MASERU – Lekhema Ramaphiri, the Project Manager of the Migrant Workers Association of Lesotho (MWAL), a non-profit non-governmental organisation working to end the plight of migrants and their welfare regardless of their status has cited hunger and poverty as some of the compelling factors towards human trafficking and migrant smuggling in Lesotho.
“Poor economic conditions in Lesotho have a huge impact towards human trafficking as more people become vulnerable due to hunger and poverty.
“As more and more people struggle to make ends meet, they wind up engaging in criminal activities like murder and body organ selling in order to earn money to feed their families,” Ramaphiri said in interview on Wednesday this week.
Around 24.1 percent of the population in Lesotho lives in extreme poverty with half of the population living below the national poverty line, according to the Social Protection Programme and Systems Review released by the World Bank Group.
Lesotho’s national poverty rate is measured at the national poverty line of LSL648.88 per adult equivalent per month. In absolute terms, this translates to 994 000 people living below the poverty line and 484 000 living in extreme poverty.
Those experiencing extreme poverty are especially vulnerable due to their circumstances and familial desperation. These high risk populations become trapped in the desire to obtain a better life for themselves and their families.
The poor are subsequently preyed upon by manipulative traffickers offering false promises of employment and education opportunities and remuneration. In reality, the trafficker does not follow through on any of the promises.
The victims are then forced to do other work such as prostitution or hard labour, often for little or no pay at all. To date, the MWAL says 17 cases of human trafficking, mostly involving women, have been reported since the beginning of this year.
In order to address some of these challenges, the association, through the support from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has outlined a two-day awareness campaign on anti-trafficking, migrant smuggling and Covid-19 adaptation, scheduled for October 22 to 23.
“We work mostly with textile and domestic workers to create awareness on human trafficking. Since 2016, following severe drought conditions, challenges of human trafficking have been increasing mainly due to hunger and poverty, but now the situation has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and that is why many people are so vulnerable to human trafficking in recent years,” Ramaphiri added.
Recently, the country upgraded from a lower level, Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watchlist in this year’s edition of Trafficking in Person Report.
Lesotho will have to step up its efforts over the next year in order to remain eligible for further United States (US) development assistance.
In particular, the country should focus on investigations into credible allegations of official complicity in human smuggling and human trafficking.
This was said by the US ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales in a statement marking the 245th Independence Day of the United States of America on July 4.
Failure to achieve these targets may result in the country, among others, losing out on further US development assistance such as the country’s second Millennium Challenge Corporation compact which is necessary to increase economic growth, reduce poverty and create sustainable opportunities for Basotho.
An upgrade from Tier 3, according to the report, means that the Lesotho government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.