Kazi Jarangir Alam fled his native Bangladesh in a US$11,000 journey over thousands of kilometers and climbed a border fence for a better life in South Africa, only to be caught and sent back.
Like hundreds of other illegal immigrants, his journey ended in Mozambique, from where authorities say trafficking syndicates are smuggling Asians into South Africa, the continent’s powerhouse and strongest economy.
Alam was flown into Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, and then quickly crossed into South Africa, but was detained in Johannesburg when he asked for asylum.
Rather than send him back to Bangladesh, South Africa deported him to Mozambique, where he was held in a transit camp with hundreds of other migrants.
Mozambique this week repatriated the last of the 444 detainees from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and China, more than a month after South Africa bussed them back over the border.
In a secret telephone interview from the Massaca transit camp south of Maputo, Alam explained he left his country because “there are political problems.”
“Bangladesh is a full country. I left for political reasons, others for business,” the 28-year-old said.
The head of his political party paid a syndicate for the journey to South Africa, he said.
Mozambican authorities say many syndicates could be involved in human trafficking.
“This is a direct manifestation of organized crime,” Maputo Province police spokesman Joao Machava told journalists during a recent tour of the camp.
“We think many syndicates are linked to it. This could be a cell,” he said, as Bangladeshis in worn clothes collected rehydration tablets from the Red Cross. “This is a new phenomenon. In past times it was not normal.”
Corrupt police and border officials facilitated the process, Maputo City police spokesman Arnaldo Chefo said, adding that some officials have already been arrested.
During their detention in Mozambique, the haggard migrants were housed in rows of soiled tents in the dusty Massaca camp. Ten tried to escape across a nearby river, but were recaptured.
Among those deported in the past weeks were 268 Bangladeshis, 124 Pakistanis, 11 Indians and 41 Chinese. Only 15 were women, all of them Chinese.
One of the world’s poorest countries, Mozambique had to raise the funds to repatriate them. The Chinese embassy and the Muslim community in Maputo carried some food and repatriation costs, though other donors are unknown.
South Africa, the continent’s richest country, is a magnet for African migrants, but a spate of arrests this year indicate a new wave from Asia.
In January, Mozambican police arrested 148 Bangladeshis in a raid around Maputo’s airport. Later that month, a South African farmer discovered 96 Asians on his land just across the border.
Last month, six Indians and six Thais were found trying to enter neighboring countries illegally through central and northern Mozambican towns.
Mozambican police worry those arrested are just a fraction of the migrants trying to get to South Africa.
“We have no doubt that this avalanche of people can create national instability,” Chefo said.