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Opinions of Saturday, 15 August 2020

Columnist: Innocent Duru

Human traffickers in brutal exploits

In spite of the measures put in place by various governments to check the activities of human traffickers, the syndicates have continued to laugh all the way to the bank, leaving their victims to lick their own wounds.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that human trafficking generates $150.2 billion in illegal profits each year at the expense of innocent people’s lives. Many of the victims have returned home worse off financially and health wise than they were before travelling abroad purportedly for greener pastures, Innocent Duru reports.

Who are human traffickers and where can they be found? These are fundamental questions that hardly cross the minds of most victims of human trafficking as they innocently give themselves up to people they could wager would do them no harm.

The experience of Florence, an indigene of Edo State, reveals that traffickers could be anybody and could be found anywhere, including worship centres.

The young lady had completed her apprenticeship in hairdressing and started life with the skill she had acquired without any plan of travelling abroad to seek greener pastures. But the story changed when a trusted pastor in her church convinced her that she could be better off if she travelled abroad to practice the craft.

Since questioning the views of a clergy man is seen as a taboo in this part of the world, the dark complexioned lady accepted everything that the man of God told her hook, line and sinker, believing in the prophecy that her breakthrough and time to shine had come. She eventually travelled abroad with high hopes. But instead of a breakthrough, the journey became a huge setback for her life.

She said: “I was trafficked to Russia in 2017. They told me I was going to practice my handwork there, but it was not what they told me that I found on getting there. I started selling my body to men.

“Ironically, the man in charge of the journey was an assistant pastor in my church. He was the one who told me that I would be better off over there and would be better positioned to take care of myself and my family.

“But the story changed when I got to Russia. My madam, who was my pastor’s sister, told me to put my craft aside because the way I would pay her back was different from what they had told me. She said I would have to work as a prostitute to pay her back because that was the easiest way to get the money.”

Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Florence said she immediately realized that she had no choice in the matter, given the stern manner the woman spoke.

“She was speaking with threats. And since I had nobody to run to over there, I decided to do her wish. I paid a total of $45, 000 to my madam, even though I don’t know how much they spent for my travelling. The only thing they asked me to do was to obtain my passport, which I borrowed money to do. After the payment, things got bad. Her mother started asking for her own percentage.

“Before I left Nigeria, she had taken my finger nails, pant and hair from my pubic areas. I didn’t want to give it to her, but the pastor said I would have to do it because that was the only way I could gain the mother’s trust. I succumbed and gave all those things to her.”

Still living with the scars the heinous crime has left in her life, Florence added: “After paying her daughter’s money, she madam’s mother) said I would have to give her $1,000 before she would return the things she collected from me. She threatened that if I didn’t pay her, something terrible would happen to me.

“I subsequently called my mum and told her everything. I later raised about N20, 000 and sent it to the pastor to give to her mother. After receiving it, she called and asked why I had to send her that kind of money. She said I should know that she is a family woman and that I should have sent the money in dollars. She then said I should send more money within a week or face the consequences.

“After that call, I started having series of issues and a problem with my face. I thought it was something I could easily handle but it defied all treatments. They drove me out of the place where I was working and also sent me parking from my apartment in Moscow.

“It was at that point I told my mum exactly what I was doing there. She started crying and asked why I didn’t tell her about it all along. I could not tell her because I had no telephone and was only permitted to speak for a minute on my madam’s phone.”

Asked how she eventually overcame the problem with her face, Florence said: “It was when I returned to Nigeria that my face became okay. I sincerely don’t know how.

“The pastor denied me when they arrested him. He said he could only remember that I was an ordinary member in the church. Later, he turned round and said I was the one who came to tell him I wanted to travel out because I was frustrated.

“He was charged to court by NAPTIP, which took me to their shelter when I returned. I didn’t know when they granted the pastor bail. They wrote an undertaking that if anything happened to me, he would be held responsible.”

Naomi, another indigene of Edo State, told of how she met the man who trafficked her at the most unlikely place in the state.

She said: “I was trafficked to Russia by a man who I met at Ogida Barracks here in Edo State. He asked me if I was interested in travelling abroad and I said yes, but he never told me what I was going there to do.

“They used student documents to process my trip. They gave the impression that I was going there to study. When I got there, I was asked to do something that was entirely different. I had no choice but to do it because I was already there. I stayed in Russia for over four years and paid my madam a total of $40,000. I resided in St Petersburg.”

Describing her stay in Russia as unpleasant, Naomi added: “My madam was very mean. She denied me every form of freedom you can think about. I didn’t have freedom to buy a phone to call my family or the freedom to send money to them. She maltreated me and sometimes beat me up. She said there was no way I would go back without fully paying her and that I was free to go back or remain there after the payments.

“There was a day she beat me to the extent that blood was dripping from my nose and I could not breathe. I was down for more than an hour and she did not bother to take me to the hospital. It was a neighbour that helped me out.

“I took an oath before travelling. I vowed not to blackmail my madam and to pay her, her complete money.

