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Sri Lankan national ‘vanishes’ at airport



MASERU – A Sri Lankan disappeared at the Moshoeshoe I International Airport last week as the police stepped up their crackdown on cases of human trafficking. Two other Pakistanis were also arrested after they arrived on the same plane. The three were accused of using fraudulent documents to get into Lesotho. The Ministry of Home Affairs says it suspects the three could be linked to a network of human traffickers. The two Pakistanis were immediately deported back to their country on Friday. The Sri Lankan was still at large at the time of going to print last night. Home Affairs Principal Secretary, Tumelo Raboletsi, told thepost that “we suspect the pull factor includes human trafficking”. He said the Pakistanis arrived in Lesotho on Wednesday morning and the police kept them there as investigations were still ongoing. “We repatriated them on Friday,” he said. He said the Sri Lankan nationals do not need a visa or letter of recommendation to enter the country but only need to be invited by a Mosotho. He said the Sri Lankan man was caught after his invitee called him to a place that does not exist in Lesotho. “In this case, the guy was invited by a Mosotho girl who claimed to be living at Khubetsoana, Maseru East,” Raboletsi said. There is no Khubetsoana in Maseru East. “Khubetsoana and Maseru East are not the same thing, therefore, the ministry decided to detain the man while investigations were ongoing,” Raboletsi said. “We wanted to work the issue out the following day but unfortunately he disappeared,” he said. He said they found out that the man “did not disappear but was helped by one airport officer” adding that the CCTV cameras show the man leaving the premises. “We saw him entering his detention room and taking his bags before leaving,” he said. “We know he was helped to flee and we reported to the police who are currently searching for him.” He added that all foreigners from Pakistan must have a visa and a clear invite from someone in Lesotho. “That invite has to go through Home Affairs Ministry where it is reviewed,” he said. He said after the reviews the ministry then dispatches the letters to allow them to obtain a visa when they get here. He said in the particular case the two deported foreign nationals had fraudulent letters of visas and were caught and detained until their deportation. He said they tried to interrogate the duo who failed to answer some questions on who invited them “until we learned that they had a fraudulent letter”. Moreover, he said they suspect that the Pakistani nationals use Lesotho as a stepping stone to some other countries where they do not have access. “They have syndicates who help (produce) fraudulent letters to get to some countries,” he said. He recalled the case of Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals who were deported in December last year. “The one from Pakistan had entered fraudulently and we caught him after he returned from Canada where he had used fraudulent documents,” he said, adding that “some use Lesotho as a stepping stone while others are interested more in human trafficking”. Raboletsi said they had also discovered that some come to Lesotho where they are used as slaves. “We once visited Qacha’s Nek businesses unannounced and most expatriates there did not have their passports saying they were held by their big boss in Maseru,” he said. Raboletsi said they have reinforced their airport and border operations to ensure that those who enter unlawfully are deported back to their countries to reduce amongst the others cases of human trafficking. Nkheli Liphoto

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