Eritrean national Medhaine Yahdego Mered, labelled the world’s most wanted man for his notorious human trafficking racket, was travelling on a Ugandan passport.
A highly-placed source said Mered’s passport carried the name Habte Amanuel purporting to be a Ugandan.
The source said Mered has been operating between Khartoum and Juba in Sudan and South Sudan, respectively, funnelling refugees to Kampala for a price – a criminal exercise he has carried on for the last two years.
Police spokesperson Patrick Onyango said yesterday that they “would have to first verify information” that the smuggler was travelling on a Ugandan passport.
His revelation will cast a further shadow over Uganda’s Immigration Department where former director, Godfrey Sasaga and commissioner, Anthony Namara, were sacked last month on the orders of President Museveni.
The sacking came amid reports that immigration officials have long been selling Ugandan passports to international criminals, including Nigerian and other West African drug peddlers.
Onyango said he has spoken to Interpol’s Ugandan office to see if they have received notice for the arrest of Mered who is reported to be living somewhere in Kampala. By press time, the Interpol office had not given a response.
Other sources told The Observer that: “In Sudan, he was not hiding from anyone. Some Eritreans would come to him and he would smuggle them to Uganda,” said another source, who leaves with some people who are here because of Mered.
He operated under the nickname “General” in a venture where he’s managed to amass huge sums of dollars – facilitating his luxurious life in Kampala and using the same money to avoid arrest.
Last week, Swedish television SVT and the Guardian UK newspaper revealed that 35-year-old Mered, wanted for smuggling thousands of Africans through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, is living the high life in Uganda.
In a case of mistaken identity, European and Italian prosecutors arrested a refugee in 2013 from Khartoum claiming they had arrested Mered. According to the Guardian, Medhanie Tesfamariam Behre was extradited and prosecuted by mistake with prosecutors insisting he was Mered, the smuggler.
DNA tests on this refugee’s mother have come out negative while the smuggler’s wife who lives in Sweden has spoken that the person they are holding is not her husband.
The hunt for Mered and his affiliates began after the shipwreck of October 3, 2013, off the island of Lampedusa, where 368 mostly Somali and Eritrean migrants died.
The Observer has been told that most Eritreans would cross from Eritrea to Khartoum, where at a fee, Mered would smuggle them to Uganda. From here, a witness said, the refugees would be told never to tell anyone that they were smuggled in by Mered. He would tell them that they would be deported if they reported him.
According to the Guardian, the smuggler was a regular patron at Hotel Diplomate, Molober, a bar located off Muyenga road in Kabalagala, a popular hangout with Eritreans, and Sami’s bar in the same area.
Another witness told the Guardian that some people just don’t know who to report to and fear for their own lives.
“Even if we tell [Uganda] police, they will not arrest him,” a witness said. “He is rich and can pay anyone to get his freedom.”
One witness said Mered moves with four or three Ugandan guards. “They are Ugandans and not from a registered security company. He keeps changing guards.”
The revelation has blown the lid off a human smugglers network in Uganda. Informed sources say that there are more traffickers and smugglers in Kampala because it is safe to work from.
“They find it a safe haven,” said a source, who worked on a case of Eritreans deported from Israel with no clear documents to stay in Uganda in 2015.
There is a house in the posh Kololo area of Kampala, where the smuggled refugees are kept for two days before being let loose on the streets.
Some of those kept at the Kololo house have been deported from Israel to Rwanda from where they are again smuggled back into Uganda, we have been told.
The source said one smuggler in 2015 brought Eritrean refugees and abandoned them in Kampala after taking $10,000 from them.
According to our source, the trafficker was then arrested, briefly detained in Kabalagala, and released after he promised to refund money. He only paid back $600 and was freed, the source said.