“Only two of us embarked on the journey. But on getting to Russia, I saw a lot of Nigerians. When I say a lot, I mean a lot. I was paid 2,500 Robos for an hour. The owner of the place where we worked would take 1,250 Robos, they will collect 500 Robos for security and leave us with the balance. My madam didn’t allow me to save a dime. She had her eyes fixed on me always.”

Naomi recalled that she returned to Nigeria alongside Florence after wasting four odd years of her life in Russia. But despite her predicament, she said, her family was neither angry nor aggressive towards when she returned. “They were even happy that I came back alive,” she said.

“I couldn’t stay back after paying my madam, because I was frustrated. Things were not moving for me. It was like somebody introducing you to something and backed you up with some diabolical powers to make you succeed and pay the money you agreed to pay. After the contract, the success will fade off and you will be on your own.

“After completing the payment, I became ill. I was having cold and blood shortage. When I went to the hospital, a doctor advised me to return to Nigeria because it appeared the weather was very bad for my health.

“Human traffickers are terrible and horrible people. It is not something a young lady should experience."

Alaba, another victim, who was working as a nurse before travelling to Lebanon, said she was trafficked by someone who used to be her patient.

The young lady, who is stranded in the Middle East country, said in a chat with our correspondent: “The woman who trafficked me was someone I normally treated, being a nurse. I told her I wished I could have a shop to start my own business. She told me that I should try and go to Lebanon just to take care of the house of my boss.

“Unfortunately, I found myself in slavery here. I have not been paid salary for some months now, yet the agent (trafficker) kept pestering me to send money to her. I need help to leave this place and return home.”

How traffickers hounded me out of Nigeria – Ex IYAMIDR informant

After reading the first part of this report published last Saturday, an informant, whose whereabouts were said to be unknown, called from his base abroad to share his experience.

The former informant for Initiative for Youth Awareness on Migration, Immigration, Development and Reintegration (IYAMIDR), who identified himself simply as Wisdom, said: “While I was working for IYAMIDR, there was some information I was giving them about traffickers’ activities.

“There was particular information I gave the organisation not knowing that another person I had informed about the issue was one of the traffickers. When I passed the information to the President of IYAMIDR, Comrade Solomon Okoduwa, he swung into action immediately and got the suspects arrested. But before I knew it, I started receiving threat messages.

“In one of the messages, I was told to run away from the state (Edo) if I loved my life. One day, as I was returning from a journey, some guys came and started harassing me. They said, ‘You are showing off. You think we don’t know what you do? Your cup will soon be full. Don’t worry, very soon, all these things you are doing, you will not do them again here but in another planet.

“When the threats and other scary signs that I was seeing were becoming too much, I ran to Lagos. Before I travelled, some security operatives who I also trusted with information betrayed me. They were revealing my activities to some arrested traffickers, telling them I was the guy that masterminded their arrest.

“When I got all those information, I felt there was nobody to be trusted, so I made up my mind to leave Edo State.”

Did fleeing to Lagos State provide the needed solution to his problem?

Wisdom said no, adding: “After about two weeks in my sister’s place in Lagos, my in-law told me that I was not safe in Lagos too because they were looking for me. He said it was like I did something that was making them to be all out to hurt me. I said not really and went on to explain what happened. He said they were really bent on getting me and that it would be better for me to leave the country.

“Mafias and cultists are everywhere in the country. If they are out to get somebody, there is nowhere the person will go that they will not trace him.

“I had to raise money to leave the country. I left for Italy, but on getting there, I realized that Italy is an advanced extension of Nigeria. Everything that is happening in Nigeria is equally happening in Italy. Running to Italy was as good as still remaining in Nigeria.

“The information I also got in Italy was that the policemen there have information about the activities of Nigerians in Italy at the back of their hands. If you report to them that blacks are fighting, they will do as if you know where they are from. And once you say Nigeria, they will ask you to leave them.

“It is only when there is bloodshed or someone is killed that the police will show up, because they are already used to Nigerians lifestyle of gangsterism. The police there in Italy will tell you they are tired of Nigerians. When I got that information, I felt Italy would not be a safe place for me to stay.

“Before I started working as an informant, I was always quick to dismiss the claims by my friends that they were attacked by strange guys for daring to expose their activities. It was when I found myself in that situation that I knew my friends were not making frivolous claims.”

Working with survivors of human trafficking revealing and disturbing

Tayo Elegbede, Media Lead of The Migrant Project, a non-governmental organisation providing support for migrants, says their experience working with survivors of human trafficking has been “quite revealing and perhaps disturbing at some point.”

Through their counseling and psychological support sessions, he said, “we realised that most survivors are often overwhelmed and traumatized by their experiences. They are unsure of the future, family acceptance and public outlook, hence, they feel lonely and unwanted in the society.

“This understanding helps us to engage their mental and behavioural state, which is usually the starting point to help them relax and gain their trust to go through the needed therapy.

“At this point, empathy is reflected as against sympathy, to help them start the journey through psychological rewiring.

“Aside the psychological framework of the support, we realise their experiences often impact their health and physical wellbeing. Therefore, medical and humanitarian support is provided to salvage their conditions.”

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