Job seekers-turned-prostitutes in Dubai, Egypt lament
Some teenage Nigerian girls rescued from traffickers’ den in Libya share bitter experiences with OLALEYE ALUKO, lamenting that hundreds are still trapped in sex slavery abroad
Five young women stepped out of a white bus, clutching small travelling bags to their sides on Oba Aladejobi Close, Ikeja, Lagos State. Except for their bio-data which showed that they were aged between 18 and 19 years, their physical appearances looked older and out of shape.
The white bus belonged to the government’s anti-trafficking agency, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, and the girls had just been rescued from a human traffickers’ camp in Sabratah, Libya.
They put up a frown as they sat on a chair in the NAPTIP office, waiting for officials to profile them through a brief interview. The time was 6.15pm on Wednesday, October 25.
One of the teenagers was Sandra Ali (not real name), an 18-year-old school-leaver who lived in Benin, Edo State.
“My parents are separated,” she told our correspondent.
“My father is a bricklayer and my mother is a trader. I am the first of four siblings. We lived in Benin, Edo State. I stopped going to school after my senior secondary school education. A young woman called Hope came to our area sometime in June and brought up the idea of travelling to Italy.
“She had been to Italy in October 2016 and the idea sounded good to me. She told me I would find a job in Italy to take care of my siblings. She then connected me to one Bright who till now stays in Libya. Bright directed me to a park in Auchi, Edo State, where I boarded a bus going to Kano. From Kano, about 15 girls and I were received by a man who got us on another bus. The bus travelled on the road for three weeks. We were taken to a ghetto in Sabratah, Libya.
“We spent two months in the ghetto in Sabratah, Libya. During those two months, we had no water to drink. Some of the girls died. The burgers (traffickers who are to take us across the Mediterranean Sea into Italy) brought all sorts of men to the camp to have sex with girls. I was a victim too. They told us that we were hustlers and we would have to cross the sea into Italy and Spain when the police patrol was minimal.
“After about two months, soldiers came to raid the place and we were taken to the deportation camp in Tripoli. But there are several other hideouts in Sabratah where girls are being kept by traffickers, waiting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.”
Ali’s story is not much different from the other four girls’, who were all rescued through the combined efforts of the International Organisation for Migration, the Nigerian Embassy in Libya and NAPTIP.
Traffickers hide hundreds of Nigerian girls in Libyan camps
Our correspondent learnt that human trafficking syndicates in Libya have camps in Misratah, Sabratah, and Az Zawiyah, which are all Libyan coastal areas, from where they attempt to take their victims across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.
It was gathered that victims would first land in Agadez, Niger Republic, after a five-day journey by land from Kano State in Nigeria, before journeying to the Libyan camps through the Sahara Desert.
The Sahara Desert spans at least 11 African countries, and our correspondent gathered that trafficked Nigerians have been rescued from five of them in 2017 alone. The desert cuts through Mauritania, Morocco, Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Chad, Niger and Sudan.
According to statistics obtained from NAPTIP, the largest number of returnees is from Libya. Between February and April 2017, 1,134 Nigerians were deported for various offences including human trafficking, smuggling of migrants and non-possession of valid travel documents.
Out of that number, Libya had the largest quota of returnees of Nigerians which was 905 persons; Mali had 41; Burkina Faso 26; Ghana 14; one from Cameroon; eight from Cote d’Ivoire; and two from Togo.
Another Libyan returnee, 19-year-old Nancy Garba (not real name) from Okogbo village, Delta State, told our correspondent that she spent two months at the traffickers’ camp in Sabratah.
Garba, an orphan, explained that she was jobless after her secondary school education, adding that she was promised a lucrative trading job in Italy.
She said, “I was staying with my grandmother in Okogbo village, before a man, Alex, asked me to come with him to Italy to work as a salesgirl. I agreed; I left home without my grandmother’s consent. I am the second of three children.
“We spent three days in Agadez, before proceeding to Libya. In Agadez, there was no water and you could simply die of thirst. The water supplies we took along might not be enough for the large population. I was taken to the camp at Sabratah, where I stayed for two months.
