Police are still hunting for 15 Pakistanis who fled on Sunday after the law enforcers busted a hideout in Lilongwe’s Area 49 residential area, allegedly for flouting immigration rules.

Lingadzi Police Station spokesperson Salome Chibwana said that about 15 Pakistanis were still at large while the three arrested on the scene on Sunday were still in police custody.

She added that police were still keeping about 15 passports belonging to the Pakistanis that are on the run. The three, she said, appeared in court yesterday for plea where they pleaded not guilty.

Said Chibwana: “We’re still hunting for them or hoping they will surrender themselves to us. Our CID [Criminal Investigation Department] officers have also been investigating the matter and interviewing the arrested.

“The passports show that they entered Malawi through KIA [Kamuzu International Airport] and the passports are duly stamped by Immigration. But we’re yet to make a breakthrough.”

The police spokesperson said preliminary investigations, however, were pointing to the group being foreign nationals brought into the country to work for foreign-owned businesses for low pay.

The 15, according to photographs that went viral on social media, were seen overloaded in a double cabin Ford Ranger, with a South African registration, as they escaped from their hideout to an unknown destination.

After people in the neighbourhood reported to police of their suspicious activities at the hideout, police found the 15 gone but arrested the three.

In November 2018, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in conjunction with Malawi Police Service arrested 20 Pakistanis and their agents for attempting to enter the country using illegally obtained visas.

ACB said at the time the arrest was part of a probe the bureau launched into allegations of connivance among public officers in allowing foreigners to use the country as a transit route to other southern African countries.

The United States of America (USA) Government last year downgraded Malawi for failing to meet “minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking”, observing that police, Immigration and some diplomats are worryingly facilitating the vice.

In a 2019 Human Trafficking Report, the USA State Department ranked Malawi as a second tier country. Second tier is a category of countries meeting minimum requirements on fighting human trafficking but facing critical challenge.

The three Pakistanis were charged with an offence of kidnapping in order to subject person to ransom contrary to Section 263 of the Penal Code and child trafficking contrary to Section 79 (1) of Child Care, Protections and Justice Act.

They pleaded not guilty.

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