Regina Sakina and her two children, aged two and five.
“This is South Africa. Get out and find your way.”
With these words two refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were introduced to the continent’s most southern country. Little did they know a few weeks earlier that their arduous journey away from their war-torn country would end up in South Africa. Both became victims of what can only be described as human trafficking by long-distance truckers.
Regina Sakina and Chance Riziki, both from South Kivu Province in the DRC, fled after renewed attacks broke out in the province in June this year. “When war broke out in the province I had to flee from home. I managed to grab my two children, aged five and two, and we walked for almost two weeks,” tells the 22-year-old Sakina.
While fleeing, she received very little assistance from anyone, and they were depending on the bits of food that people left behind when passing them on the road to Burundi. “We ate the green leaves of trees we were familiar with until we reached Burundi,” she says.
At a truck stop in Burundi she met a long-distance truck driver, whom she remembered from the church back at home. She explained her dire situation to him. “He promised to take me to a place of safety and find me some form of employment,” says Sakina.
After a couple of days on the road, Sakina started to have her doubts about whether the saviour was really such a kind and gentle man. “I started to become suspicious when almost a week went by and we had not reached the promised place of safety. On the way I had no choice but to succumb to whatever he asked from me. I feared for my life. The driver sexually abused me daily right in the face of my children,” says Sakina.
For Sakina it was like running from one problem to another, more serious, one.
“For two weeks I did not know where we were going. Early on a chilly morning in mid-July the driver stopped near the office of the Musina Refugee Centre. The driver informed us that we were in South Africa and we needed to find our own way. I could not say any word because the driver was now rude. I grabbed my children and a small bag that contained some clothing and dragged myself to the refugee centre,” says Sakina.
More than four months later, Sakina is still staying at the refugee centre in Musina. She is worried about her parents back in the DRC, not knowing whether they are still alive.
The 23-year-old Chance Riziki had a similar story to tell. She is still confused as to how exactly she ended up in South Africa. She also was a victim of the long-distance truck drivers who promised to take her to a place of safety and find work.
In the DRC she was living with her parents, but then both parents were killed in the conflict that broke out. She fled and walked for a week to a place where she met a long-distance truck driver who promised her work at a nearby place, not far from the DRC.
“I never suspected that the driver was taking me to South Africa. On the way here he would abuse me. For fear of being dropped off in the midst of nowhere, I had to agree to whatever he demanded from me. I did not know that we crossed several borders before we arrived in Musina, South Africa,” says Riziki.
How the truck drivers manage to cross international borders without the passengers’ being detected is unclear. The passengers are often hidden in compartments in the cabin or at the back of the trucks.
The two women successfully applied for temporary asylum papers. They are currently staying at a women’s shelter in Musina. Both are unemployed.
“We get one meal per day. It’s not enough. We are always looking for any form of employment, but because we cannot speak the local language or English, people do not want to employ us,” they said.
News - Date: 17 November 2019
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Bernard Chiguvare is a Zimbabwean-born journalist. He writes mainly for the online publication, Groundup.
Email: [email protected]