Over a hundred illegal Ethiopian immigrants were found dumped in a forest in the central part of Tanzania on Tuesday, apparently abandoned by the one transporting them.
At least 43 of the lot were found dead, 72 alive but in life-threatening condition and only 11 in reasonably good health – and now at large.
The Home Affairs ministry reported those still around were undergoing treatment at a camp in Dodoma and would be arraigned for illegal entry in the country soon after they were in good enough health to stand trial.
This is not the first time illegal immigrants have made it into Tanzania or used the country as a transit route to other countries, their destination of choice being southern Africa.
Global Detention Project reports that Tanzania has been host to one of the largest refugee populations in Africa and is an important transit country for migrants heading to South Africa.
UNHCR meanwhile says conflicts compounded by famine in the Great Lakes region dramatically increased the number of refugees in Tanzania from 292,100 in 1992 to 883,300 in 1994, only to drop to just over 100,000 by January 2011. That was after the government took measures to deport illegal aliens.
What is curious about Tuesday’s incident is that, while previously Tanzania has either been a transit route or a country of asylum, this time around we have witnessed illegal immigrants dying cruel deaths – presumably inside an overcrowded contain – right on our own soil.
This suggests that immigrants no longer use old techniques in moving from one country to another, but have resorted to extremely sophisticated but crude methods.
It was previously common for people experiencing danger or feeling threatened in their home countries to cross territorial borders without assistance and present themselves as either refugees or just sneak into a third country.
However, the current trend shows that there is an alarmingly big rise in the number of illegal immigrants who are in fact trafficked into or through Tanzania.
In other words, we are now talking of a new scenario where some people (possibly Tanzanians) have resorted to the trafficking of illegal immigrants to or via our country to other countries and regions. Tuesday’s incident is hardly short of this.
But while all this happens, we have not moved in quickly to introduce mechanisms capable of arresting this trend.
Tanzania borders nine countries – and the expansive Indian Ocean. There is no doubt that guarding such a massive border calls for huge sums of resources.
However, given the meager resources that the country has, we have no option but to put in place modalities of more effectively controlling the problem of illegal immigration. For example, how can one be fined only 100,000/- upon being found to have entered the country illegally and yet that is regarded as a deterrent sentence?
Times have changed; the period when Tanzania used to harbour refugees fighting for their rights in their countries is all but gone. We must adopt new strategies commensurate with present-day realities or we shall indeed needlessly bear the costly burden of other nations’ misdeeds. And we had better act appropriately fast!