BY PROBLEM MASAU
A FRESH human trafficking scandal involving the Turkish embassy in Harare has rocked the country following revelations that dozens of Zimbabweans are now trapped in Turkey where they have been turned into labour and sex slaves.
The Zimbabweans were wooed by false promises of lucrative English language teaching jobs, an investigation by NewsDay has established.
A recent report produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime states that Turkey is a top destination for victims of human trafficking.
A 2016 report based on the Global Slavery Index also estimated that there may be about 480 000 people in Turkey who live like modern slaves.
Investigations by NewsDay unearthed an intricate human trafficking syndicate involving unscrupulous individuals at the Turkish embassy, travel agents, airlines and visa agents who are fleecing desperate job seekers by dangling Turkish resident permits to them.
Once there, the job seekers discover that they are trapped as slaves in the Middle East country.
Job seekers are paying as much as US$660 to US$850 for Turkish tourist visas in Zimbabwe. Upon arrival, they pay US$500 for non-existent residence permits.
The family of one of the victims, Thomas Chibanda, said the 22-year-old had developed a mental breakdown after being subjected to harsh working conditions in Turkey.
“We are fundraising to bring Thomas back home to Zimbabwe with three Turkish police officers saying that he is not mentally well and has become violent. The Zimbabwe consulate in Turkey does not have funds to assist us. He is currently being held in a jail and is not getting any mental health treatment,” his sister Memory Chibanda narrated.
NewsDay managed to interview some of the Zimbabweans who are now holed up in Turkey.
They narrated tales of harrowing treatment they were receiving from their employers after their travel documents were confiscated.
“I work for 18 hours every day without any off days. I earn 8 000TL, which is equivalent to US$290 because of the colour of my skin. Filipinos who do the same job are earning US$1 200. I am only given five minutes break for lunch and I am being physically abused,” said one woman we shall call Karen to protect her from being victimised.
Karen said when she went to Turkey, she bought a return ticket at Four Seasons Travel and Tours Company. She claimed that, in connivance with staff from an airline, Four Seasons Travel and Tour Company changed the tickets to a one-way document without her knowledge.
Four Seasons Travel and Tours travel agent Tsitsi Muzembe, who was implicated in the matter, denied the allegations.
“I am just a travel agent, I book flights. I do not ask people what they will be doing in Turkey. We have stopped processing Turkish visas and flights because we heard that people are being abused there,” she said.
Some of the travel agents implicated in the scam did not respond to emails. NewsDay was denied entry into the Turkish embassy in Harare.
A statement from the Turkish Foreign Affairs ministry read: “Turkey introduced numerous administrative and legal measures regarding the main pillars of combating human trafficking, prevention, protection, prosecution, and co-operation.”
It continued: “Turkish government closely cooperates with civil society to help and protect and assist the victims of trafficking in persons. The national taskforce which includes relevant government institutions as well as non-governmental organisations plays a significant role in policy making for prevention of human trafficking, identification and protection of victims and prosecution of traffickers. Turkey is a party to relevant international legal instruments to combat human trafficking.”
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa told a post-Cabinet media briefing recently that a Trafficking in Persons Amendment Bill would be introduced to strengthen the current legislation to, among other things, specify the assistance to be rendered to victims of trafficking in persons and repatriation of victims to Zimbabwe.
In addition, Mutsvangwa said the Bill would be aligned to the Palermo Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially of women and children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.
“The definition of the Bill will also include the definition of forced labour or service exploitation in relation to the crime of human trafficking, such as all forms of slavery or practice similar to slavery, sexual exploitation, prostitution, child and adult pornography, debt bondage, servitude, forced labour and services, child labour, unlawful removal of body organs, forced marriage and impregnation of a female person against her will for the purpose of selling her child when the child is born,” Mutsvangwa said.
More than 100 Zimbabweans are believed to be trapped in the Middle East and Turkey.