US-bound Nepalis trafficked to Malawi

Four Nepalis who had been held hostage in the Southeast African nation of Malawi have been rescued by the Nepal Police Human Trafficking Bureau. They had hoped to go to the US, yet were rescued and returned to Kathmandu on Monday.

All four had got in touch with an Indian agent a year ago, who had promised to take them to the US through Bolivia, which has visa on arrival at La Paz for Nepalis. Subjected to mental and physical torture in Malawi, they were freed in coordination with local police, and their families bought their flight tickets home.

Those rescued informed police that there are five other Nepalis in Malawi, who have been unable to contact police. Two other Nepalis who were stranded in the country and did not have money for air tickets have also been rescued. Malawi police arrested Indian national Najir Ahmad, who had sheltered the human traffickers.

Among those rescued, one is aged 36, and the others are below 26. The human trafficking ring had taken them to Malawi in a convoluted route through Vietnam, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Jordan, Dubai and Azerbaijan. After 20 days in a hotel in Vietnam, they stayed in Addis Ababa for 4 months. The victims spent a few weeks to a few months at every other location after that, and in Malawi were made hostage after the traffickers demanded more money. They offered to take them to India for INR300,000 and for INR700,000, to fly them to Bolivia.

“The Indian agent threatened and beat us up. Then local men came in, asked us for money, and beat us up,” one of the victims told police.

The traffickers had taken their passports and other identification, and threatened to extract their kidneys and sell them if they did not pay more. Though they did not reveal the amount they had spent, police estimate that it could be more than Rs 1.5 million each. Those rescued were devastated to learn they had not reached Bolivia after spending so much money.

After continuous harassment and beatings by traffickers, the Nepalis contacted their families, who informed police, triggering the rescue operation. Trafficking Bureau DSP Narahari Regmi became acquainted with a Malawi police officer when he was in the country on a UN peacekeeping mission, and used this informal channel to coordinate with police. Three Nepali women who had been taken to dance bars in Malawi were also rescued a few months ago.

According to the bureau, there may be more than 100 Nepalis stranded in countries around the world, after being trafficked. Six Nepalis stranded in Indonesia for nearly six months were returned home this week.

They told police that they paid Rs2.8-3 million each to traffickers. The police are in the process of rescuing eight others from Ethiopia, who have been there for seven months. Some of them still hope to make it to the US, while others are looking for ways to return to Nepal.

Traffickers’ routes

The route to the US through India, Russia or Spain, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala or Mexico used to be popular with traffickers. They would try to lengthen the journey so that they could extort more money from victims.

Now, other routes through the Latin American countries of Suriname, Guyana or Colombia are more frequently used. Bolivia is popular because it offers visa on arrival for Nepalis. From there, traffickers try to sneak people into Mexico. In fact, Interpol and US security have now placed Bolivia’s  immigration department on their watchlist.

Janakraj Sapkota in Kantipur,

13 November