“Within those two months, traffickers went out to spy in order to determine the appropriate time they would need to take victims across the sea. There are thousands of people in the camps. They took girls out in batches. Most of us are under 20 years old. While in Libya, we had to survive by living as commercial sex workers.
“I came back to Lagos, after arrests by the Libyan police on October 25. I was transferred from Lagos to the NAPTIP office in Benin, Edo State.”
Our correspondent spoke with other returnees from Libya who confirmed that many under-aged Nigerian girls were currently stranded in Libyan camps, hoping they would not die while being forced to cross the Mediterranean Sea by their traffickers.
My life is empty, says 19-year-old trafficked to Dubai
Our correspondent learnt that it is not all the trafficked Nigerian teenage girls that end up in Libyan camps.
Some are trafficked to countries such as Malaysia and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, to work as commercial sex workers.
Such was the case of Joy Idris (not real name), a 19-year-old returnee who is currently in NAPTIP shelter, after being trafficked to Dubai, the UAE, to work as a sex worker for three months.
Idris had a long sad tale to narrate to our correspondent.
“I left Nigeria on February 19. The people who arranged my travelling said I was going to work as a hair stylist in Dubai. But when we flew to Dubai, I discovered it was prostitution. I said to the madam, but you did not tell me this. She replied that it is either I choose to work or to die.
“I knew I had no option but to work as a sex worker. I was introduced to these agents by my aunt. She and I were staying in Benin, Edo State. After I finished my secondary school education, I was seeking admission into a higher institution when the travelling came up.
“But since I got to Dubai in February, I worked as a sex worker until May 2017. The daily proceeds from the sex work went to my madam. There are so many of us, Nigerian girls, in Dubai working as prostitutes. I can’t even count the number. All of us complain and lament that we want to go back home. My madam usually harassed me. Even when I was feeling sick, she insisted that I must go and get ‘customers.’ In the evenings, I went out for sex. It was the native Arabs who were our customers.”
Idris, who was rescued and deported on May 19, 2017, told our correspondent that she was arrested by the police in Dubai one evening and she had to locate the Nigerian embassy in Dubai who assisted in her return.
“I am just trying to start a new life. My life is empty. I don’t feel like returning to school. My mind is no more in school. I want the government to stop the traffickers. There are a lot of girls in danger. A lot of people die during these travels,” she added.
Polytechnic graduate of Accounting turns cleaner in Egypt
Our correspondent was told by a NAPTIP official that another common deception used by the human traffickers to lure young ladies, particularly job seekers, to North Africa and Europe was to dangle fake job adverts before them.
While at the NAPTIP office in Lagos, our correspondent met Amina Peters (not real name), a National Diploma holder in Accounting from the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta, Ogun State, who was trafficked to Cairo, Egypt.
She was trafficked on September 13, 2017, and ended up working as a cleaner and nanny.
Peters, who looked pale from stress, explained to our correspondent that the “job agents” had promised her a white-collar job in Egypt, with which she could also study for a bachelor’s degree.
She said, “I came back last Wednesday (November 2). I spent one month and two weeks in Cairo. I left Nigeria on September 13. I went with a friend. His name is Kehinde. He promised to assist me and I believed him.
“He and the person who asked me to come over to Cairo assured that there were job vacancies in that country for me. They said I could also study at the same time to get a higher degree. I finished school in 2015. The traffickers said they would assist me with the job and education. My parents even went to Kehinde’s place and he assured them that the trip was for a good job and schooling.
“But when I got to Egypt, I was idle for about five days, while staying with him. Thereafter, I was introduced to an Egyptian woman, who said my work would be cleaning and to be a nanny. The woman has three children. She said she was staying in Kuwait and recently moved to Egypt.
“My traffickers lied to the woman that I had stayed in Egypt for many years so that she could employ me. I worked round the clock. The work was stressful. I almost passed out. The madam did not allow me to leave the premises. She locked the gates whenever she went out.
“When I complained to those men who assisted me, they said I would get used to it. In the end, I was able to force my way out. I was assisted back to our country through the help of the Nigerian embassy in Cairo. They called NAPTIP and explained my predicament. All the money the Egyptian woman was to pay me, went to my agent. I got nothing.”
