Tanzania has blacklisted 14 Somali businessmen suspected of engaging in human trafficking and who allegedly enjoy close links with powerful politicians.
The businessmen, who are naturalised citizens, are said to be responsible for facilitating the illegal entry of hundreds of Somalis, enroute to Southern African countries and Europe. This has resulted in a surge of arrests of Somali nationals in the past three years.
According to intelligence sources, the suspects’s activities are widely known to senior officials within Tanzania’s Ministry of Home Affairs. However the suspects’s names are yet to be revealed.
It is understood that various options for handling the case are being discussed within government circles and repatriation to Somalia is top on the list.
The EastAfrican has been informed that the government, through various law enforcement agencies, is investigating the activities of companies and business entities owned by naturalised Tanzanians of Somali origin over their alleged involvement in human trafficking of Somali nationals. The individuals present themselves as refugees before obtaining fake Tanzanian immigration documents in exchange of millions of dollars.
Pereira Ali Silima, Deputy Minister for Home Affairs, told The EastAfrican that intelligence agencies have their sights set on particular politicians, business people and senior government officials who are allegedly sending hundreds of Somalis abroad using forged documents.
Mr Silima said that it had come to their attention that there were individuals posing as refugees and asylum seekers in order to take advantage of the government’s initiative to give citizenship to those who genuinely required it.
He said that at the end of the investigation, those found to have attained Tanzanian citizenship illegally would be “dealt with according to the law” while those shown to have abetted the crime would have their citizenship withdrawn, pending deportation to their country of origin.
A worry for Tanzania is the involvement of senior government officials in the human trafficking racket. Their involvement could hamper efforts to curb the number of illegal immigrants coming into the country from Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
A senior Immigration official said the government was working closely with the state border security control unit to deter human trafficking, but declined to address allegations of involvement of senior officials.
Magnus Ulungi, Principal Commissioner of Immigration Services, said the state had been forced to revoke the citizenship of 102 people after they were found to have acquired it irregularly. The 102 will be treated as “aliens” in accordance with the Immigration Act No 7 of 1995 and the Refugee Act of 1998.
According to Mr Ulungi, most of the individuals whose citizenship has been withdrawn had been granted their certificates of citizenship by naturalisation between 2008 and 2010.
The government has so far granted citizenship to 3,000 Somali refugees, with some living in Chogo village, in northeastern Tanga region, as part of an exercise that started in 2005.
The refugees, referred to as Somali Bantus, are said to be descendants of slaves who were captured from Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania by the rulers of Zanzibar and other slave traders and then sold into Somalia.
According to government officials, the first group of about 1,000 Somali Bantus arrived in the country in 1992 after they fled Somalia when Mohammed Siad Barre’s regime collapsed in 1991.
Currently, the country provides asylum to about 526,800 refugees. The majority of these refugees come from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
There are a smaller number of asylum seekers from Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
Data on refugees
According to data obtained from the Department for Refugee Services in the Ministry of Home Affairs, the National Eligibility Committee (NEC), which handles applications for refugee status, conducted two sessions (98th and 99th) during 2009 and 2010.
The 98th NEC session was conducted at Chogo village in 2009, where57 applicants appeared before it and 56 applicants granted refugee status.
The 99th session was convened in Nyarugusu, where 380 applicants appeared before the NEC but only nine applicants were granted refugee status.
In the 2009/2010 NEC session a total of 437 asylum applications were made and 372 applicants denied refugee status.
By Mike Mande and Rosemary Mirondo