Border Resident Communities - New Hiding Places for Migrant Smugglers

Some African borders are just a dirt road used by local communities and traders for centuries.

By Marcellino Ramkishun

IOM and Tanzania are looking into ways to facilitate regular cross –border mobility and decrease irregular migration and migrant smuggling in border resident communities with the proposed introduction of Border Resident Cards (BRCs).

Communities who live on borders in many African countries today face serious challenges and are often caught between the administrative processes of two States.

While free cross-border trade has been an accepted practice among such communities - sometimes since centuries - the lack of administration of borders is now being targeted by migrant smugglers as a loophole that can be exploited. Cross-border trade has always been regarded as normal and many local people tend to regard borders even as “artificial”; for professional migrant smugglers, this also offers an opportunity to move their “cargo” anonymously between States.

In January 2015, a delegation from the IOM African Capacity Building Centre (ACBC) visited the Tarakea border post between Tanzania and Kenya to assess the situation of border resident communities. Tarakea has been identified as a possible area for migrant smuggling from Kenya into Tanzania.

Tanzanian immigration authorities in the city of Moshi have in the past identified and detained Somali and Ethiopian irregular migrants and there is a growing suspicion that Somali smugglers are entering the country through the Tarakea border. Smugglers and irregular migrants mingle with locals to avoid checks, particularly on market days towards the end of each month, when the border is effectively open. Smuggled  migrants can often find themselves in highly vulnerable situations.   

After taking the migrants – many of them from the Horn of Africa - across the border, smugglers temporarily house them in the cities of Himo, Moshi and Arusha for two or three days, before moving them on to Malawi and, ultimately, to South Africa. This phenomenon has surfaced in the last five years and was first identified in 2009 by IOM and described in the publication In Pursuit of the Southern Dream.

A Tanzanian immigration officer at the Tarakea Border, Said Hajj, showed the IOM team one such border - a dirt road, with residents living and farming on both sides.

“This is very challenging for the officers stationed at these border crossing points, as the volume of crossings per day is impossible to track,” he said. “The lack of computerized data capture likewise limits the ability of officers to check and verify travelers’ information.”

IOM’s proposed Border Resident Card will be issued to all border residents registered in the area.  At every border crossing, the card can be logged into the database to track movements. Data captured over a period of six months will become the baseline data to influence any change in strategy and policy. This will also assist in identifying non-border residents.

Border resident cards work well where there are bilateral relations between countries sharing a border, and where intensive cross-border movements take place for various economic, social or cultural reasons. The use of border resident cards promises to be a viable means of regulating local border traffic without compromising the security and integrity of the borders. The cards will also work in compliance with the immigration rules of the two countries engaged in a formal local border traffic agreement.