A NIGERIAN national has appeared before Magistrate court on charges of trafficking three Basotho to Dubai where they were allegedly exploited for their labour and underpaid.
Sikiru Rasheed (30) of Lagos, Nigeria, first appeared before Chief Magistrate ‘Matankiso Nthunya on charges of trafficking Lerato Kaizer (29) and Mohau Majara (25) both from Maseru. He said to have trafficked Majara in October 2021 and Kaizer in March this year. He was also charged with illegally staying in Lesotho without a valid residence permit.
Rasheed pleaded not guilty to the human tracking charges but entered a guilty plea to the charge of illegally residing in the country.
On Tuesday, both Kaizer and Majara took to the witness stand to tell the court how their trip to Dubai came about.
Kaizer said he used to work at a barber shop with the accused. He said Rasheed informed him that he had some contacts in Dubai who wanted someone who can help them in various trading activities. He said Rasheed applied for a Dubai visa for him and when it came out, the accused gave him M1500 for Covid-19 tests and transport to South Africa. He said he was promised M28 000 as a salary, which he never got.
“I know the accused person,” Kaizer said.
“We used to work together at Pioneer Exclusive Salon where I was a professional hair dresser. In 2021, he mentioned to me that he knew some people in Dubai who were looking for someone who could help them in trading and I told him I was interested.
“When I arrived in Dubai I met one Abu who collected me from the airport to the place where I was going to stay. We later started working and the account we were using to trade had about 1, 5 million United Arab Emirates Dirhams (about M6, 8 million) and the target was to reach 500 000 000 which I did in a week.
“In May, I asked about my salary because I had been working without a salary. I was told to open two bank accounts, one for my salary and the other for my savings. But to my surprise, I was never given any access to both accounts,” Kaizer said.
He said his passport and national identity document were taken by his bosses. He said he demanded these documents and to be allowed to return home due to disagreements over his salary. He was eventually allowed to return home after three days of discussions over the matter.
“Three days after my return to Lesotho, the police came to my place and told me that they were investigating my case,” Kaizer said.
Majara also testified, saying Rasheed had promised to take him for football trials in Dubai only to find a different scenario all together upon his arrival in the Asian nation.
“When I left Lesotho, the accused person had promised me football trials since I am an aspiring footballer. However, I found a different environment in Dubai.
“Upon arrival, I was asked by my new bosses to open different bank accounts for them and they promised to pay me 12 000 Dirhams (M 55 019) for that. I initially refused to do this, saying this wasn’t the reason why I had come to Dubai. I said I would rather go back to Lesotho. I called Rasheed and he claimed he had also been given inadequate information.
“I eventually agreed to do the job although I was still not comfortable with it. At one point, I was told to go and rent an apartment for my bosses in my name. One gentleman from Egypt took me aside and said he was aware of everything. He warned that I would be in trouble if my bosses failed to pay electricity and water bills for the flat which would be in my name,” Majara said.
He said the application to rent the application was denied. He did not say how he eventually returned to Lesotho. He however, said he was only given M3000 when he came home in February this year. The amount was way less than the M25 000 he had been promised for the trials which did not materialise, he said.
Rasheed took the stand for cross-examination by Crown Counsel Steve Thaba when the trial resumed on Thursday.
He denied all the accusations, saying he knew nothing about the work the victims had been recruited for in Dubai. He said his friend Amos in South Africa was the one who spoke directly to the victims and organised everything pertaining to their stay in Dubai.
However, Magistrate Nthunya strongly rebuked him, saying he should not lie but testify truthfully.
“I must be frank with you and tell you that I don’t believe some of the things you are saying,” Magistrate Nthunya said.
“You are leaving your lawyer (Lehlohonolo Moseli) with lots of work because there are many lose ends that he will have to attend to. Remember that you are giving your evidence under oath and you strike me as someone who fears God. So, do not lie to me,” Magistrate Nthunya added.
The trial continues on 11 August 2022.
Human trafficking issues have taken centre stage in Lesotho, amid pressure by the US government to punish offenders.
Just last week, the United States (US) government upgraded Lesotho to Tier 2 on its human trafficking index report for 2022.
This in recognition of “significant efforts” by the government to combat trafficking in the past year. Nonetheless, the US said Lesotho still had not done enough to address long-standing human trafficking concerns.
It said although Lesotho had made progress towards tackling trafficking in the past year, it still failed to meet “minimum standards in several key areas”. Some of the outstanding areas include the failure to prosecute government officials implicated in the trafficking of victims, the US said. In instances where prosecutions had begun, Lesotho had however, failed to conclude the trials, the US added.
Although much more needs to be done, the upgrade to Tier 2 is nevertheless a welcome development. Previously the country had been on Tier 2 Watch List and before that it had been on Tier 3- the lowest ranking. Ordinarily countries in Tier 3 automatically lose US developments assistance and cannot benefit from multi-million-dollar programmes like the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Those on the Tier 2 Watchlist are still required to increase their efforts to deal with human trafficking for them to be eligible for various forms of US development assistance. Even though Lesotho was reselected for Second Compact under the MCC in 2017, a definite agreement on the size of the compact and funding had remained elusive until March this year when the US had satisfied itself that there had been progress that could lead to an upgrade to Tier 2.