Mozambique: Illegal Migration Racket Continues

Maputo — Despite Mozambican police denials, illegal immigration from Mozambique into South Africa is continuing, with the frontier police taking bribes from the migrants, the independent television station STV reported on Thursday.

A week ago, STV carried a detailed report on this racket with testimony from the illegal migrants themselves, and from the drivers of the vehicles that take them to the border.

There are two stages to this immigration. First the would-be migrants catch minibuses from Maputo to Namaacha on the border with Eswatini. Many of them do not have passports or any other documents normally demanded at a border post. Some of the migrants told STV they had been making these illegal crossings for 15 years.

Once in Namaacha, they find drivers who will take them towards the South African border. They do not cross into Eswatini - instead they take a turning which leads to Macuacua, a locality which borders on Mbuzine in South Africa. There is no official border post at Macuacua.

Crossing the border involves paying the police a bribe of 200 South African rands (about 13 US dollars), and a "reward" of 100 rands to the driver.

Shortly after this investigation was broadcast, the police invited STV back to the border to witness the supposed police crackdown on illegal immigration into South Africa. The police displayed 120 people to STV, including both people trying to enter South Africa, and some of their drivers.

But it seems that this was just for show. On Thursday, STV returned once again to the border, and found the racket is still going on. Indeed, there is even more demand to use the illicit Macuacua crossing, since, as part of the struggle to bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control, the South African authorities have closed down the legal border posts to most passenger traffic. Now even people with valid passports are tempted to use Macuacua.

At the Junta bus terminal in Maputo, one of the transporters told STV there are illicit crossings every day. "They go through the border fence that separates Mozambique from South Africa", he said.

"When I take the passengers to Namaacha, I leave them at the border to be carried onwards in open trucks", he added. The passengers only needed to know that they must have 200 rands to pay the police.

One would-be migrant who spoke to STV said he was well aware that the route he planned to use to enter South Africa is illegal. But he had a job to return to in South Africa and "I am tired of hunger here in Mozambique".

Another illegal migrant, Samuel Mandlate, said he was trying to escape from unemployment and hunger. "I won't go back (to Mozambique), I won't, whatever happens", he declared.

Yet Mandlate has all the documents needed to cross the border legally. "I've got a passport and everything", he said. "But the border is closed, and only South Africans can cross".

Another migrant, speaking to STV by phone from Johannesburg, said that at Macuacua, the situation was set up as if it were legal. When the migrants leave their vehicles "there are the soldiers (presumably he was referring to the frontier police). They say they don't want anything except for you to pay them 200 rands. After giving them the 200 rands, they tell you to go. We asked 'where to?', and they said we would see our companions ahead of us. The border was very full".

This migrant made the journey the day after South Africa closed its borders with Mozambique. He said South African surveillance has increased, and that day a South African helicopter arrived to arrest illegal migrants.

STV learnt that every day a South African helicopter overflies the area. But Namaacha residents hide the migrants in their houses until the helicopters have left.

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