Monday, October 5, 2015

Border Resident Communities: New hiding places for migrant smugglers?

By: David Hofmeijer

Many African communities today face serious challenges if residing on or near a border. Border residents are often caught between the administrative processes of two states and their cross-border trade in food, agricultural products and livestock involves little or no intent to deceive the authorities. Indeed, locals will often ignore what they perceive to be “artificial” and unpoliced borders; traversing areas as they have traditionally done for centuries. Unfortunately, however, this has become one of the new environments that migrant smugglers now use to move anonymously between states.

A visit to the Tarakea border post between Tanzania and Kenya was carried out in January 2015 by IOM-ACBC officials in order fact-find and assess the situation of border resident communities in that area.

Taking advantage of the fact that border communities move freely and often without checks, migrant smugglers join these movements and cross borders unseen and without any inspections. Movements are higher particularly on days when border resident communities are involved in trade at the end of the month when they travel to nearby cities.

The Tarakea border post is located at coordinates 2°59'28.5"S 37°34'05.1"E and is a small-sized border crossing on the northern side of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was identified by IOM as a possible staging area for migrant smuggling from Kenya into Tanzania. Tanzanian immigration authorities in the city of Moshi have in the past identified and detained Somali and Ethiopian irregular migrants and the suspicion is that Somali smugglers are using the Tarakea border as a means of entry for smuggled migrants into Tanzania.

After taking them across the border, smugglers are suspected of temporarily housing migrants in the cities of Himo, Moshi and Arusha for two or three days, before moving them on to Malawi and, ultimately, South Africa. This phenomenon has appeared in the last five years and was first identified in 2009 by IOM and described in the publication In Pursuit of the Southern Dream.

Tanzania immigration officer at Tarakea border post standing at the border, left being Kenya and Right being Tanzania 
The Tanzanian immigration officer at the Tarakea Border, Mr. Said Hajj, when interviewed, explained that sometimes the borders between States are often nothing more than a dirt road, with residents farming and living over internationally demarcated areas. This proves to be very challenging for the officers stationed at these border crossing points as the volume of crossings per day is impossible to track. Additionally manually captured data and the inability of officers to check or verify information makes the situation even more challenging.

One of the solutions that IOM currently proposes to decrease the instances of irregular activity in border resident communities is the introduction a border resident card or BRC. The border resident card is designed to be issued to all border residents who are registered so they can be logged at every crossing. This also assists in identifying non border residents. BRCs are an important element for bi-lateral relations of countries sharing a border where intensive cross-border movements take place for various economic, social or cultural reasons.