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Migrants sound alarm over rising human trafficking in S. Sudan

Author: Charles Wote | Published: Monday, July 31, 2023

Burundian migrants performing a traditional dance during the commemoration of World Day against trafficking in Persons in Juba on Friday, 28th July 2023. Photo: Charles Wote/Eye Radio.

Ugandan and Burundian migrants express concern over the smuggling of their citizens to South Sudan under false job promises and urged South Sudan government to join efforts in combating human trafficking.

According to the Ugandan Community Association in Juba, they have rescued at least seven of their natives from Juba this year after being smuggled to South Sudan on promises of better employment opportunities.

“We have taken back a lot of our girls, young girls of 14, 15, 16 they are being brought to do housekeeping work, cater for the kids but eventually they end up with misunderstanding.” Joy Julie, the head of trade and border relations at the Ugandan Community Association in Juba told Eye Radio on Friday.

According to a government report, South Sudan is home to nearly a million migrant workers, the majority of whom are not properly documented.

Some of the Ugandan nationals living in South Sudan are engaged in various activities including teaching profession, healthcare, domestic work, businesses, construction, and transportation among others.

According to Joy Julie, most of her natives are being deceived by some individuals to travel to South Sudan on promises of better job opportunities.     

“For us, we have a lot of cases, Ugandans are being brought here for work and they are told that this work is very good you come you are going to do housework eventually when the person arrives, the way the payment is given or was actually agreed in the agreement is changed, the mistreatment, the nature of work is increased,” she stressed.

Despite registering cases of false recruitment, harbouring, fraud or deception involving Uganda migrants, Joy said she is confident that Ugandans are contributing positively to the development of South Sudan.

“We really deserve an appreciation because we are training our dear brothers and sisters [South Sudanese] to do work, we are employing them, we are really friendly to them,” she said. 

“I really appreciate Ugandans because they do whatever work it is so long it is work which can make someone earn, they do it despite those normal challenges as usual but of course, we are building our country because South Sudanese are our brothers,” Joy added.    

In March this year, the International Organization for Migration, the Regional office for East and Horn of Africa praises South Sudan for being a good example of regional integration in East Africa.

Ugandans, Kenyans, Ethiopians, Somalis, Eritreans, Sudanese, and Congolese are some of the migrants in South Sudan.

Joy says there is a need for South Sudan and Uganda to work together to ensure nationals from the two sisterly countries do not fall victim to human trafficking.

“We should unite because I believe there are also South Sudanese who are moving to Uganda to Kenya for jobs and maybe tomorrow or next tomorrow, they will get such kind of challenge,” she said on the sideline of the commemoration of Anti-Trafficking Day.   

“We love to come into such kind of awareness in order to encourage our nationals and South Sudanese not to be actually victims of such cases,” she stated.   

In East and Horn of Africa, Women and girls continue to be the most vulnerable group, making up 70% of trafficking victims according to the International Organization for Migration.

“There are many Burundians who are coming after being deceived by their fellow Burundians who are just bringing them to use them and mostly when you find someone in problem, he or she does not reveal the perpetrator,” said Niyibizi Aladin, Chairperson of the Burundian Diaspora in South Sudan.   

The head of the Burundian Diaspora in South Sudan went on to reiterate a call on South Sudan authorities to work together with the heads of migrants to end human trafficking.   

“We have been saying this to the National Taskforce for Combating Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons, we have been meeting and I always call on the government to put efforts to handle migrants and also work together with the community leaders to help on how to address this issue it needs all of us to work together,” Aladin said.    

In 2010, the United Nations adopted a Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons urging World governments to take coordinated and consistent measures against the act.

The United Nations general assembly in 2013 however adopted a resolution designating 30 July every year as the Anti-Trafficking Day.

South Sudan on Friday joined the rest of the World to mark World Day against trafficking in person under the theme “Reach every victim of trafficking, leave no one behind.”

The 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report

The United States, Department of State in June this year published a report titled “Trafficking in Persons Report June 2023” placing South Sudan among the Tear 3 countries.

According to the report, countries under Tear 3 are those whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to eliminate human trafficking.

