MASERU – Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) has opened a new unit to combat human trafficking in the country. Human trafficking is described as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit. Men, women and children of all ages and from all backgrounds can become victims of this crime, which occurs in every region of the world. Traffickers often use violence or fraudulent employment agencies and fake promises of education and job opportunities to trick and coerce their victims.
The LMPS says the unit is currently made up of 32 police officers who have been trained on the crime, with offices in Botha-Bothe, Leribe, Maseru, Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek. These districts are the only ones where office space was already readily available to commence operations, Public Eye was told. “This has been done because there is a rise in human trafficking worldwide and Lesotho is no exception. And because of high unemployment levels, people who become victims are always those seeking jobs, those who date on social media and are promised marriage, as well as students looking for scholarships.
“Therefore, we urge the nation at large to be vigilant when seeking all these in order for them not to be coerced into situations in which they will be trafficked,” said Police Spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli. This move by the police happens while the home affairs minister, Motlalentoa Letsosa, is on a nationwide crusade creating awareness on anti-Trafficking in Persons (TIP) in line with the government’s commitment to combat TIP.
According to Lesotho’s TIP Act No 1 of 2011, TIP is “An act to provide for the prohibition, prevention, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators of the offence of trafficking in persons and other related offences. Contains measure to protect, rehabilitated and reintegrate victims of trafficking.” Letsosa has engaged in extensive outreach to sensitise local communities and officials on the importance of preventing trafficking in persons.
This week the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a statement reporting about a Mosotho woman who was returned from the airport after attempted human trafficking was detected collaboratively by Airport Agencies at Moshoeshoe I International Airport in Maseru.
It has been confirmed that a lady was promised a job in Muscat- Oman in the Middle East. Speaking to Public Eye on the establishment of this new police unit Lerato Nkhetše, Executive Director of Migrant Workers Association of Lesotho, revealed that they also have their own campaign in which they sensitise local chiefs under the Principal Chiefs of Thaba-Bosiu and of Leribe. They have spoken to community councils in Rothe and villages surrounding factories like Ha Shelile; through community gatherings and sessions with factory workers and job seekers in the Maseru and Maputsoe industrial areas which are located near the border with South Africa.
“Lastly, we formed protection communities which are more like “mahokela” (community policing members), comprising chiefs, councillors and volunteering community members that look deep into people who claim to be hiring, if they are registered companies from where and why they are recruiting Basotho and if they are using proper channels of hiring. We also have booklets specifically written in Sesotho to teach Basotho all about human trafficking for people who were not able to reach,” he said.
Trafficking in persons is facilitated by groups of people and is well organised. Therefore, the Ministry of Homes Affairs regularly warns the general public that trafficking in persons is a reality, which is a serious crime considered to be modern-day slavery. According to the 2021 TIP report, Lesotho’s status is on Tier 2 watch list, which means that Lesotho does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts towards doing so.
Two weeks ago, in line with the recommendations from the US Department of State’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, the US Ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, hosted a bilateral dialogue with Lesotho’s key government ministries to discuss Lesotho’s progress on TIP. In her statement, Gonzales noted that as the US Ambassador to Lesotho she will continue to emphasise that fighting human trafficking is important to the US government and that her team is willing to “support the Government of Lesotho to make rapid progress toward achieving the recommendations in the 2021 TIP Report to avoid any assistance restrictions”.