Syndicates abduct teenage girls from home- NAPTIP
The NAPTIP Director-General, Julie Okah-Donli, told our correspondent that some human traffickers literally “abducted teenage girls from their homes” and took them to Libya and other African countries.
She added that not all Nigerians being enslaved in other African countries were trafficked, as some were victims of “irregular migration.”
Okah-Donli explained, “There are so many factors responsible for this. First is deception. Most victims are deceived that they are going to get better jobs. Many of them are taken against their will through the use of threats. Some are even abducted. Libya returnees have been arriving in several batches. This is not to say that all of them are victims of human trafficking.
“We profile the returnees and deal only with victims of human trafficking. The other persons are victims of irregular migration. Other agencies such as the Nigerian Immigration Service, NEMA and other non-governmental organisations take care of other victims.
“The trend of deportation of Nigerians from different parts of the world, especially in Africa in recent times, is frightening and we must change this trend by providing an environment attractive to keep our people gainfully at home.
“The incident of Nigerians being trafficked through the Sahara desert is not just a problem of porous borders. There are many factors responsible. I will not as much blame the borders as the syndicates who smuggle migrants out of the country. They are criminal network gangs who work in conjunction with some law enforcement agencies at our borders.”
Some victims return from Libya with pregnancies –NCFRMI
Our correspondent learnt that it is not only NAPTIP that monitors the statistics of returnees. The National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons said at the beginning of November that 3,480 young Nigerians, mostly girls, had been deported from Libya in the last 10 months.
The South-West Coordinator of the commission, Magret Ukegbu, said some of the girls returned with pregnancies.
“We have found out that the IOM, the European Union, the Dutch and Swiss governments were instrumental in the deportations of these Nigerians from Libya. Some of the young girls returned with pregnancies. There are more than 12,000 young Nigerians in prisons or stranded in different parts of Libya.
“The commission believes that it is not enough to receive these young Nigerians. The commission is working to ensure that the deportees are re-integrated appropriately into the society,” she explained.
Also, the National Emergency Management Agency gave the statistics of Libyan returnees for October. The agency said 826 Nigerians returned in October, who had planned to escape to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.
A NEMA official said the returnees comprised 216 women, 13 female teenagers, 27 men, 18 teenage boys and nine baby boys.
‘European syndicates get $32bn revenue yearly from trafficking’
Our correspondent learnt from the office of the director general of NAPTIP that syndicates of human trafficking in Europe alone raked in between $32bn and $150bn yearly from trafficking.
“The profit is extremely high,” said NAPTIP DG, Okah-Donli.
“We are talking about profits in prostitution, child pornography, organ harvesting and a lot of other vices they use trafficked victims for. There are a lot of people queuing up for organs transplant in these foreign countries and they are ready to buy these organs at any amount. They are desperate to live so they buy a lot of organs.
“You know that the business of human trafficking gives Europe between $32bn and $150bn yearly. The profit is huge. Our agency cannot do it alone. We now have national, local and international partners. We also partner with law enforcement agencies. We all need to complement one another’s efforts.
“You should also understand that most of our foreign partners come from countries where human trafficking is also endemic. The traffickers bring up new strategies and we know them. I will not disclose how we want to outsmart them because revealing that information will give them an edge over us. We want to be ahead of them. They are fake job agencies and we are going to smoke them out very soon.
“We discover that some of these traffickers are even bold enough to bring out fake job adverts where they claim they are able to procure housemaids, stewards, cooks, drivers, nannies and other menial jobs. They work with some local agents who look around for those interested in these jobs.”
The NAPTIP DG noted that Nigerians seeking jobs abroad should seek clarification from authorities to authenticate the credibility of the employment.
She said, “Another category of these traffickers is some football club agents. They deceive our young boys and girls that they are going to sign them up in some foreign sports academies. They take them there to start working as sex slaves, factory workers and donors of organs harvesting. A lot of evils are going on in these fake agencies.
“My appeal to Nigerians seeking travel is to be wary of fake agencies offering them jobs. If you are in doubt, contact NAPTIP for clarification. If anyone offers you a foreign job or wants to send you abroad and says don’t tell anybody, then that should be a signal that evil is about to happen to you.”
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