A NIGERIAN national has been arrested and charged with human trafficking.
Sikiru Rasheed (30) recently appeared before the Maseru Magistrates’ Court facing three counts of human trafficking and unlawful entry into the country. He will reappear before the same court tomorrow for a bail hearing.
Rasheed’s arrest has prompted the police to warn the public to be wary of people who promise them international jobs and scholarships. Such offers could be traps to lure unsuspecting people into a web of human trafficking, the police said.
Rasheed is suspected of being behind the possible trafficking of a Lesotho woman who has not been heard of since March this year.
Police deputy spokesperson, Inspector ’Mareabetsoe Mofoka, said in March, a concerned parent reported that her daughter had called her from a South African airport saying she was on her way to Dubai where she had found work.
The daughter in question has not been heard of since then, Inspector Mofoka said.
She said they suspected that she could have been a victim of human trafficking and Rasheed could have been the mastermind.
She said Rasheed was arrested after he had been linked to two other cases of human trafficking recorded at different police stations in Maseru. He is said to have been using different names to lure his victims.
“In May 2022, there was also a report from a victim claiming to have been assisted by someone to find work in Dubai. When that lead was being followed, another person came in, making the same claim. The two victims made the claims when they came to apply for police clearances to facilitate their visas to Dubai. The accused was implicated in all the three cases,” Inspector Mofoka said.
Upon his arrest, Mr Rasheed was found in possession of an expired Nigerian passport and there was no proof that he had legally crossed into Lesotho through any of the country’s ports of entry.
“The only travel history it had was of his travel from Nigeria to Ghana and then to South Africa in June 2010,” Inspector Mofoka said.
It was against this background that the police were appealing to the public to be vigilant and use international police services such as Interpol to examine opportunities offered to them abroad.
“Some people don’t conduct thorough research or make use of our offices when they are promised jobs. They just leave the country not knowing that they might be signing up for their deaths or slavery.
“They don’t want to share information about their ‘opportunities’ especially with the police because they believe that they will jeopardise their job prospects.
“We have an Interpol office here. When you get a job or scholarship offer outside the country, the office will assist by finding out whether such job opportunities are genuine. They can also verify university scholarships,” Inspector Mofoka said.
She said people should also be wary when they are promised domestic work outside the country. They should question whether there are no locals in those countries who can do such jobs there, she said.
“Prospective employees should use common sense and ask why someone would want to hire them for domestic work. Is there a shortage of such skills in those countries?
“We understand that there is lack of employment and poverty in this country but can we really ignore the red flags and risk our lives by taking any job promises that comes our way? We appeal to Basotho to be cautious,” Insp Mofoka said.
She said some foreigners were taking advantage of Lesotho’s outdated immigration laws to engage in “bad dealings” such as human trafficking.
According to the Lesotho Aliens Control Act of 1966, one is liable to a fine of M20 and deportation if convicted of staying illegally in the country.
Earlier this year, Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli said there was need for concrete action to curb human trafficking, including the arrest and prosecutions of government officials complicit in the practice.
Human trafficking is regarded as serious offence by the United States (US). Countries that do not do enough to tackle the scourge are denied aid by the superpower.
For more than a decade, Lesotho was ineligible for a second multi-million dollar grant from the US’ Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to fund various socio-economic projects under a second compact (Compact II) programme.
A US$300 million second compact agreed was only signed last month in recognition of the “significant steps” that Lesotho had taken to tackle human trafficking and other human rights concerns.
Those steps include arresting and prosecuting suspected human trafficking masterminds.