On the occasion of World Anti-Trafficking Day, a young Mosotho man named Teboho shared his harrowing journey, where his passion for soccer became the hook that ensnared him into human trafficking.
Speaking at the event held in Maputsoe, Leribe district last month, Teboho recounted how his love for soccer and aspirations of a soccer career drew him into a perilous ordeal.
“I believed that gaining recognition from big teams in Lesotho was an uphill battle, so when a Nigerian living in my community offered me a chance to achieve my dream abroad, I trusted him,” Teboho said.
This trust was fostered by the Nigerian’s apparent integration within the Mosotho community – being married to a Mosotho woman and building a family. Teboho explained that his desperation to make it as a soccer star made him susceptible to manipulation.
“He said he could introduce me to people who could make my dreams come true, including his brother in Dubai. My own family agreed, and I left my job to pursue this opportunity,” he recounted.
Teboho’s journey led him from Lesotho to South Africa, and finally to Dubai, but the dreams he carried with him soon turned into a nightmare.
Upon arrival in Dubai, he and a South African he was travelling with, were fetched by another Nigerian man from the airport.
Teboho said the South African man he was traveling with had already raised his concerns about their journey, saying many things did not add up and he suspected they were being trafficked.
However, he was quick to convince the South African that everything was fine as he was sent by someone he trusted from Lesotho.
They were then transported to a place he believed was a hotel in Sharjah, where they found other South African men who told them they thought they had been trafficked because they also went to Dubai hoping to be introduced to some soccer teams but they had been forced to do some illegal staff for the Nigerians.
All of the insecurities of the South African man who came with Teboho were confirmed and nothing much was left to do, than to just sit there and wait for instructions from the boss whom they were told will meet them after a week.
“I still had access to my phone by then and I reported the situation to my family. They wanted to go and confront that Nigerian man we live with, but I told them not to do so until I met the boss,” he said.
After a week, the boss finally came and he told them that they were not going to play soccer but to open bank accounts with different banks for him and then they could go back home.
“I tried to argue and told him I want to speak to the Nigerian guy I left in Lesotho. When he answered his phone, his only words were that he pleads with me to do whatever I am told to do if I wanted to come back home safely. From that conversation, I learned that if anything goes wrong my life would be in danger so I decided to play by the rules,” he explained.
Teboho was then forced to do the medical tests as well as apply for residents’ Identification Documents.
He was then promised 12, 000 Dirhams if he opened the bank accounts. He was given 11 salary certificates to present at the banks to open accounts.
He was accompanied by another Nigerian man to the banks where he was able to open at least five bank accounts.
The sixth was applied for online while the seventh was opened by the Nigerians without his knowledge, he explained.
“I was also forced to register about five sim cards which they kept together with my documents from Lesotho and the bank accounts documents.
“I thought that was the end of what they wanted from me but there was more. When I asked them to let me go back home they told me they are going to keep me longer to help them with other stuff,” he narrated.
Teboho said things started to be different and he was now not given food and water. He then resorted to blackmailing the Nigerians, telling them if they did not let him go, he would report them to security or the police.
“After I had threatened them, the boss came again with two women. He told me the other woman was his wife, while the other one would be a fake wife whom I was going to sign the Nigerian Marriage certificate with so that I could help them rent a flat.”
“We went to some business tower where I was to apply for renting a place. They gave me one of those bank accounts to use as I apply. When we got there, one of the people who were helping us requested to be with only me in the office. He then told me about himself and that he is from Egypt.
“He said he knew something was wrong and if I needed help, he will help me. I told him the whole story. He told me everything I have done for those Nigerian men will be traced back to me and I will have to take responsibility if anything went wrong. He called those Nigerians back into the office and told them I was not able to qualify to get a rented place because I had not yet spent at least six months in Dubai,” he said.
According to Teboho, he was no longer of any use to the Nigerians, so they booked him a flight ticket from Dubai to Kenya and then from Kenya to South Africa. There was no ticket to Lesotho.
When he requested the money he was promised, he was only given 3,000 dirhams which he used for traveling from South Africa to Lesotho.
