Government has exposed a human trafficking ring of individuals domiciled in Canada and believed to be working with local fraudsters who are luring Zimbabweans to apply for non-existent jobs in North America and other parts of the world.
Some of the suspected human traffickers were disguising themselves as owners of the world’s largest hotel chain, Marriot International, whose global assets in the hospitality industry are valued at over US$25 billion.
Three people implicated in the scam following investigations by Zimbabwean authorities, have been identified as William Smith, George Harkins and Rooney Cardwell.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade spokesperson Ms Constance Chemwai said following reports in the local media suggesting that Marriot International Hotels and Resorts in Canada was recruiting medical personnel, due diligence and verification was conducted and it emerged that the American hospitality giant was not involved in such an exercise.
“The ministry wishes to advise members of the public that Marriot International Hotels and Resorts have never been involved in the recruitment of medical staff.
“The ministry further advises that some individuals suspected to be human traffickers are disguising themselves as owners of Marriot Hotels and Resorts and floating job advertisements under the name of Marriot Hotels,” she said.
“Members of the public are warned that these criminal syndicates are demanding US$400 as documentation and visa processing fees.”
Individuals who responded to the advertisements usually received job offers without any interviews, two hours after making payment. This was being done through social media platforms, including WhatsApp.
Ms Chemwai urged members of the public to be alert to human trafficking activities disguised as job recruitments.
“Members of the public are encouraged to check with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and our embassies abroad, to verify the authenticity of any such suspicious job offers.”
After responding to such advertisements and paying money to have applications processed, unsuspecting job-seekers are usually forced to work as child minders, cooks, carpenters, hairdressers, bakers and helpers in old peoples’ homes to cover skills shortages in developed countries.
In other cases, they are not taken to their intended destinations and end up being forced to work in different countries under conditions akin to slavery.
Last year, it was reported that about 200 unsuspecting and desperate Zimbabweans left Harare via South Africa, where they were promised to be issued with Canadian visas before getting jobs.
The human trafficking syndicate involved was said to be led by a former Zimbabwe national soccer team player and his wife.
In 2018, a 31-year-old Harare woman Norest Maruma was jailed for 20 years for facilitating the trafficking of five Zimbabwean women to Kuwait where they were turned into slaves and pr0stitutes.
Trafficking in persons is a major international issue, but poor documentation in Southern Africa is masking the extent of this modern-day slavery.
Despite its rising profile in many parts of the world, and periodic efforts to raise public awareness in Southern Africa, the region remains a fertile ground for traffickers who prey on the vulnerabilities created by a number of factors.
These factors include conflict, poverty, limited access to healthcare and education, gender inequalities, high unemployment, and a general lack of opportunities, especially for women.
Poverty and inequality are the major challenges facing Sadc in this regard, with negative impacts on many aspects of human and social development.
According to a United Nations Protocol (2000) popularly known as the Palermo Protocol, human trafficking refers to the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of threats or use of force or misrepresentation for purposes of exploitation.
A distinction is made between Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and smuggling, although there are linkages between the two.
Human smuggling refers to the illegal movement of an individual into a country in which she/he is not a national or a permanent resident.
The smuggled individual is assisted for a fee by criminal syndicates to cross into another country.