” the detective said.
Drivers operating public transport get a bribe of between Sh60,000 and Sh80,000 to ferry the foreigners.
The money is usually pay for the driver and an allowance for police officers’ bribes.
“At roadblocks, where police tend to be stubborn and insist on searching the vehicle, we give them sometimes Sh2,000 to avoid trouble. That way we are left with some good money by the end of the trip,” a driver who worked with a human trafficking syndicate revealed.
As damning revelations continue to expose corrupt dealings by government officials along the porous Ethiopian boarder, a bitter fight for the control of the route is simmering.
So bad is the greed to control entry into the country that police officers have turned against their colleagues in an effort to keep the illicit venture going.
This was witnessed when some police officers from Isiolo County arrested their counterparts from Nyeri while repatriating illegal immigrants a month ago.
In a deliberate attempt to frustrate efforts to repatriate the migrants, the Isiolo officers accused their colleagues of human trafficking and smuggling narcotics.