In the face of considerable campaigns to curb irregular migration and the deportation of thousands of Nigerians deserted in Libya in Europe, we are yet to see the end of the dehumanization, suffering and oppression Nigerian migrants face outside the country in their pursuit of greener pastures.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) with the Nigerian government has enabled the return of over 10,000 Nigerians stranded in Libya between April 2017 and November 2018. Still, there is more work to be done, as droves of Nigerians keep leaving the country through the desert, heading towards Europe, but mostly ending up in Libya to be sold as slaves.
“As images of modern-day slavery in Libya are impugning the conscience of our political leaders, it must be recognized as part of a bigger, systemic problem,” said Leonard Doyle, the spokesman for the IOM.
71% of total victims worldwide are women and girls and 33% are children. 99% of the 4.8 million victims of commercial sexual exploitation in 2016 were women and girls, with one in five being children (ILO, 2017). From 2014 to 2016, the number of women trafficked for sex to Libya and across the Mediterranean increased by more than 600 percent, according to the IOM.
It has been noted that fewer women and girls are actually making it to Europe these days. The bulk of them are trapped in Libya, kidnapped, sold and held for ransom.
Faith Moses whose mother was deceived into letting her daughter take the journey, ended up influencing her daughter to embark on a trip that led her into all sorts of abuse and humiliation. She ended up being forced into sex work just to pay off debts to traffickers who claimed to help her. She was not alone when she traveled. Other girls with her suffered similar fates. Some, even worse than she did.
A factsheet published by the Pathfinders Justice Initiative reveals that “the overwhelming majority of trafficking victims and irregular migrants (70%) make the treacherous journey from Edo State (particularly Benin) and Delta States to Kano, from where they are smuggled into Niger or Algeria before traversing 500 miles over the Sahara Desert into Libya and/or Morocco. Irregular migration in Nigeria mainly stems from Edo, Delta (constituting almost 70%), Ogun, Imo and Oyo.”
Pathfinders goes on to disclose that “Edo State is an internationally recognized sex trafficking hub, with built in infrastructures and networks which support the sale of human bodies.
“Although only 4.1 million on Nigeria’s 180+ million live in Edo State, an astounding 94% of all Nigerian women trafficked to Europe for prostitution hail from Edo State (UNDOC, 2016), with Italy being the number one destination country. In general, 7/10 trafficked from Nigeria are from Edo (men, women and children).”
In 2003, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute Report established that “virtually every Benin family has one member or the other involved in trafficking either as a victim, sponsor, madam or trafficker.”
Another report, states that at least 80% of the households in Edo State are somehow related to trafficking, meaning that 1 in every 3 young women in Edo has been recruited.
Female returnees who have their origins from Benin, when sharing stories of how they got recruited, would explain that they were told wonderful tales by traffickers or buggers (returnees now turned traffickers) about the life they would begin to live in Europe. Some of the ladies were approached by friends; many of them, especially those who were underage, were roped in by family members. All their stories run along similar lines. It was hardly ever a stranger who walked up to them and recruited them. Even for those who were meeting the traffickers or their agents for the first time, it was always through someone who was a mutual acquaintance.
Faith Moses was told by her mother about the amazing prospects of schooling and working in Italy. Her mother had already been lied to by an agent who worked with a trafficker. The man was respected in their community. To ensure that they even trusted him further, he sent his younger brother on the trip with Faith. Although the young man stopped along the way, his presence gave credibility to the agent’s claims and assuaged whatever fears Faith and her mother nursed. With situations like theirs, we see how easy it is to convince families to willingly hand over their daughters to traffickers.
Lack of, or little education makes these young girls and their families targets of traffickers. Poverty, prior history of sexual abuse, peer pressure, family pressure and unemployment. Other social and economic factors that plague Nigeria also play a huge role in the perpetuation of human trafficking. These factors include unemployment, poverty, high demand for sex workers in transit and destination countries, societal indifference, gender inequality, civic unrests, insufficient awareness of the dangers of trafficking, bad governance, amongst others.
Religion has also played a huge role in the progress of human trafficking. We hear stories of religious leaders acting as recruiters for the traffickers. In certain situations, the clergy do it out of good intentions, being ignorant of the dangers of irregular migration. In other cases, they are aware of the crime they commit, and always get their own share of the proceeds made from each person they recruit.
Traffickers would often take the girls they have convinced to travel to shrines and have them swear an oath of secrecy, never to reveal details of their trip to anyone. Disclosing the identities of the traffickers and the ritualists by victims is usually very difficult. The victims are hence, trapped by fear that keeps some of them silent even after they return.
Ivie, a returnee from Libya, who now works with a couple of NGO’s in Benin, explains that beyond the silence, a good number of female returnees, now hardened by the hardships they have faced, go on to become small-time traffickers themselves. They make money off unsuspecting victims who are quick to trust a fellow female that has been on the trip herself. Some of them cash in big in Libya and become “madams” eventually. According to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Nigeria’s primary anti-trafficking authority, women make up more than 40 percent of convicted traffickers.
The figures are disturbing, as well as the fact that thousands would still be deceived into irregular migration. The question, then is, what is the government of Nigeria doing to curb this problem?
Presently, Nigeria is collaborating with the EU/IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration. It was established in 2016, following the Valletta Summit in 2015, in which Nigeria participated. On its own, the government is also repatriating survivors via NAPTIP.
Joy Amadi, a survivor and a returnee from Russia tells how a certain notable attaché from the Nigerian embassy in Russia facilitated her escape from the brothel she was held captive in, and ensured she returned home to Nigeria. Joy had other girls in her company who had been rescued by the man as well.
However, a lot more needs to be done, especially in areas like Edo State, where irregular migration is rife. NGOs like Pathfinders Justice Initiative and Patriotic Citizen Initiative have stood on the forefront, and are still doing so, to ensure that irregular migration and trafficking of persons become something of the past. Not only do they run active and concentrated campaigns to ensure that information is disbursed accordingly, they also offer survivors and returnees, rehabilitation plans, vocational training, peer-to-peer support and mentoring, community-based support, free education, free shelter and healthcare, job placements, legal and financial guidance.
Still, they cannot bear the load alone. Individuals, groups, religious bodies, schools, and even the private sector can create a resounding impact.
Too may have been lost at sea and in the desert. Our women and girls are being sold and abused, killed and counted as part of the statistic. You don’t have to be related to any of them to be part of the movement to end irregular migration. You would be saving girls like Faith Moses and Joy Amadi who are about to embark on the journey and are not aware of the dangers that lie ahead. You can be a positive influencer.
To be part of this campaign to end irregular migration, or you suspect that somebody is about to be trafficked, please contact:
- Twitter @PathfindersJI
- Instagram @PathfindersJI
- Facebook at PathFinders Justice Initiative, Inc.
To volunteer, email: firstname.lastname@example.org