Three victims of human trafficking in Swaziland / eSwatini who are being kept against their will at a police station in Mbabane have started a hunger strike demanding they be released.
Earlier, they had been under the protection of the kingdom’s human trafficking secretariat but a senior officer threatened to shoot them.
The news comes after Swaziland was found not to meet minimum international standards in the elimination of human trafficking.
The three middle-aged men from Bangladeshi had been working in Swaziland for three years and were employed at a business run by a fellow national, the Sunday Observer newspaper reported.
They were discovered on 26 June 2019 when police raided the business. They were then sent to a half-way house. The Observer reported, ‘What has frustrated the three is the conditions they have endured for the duration of their stay at the halfway house and alleged threats by a senior official of the secretariat who is said to have threatened to shoot the Bangladeshi.’
It added, ‘According to a source, they were shocked and feared for their lives when they were threatened last Saturday [27 July 2019] by the officer, in the presence of a police officer who is supposed to protect them.’
It added, ‘They were subsequently moved to the care of the police, where they have said that they have had enough of the bad living conditions such as sleeping on the floor, without any necessities and proper meals.’ Their phones have also been taken away.
The newspaper added the men started a hunger strike on Tuesday, ‘as they stated that they should be released or let to die from hunger’ rather than be kept under the government’s watch.
The Government of Swaziland was found not to fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of people trafficking, according to the latest annual report from the United States State Department.
The report covered the year 2018. ‘Poor performance by leadership personnel at the anti-trafficking secretariat remained the principal obstacle to progress on trafficking during much of the reporting period,’ the report stated.
The government shelved a long-pending draft bill to amend the 2009 People Trafficking and People Smuggling (Prohibition) Act, as it determined it would have created expensive new bureaucratic structures.
The report stated, ‘As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Eswatini, and traffickers exploit victims from Eswatini abroad. Swati trafficking victims come primarily from poor communities with high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates.’
Another report, the Global Slavery Index 2018, estimated there were 12,000 people in Swaziland in modern slavery. The report stated modern slavery, ‘refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception and / or abuse of power’.
Swaziland falls short on eliminating human trafficking, but is making efforts, says new report