A new study by the International Organization for Migration finds an increasing number of smuggled migrants from the Horn and East Africa to South Africa are routinely deceived, abused, exploited and stigmatized from the moment they leave home and arrive in South Africa. The agency interviewed 800 men for this investigation.
The men interviewed for this study are young, with an average age of 21, and desperate. They come mainly from Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya and they head for South Africa.
Spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, says for some migrants, South Africa is just a stepping-stone toward Europe, the United States and Canada.
But, in all cases, he says the journey is very difficult and dangerous. "In some cases, we have testimonies of migrants who were packed in airless containers to try and escape detection. Especially, it seems to be the case between Tanzania and Malawi. We have got instances also of migrants who were packed into airless containers inside Malawi or to try and reach Mozambique from Malawi. In some cases, we have evidence that migrants actually died of suffocation in those containers," Chauzy said.
The report says up to 20,000 Ethiopian and Somali male migrants are smuggled every year from the Horn of Africa to South Africa. On average, they pay up to $2,000 for the journey. IOM says most of the migrants are smuggled overland or by sea.
Chauzy says the male migrants regularly suffer from human rights violations at the hands of their smugglers, local criminals and officials who should be protecting them. He says the migrants are subject to harassment, beatings, robberies, and, in some cases, rapes.
"The report shows that all the countries surveyed continue to detain and convict smuggled migrants while they regularly fail to convict smugglers. Smugglers, in this part of the world continue to enjoy near total impunity and continue to escape penalties. There again the report recommends that countries focus their attention on punishing those who organize and benefit from those smuggling activities and provide all the protection to those migrants, even if they are undocumented migrants, need to have," Chauzy said.
The report says desperation is driving migrants to leave their homes and risk their lives. It says the young men are fleeing political instability, insecurity, poverty and adverse climate conditions, such as drought and floods.
Despite last year's xenophobic flare up, the report says South Africa remains attractive for migrants from East Africa and the Horn. It says they are willing to expose themselves to considerable criminal violence and prejudice because of the perceived opportunities available to them in South Africa.