The Tier rankings and narratives reflect an assessment of the enactment of laws prohibiting severe forms of trafficking in persons, as defined by the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as amended and provision of criminal punishments for trafficking crimes.

It also assessed, government funding and partnerships with NGOs to provide victims with access to primary health care, counselling, and shelter, allowing them to recount their trafficking experiences to trained counsellors and law enforcement in an environment of minimal pressure.

Other areas include governmental measures to prevent human trafficking, including efforts to curb practices identified as contributing factors to human trafficking, such as employers’ confiscation of foreign workers’ passports and allowing labour recruiters to charge fees to prospective migrants.

South Sudan laws

Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons is a criminal offence under the Penal Code 2008, Child Act 2008, SPLA Act 2011, Anti-money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Finance Act, 2011.

It is also prohibited under the Passport and Immigration Act, 2011 and the Labor Act, 2017 and the South Sudan Transitional Constitution, 2011 as amended.

But the Taskforce for Combating Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons in South Sudan believe that there are still gaps in the national laws to effectively combat human trafficking and smuggling of persons.

The task force which is comprised of government and nongovernmental organizations believes that there is still no space under the South Sudan laws for the establishment of a National Investigation Bureau at the State and Counties levels on anti-trafficking.

Sabri Wani Ladu, the Senior Legal Counsel and Co-chair of the Taskforce for Combating Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons told a joint Ministerial meeting in September 2022 that there is no specific definition of human trafficking. 

“Under our laws, we don’t have the definition of human trafficking so we are talking about forms of human trafficking but if you go through the laws because it was enacted in 2008, by then we were not keen,” said Sabri.

“But now there is the importance of defining human trafficking based on the international standard to be put under our laws.”

Meanwhile, the National Coordinator for Human Anti-trafficking Network of South Sudan, a group of 12 civil society organizations said the absence of national laws remains a challenge in the fight against human trafficking.

Speaking during World Day against trafficking in person, Dorong Grace called for a collective effort in the fight against human trafficking.

“South Sudan does not yet have a law on trafficking in person and there is no verifiable mechanism that are in other countries so these some of the challenges we are facing as civil society organizations as we are working on this element of trafficking.”

“It is our collective responsibility to join our government to fight trafficking in our homes, in our societies at workplaces and to raise awareness mostly to migrants to ensure before they enter the country, they have the right documentation,” she said.     

In September last year, the National Taskforce on counter trafficking in Person and Smuggling of Migrants recommended the need for ratifying the UN Convention against Transnational Crime and its Protocol.

The attempt started in December 2019, when the Ministry of Interior formed a task force Co-chaired by the IGP to advise the government on its bit to assent to the convention and draft the country’s necessary laws.

The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime has three Protocols, which target specific areas on how to combat crimes between different countries.

This includes the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air; and the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition.

“South Sudan is a bit lucky but I think you are at a very big risk because you are still looking maybe at the trafficking of humans,” John P Loyatum the Political officer at the Kenyan Embassy in Juba stressed.

 He says South Sudan needs to move faster and prepare its laws on how to counter all forms of trafficking at an early stage. 

“The globalization, I mentioned earlier is going to bring forth so many other challenges including trafficking in drugs which is a serious social challenge that we need to look at before it arises.” 

Addressing the audience on behalf of IOM’s head of Mission during the World Day against trafficking in person, Phillip Boterere says the United Nations will continue to support South Sudan and the region to eliminate human trafficking.

“We will continue to support the efforts in this country to eliminate human trafficking and to also alleviate the challenges that the immigrants face in whatever country they get into to the best level that we can.”

For his part, the Police attaché at the Uganda Embassy praises the mutual collaboration between South Sudan and Uganda in countering human trafficking.

Moses Sakira adds that the Uganda government has established anti-trafficking desks at all levels to counter transnational crimes.

“We are happy with the coordination and cooperation that we are enjoying with officials of South Sudan because together we are addressing this issue of human trafficking affecting our two neighbouring countries.” 

“We are putting measures back home in Uganda to fight this crime we have even a coordination office in the Ministry of Gender, additionally we have all the security organs including the police having desks and officers designated specifically to fight human trafficking.”

In 2020, the task force conducted a survey in which it found that South Sudan had a prevalence of human trafficking.

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