By Ivan Nganwa
KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) - A group of 28 Rwandans returned safely home from neighboring Burundi late Monday, after failing to get visas to Australia, in what police believe was a human trafficking scam meant to sell them into sexual crimes and forced labor.
The victims, all young men, women, and children aged 13-35, have since rejoined their families, as police track down an alleged Australian man suspected to have posed as an evangelical pastor to recruit the victims.
Police say they are still investigating whether Australia was the intended destination or a transit to another country.
They had spent two months in Burundi, where they were eventually denied visas. Knowing their location, Rwandan police contacted Burundian officials about their situation, who advised them to voluntarily return to Rwanda.
“They were duped into believing they could get a dream life in Australia only to get stuck midway in Burundi where they had been taken apparently to process travel documents. This is after some of them had sold everything they owned in Rwanda just to pay the ‘pastor’ thousands of dollars in order to prepare for them ‘jobs’ in Australia,” police spokesperson Celestin Twahirwa told a news conference.
According to police, the victims met the suspect during a crusade in Rwanda in June, where he secretly convinced them of a better life in Australia at a “specific cost” which he charged for their travel documents.
“We investigate such cases and it never goes well for the victims. Once they cross into the country where the human trafficker wants them to go, they are exploited in very inhumane ways,” Twahirwa said.
“Human trafficking remains a concern that requires everyone’s attention; and we shall carry on investigations to ensure that all those who were involved in this crime are arrested.”
A report released by the United States in July indicated that East African states do not fully comply with international minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking and modern slavery.
Rwanda and Tanzania failed to provide evidence of increased efforts to combat severe forms of human trafficking in 2015, the report said.