“I got home and met the one Nigerian man I left at home and told him I need the rest of the money they promised me. I narrated the story to my family again and still maintained that I should report the matter to the police. I reported the case and that Nigerian man was arrested, he appeared in court where he was found guilty. At the moment is awaiting his sentencing,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tsebo Mosoeunyane from Beautiful Dream Society (BDS) based in the Maputsoe border, said BDS works in three borders Maseru, Mafeteng, and Maputsoe.
He indicated that in Maputsoe since January this year, they have already returned 60 people at the border which were regarded as intercepts, a term they use to identify people who are suspected to be potential victims of trafficking.
These 60 people were seen to be at risk of being trafficked after they were interviewed and their explanations or stories were not clear and they were returned.
“Most of the people we have intercepted reported they were going to South Africa for jobs either in the factories or to work as domestic workers. 30 percent of the 60 people we have intercepted were males and 70 percent were female,” he said.
The United Nations Resident Coordinator Amanda Khozi Mukwashi said the celebration follows the release of the US Global Trafficking in Persons Report (2023) with news that Lesotho remains on Tier 2.
She blamed the unique geographical position of Lesotho, the economic power of South Africa compared to Lesotho, and the porous borders between Lesotho and South Africa to be some of the factors making it easy for Basotho to migrate irregularly and exposing them to different forms of exploitation.
She said human Trafficking is a violation of human rights and a crime that destroys the victims’ physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The demand for cheap labor, sexual services, and certain criminal activities are among its root causes. The poverty of opportunity and resources, as well as a lack of social power, are other important contributing factors.
“To immediately address this situation, there is an urgent need to provide support to the vulnerable deportees and Victims of Trafficking in their country of origin (Lesotho) with a special focus on young vulnerable deportees who are mainly youth, women, and TIP victims who are at risk of ‘’migration out of desperation’’ from marginalised or disadvantaged area of Lesotho,” she said.
According to Mukwashi, a lot of sensitisation programs on human trafficking through public gatherings, outreach activities, newspapers, radio, and social media, by various initiatives have been implemented and there is a continuous need to create more awareness among the populations in Lesotho at large.
She reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to working with the government of Lesotho in strengthening Migration Management and Governance, and in leading efforts to enhance migration management.
Lebona Lephema Minister of local government, chieftainship, home affairs, and police said the Government has also engaged Global Fund through his Ministry to expand the support to the victims of Trafficking in Persons in three Districts, namely Maseru, Mohale’s Hoek, and Leribe.
“Though that is not enough we are also designing a training Curriculum for Security Sector to augment the Crime Prevention Strategy, especially at the Border Control points, and creating an awareness to the citizens of our country,” Lephema said.
Trafficking in persons report June 2023 defines trafficking as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.
According to the report, Lesotho remains under Tier 2, amongst Countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
Senior Inspector Beleme Moerane from the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Office of Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Control as the Coordinator indicated that for the year 2022, there were 10 cases reported.
He said amongst the cases eight of them are still under investigation and the two, investigations are done and are in the courts of law.
Moerane further stated that, from January this year four cases were reported and they are still under investigation except for one case which was prosecuted, and the perpetrator was found guilty and they are awaiting sentencing.
He indicated that in all of the cases, the majority of the victims were women while the suspects are men.
“This does not mean men do not get trafficked, it means there is low reporting of cases on their side and that may be because we still do not have shelters for male victims and they do not feel safe to report,” he said.
On the other hand, Abdul Alik Malik Molapo from the community of Islam said the responsibility of the faith sector is to raise awareness about Trafficking in persons.
He indicated that as for the Islam community, their culture already safeguards them, limiting the risk of being trafficked because Islam women are not advised to go anywhere on their own or even talk to strangers
According to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, 2011 trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, legal or illegal adoption, sale, supply, or receipt of persons within and across the borders of Lesotho.
The act states that a person who traffics another person commits an offense of trafficking and is liable, on conviction, to a fine of M1,000,000.00 or imprisonment for 25 years.
“Where the victim is a child, the offender shall be liable to a fine of M2,000, 000.00 or life imprisonment,” it reads.