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Fighting Human Trafficking in Nigeria through Awareness Raising

Channel1 Los Angeles
08 de Agosto de 2018

In 2017, Promise hopped on a boat crammed with 60 other passengers headed to Italy. Soon after reaching Italian shores, the promise of a job at a hair salon vanished, and she was forced into prostitution instead. The Nigerian woman was forced to work for 12 hours at a time in 40-degree heat before Sicilian police rescued and referred her to IOM, the UN Migration Agency for protection.

Unfortunately, Promise’s story is not an isolated case, but a poignant reminder of the risks that migrants face on their journeys toward greener pastures. One of these risks is human trafficking, a scourge that thousands of Nigerians are exposed to as many of them continue to move irregularly.

Between April 2017 and July 2018, 9,159 Nigerian migrants returned to their country of origin with IOM assistance after attempting to reach countries such as Germany and Italy, pushed by the dearth of economic prospects back home. Some of these migrants recount witnessing humans “being sold like animals” in Libya.

According to an IOM report from 2017, West African migrants are the group most likely to be vulnerable to exploitative practices on the migration journey. The report also states that “the highest predicted probabilities of positive responses, namely reporting experiences of exploitation or trafficking on the migration journey, are found amongst migrants predominantly on the Central migration route (CMR), the main route for national groups from West Africa.” The report also notes that 81 per cent of Nigerians on the CMR are likely to report these experiences.

In Nigeria, IOM’s primary counter-trafficking function is assisting victims, but other strategies have been adopted to combat this issue. For example, IOM has led awareness raising initiatives, taking its message to millions of households. In 2017, it announced the release of “The Missing Steps”, a mini-series that alerts Nigerian youth to the pitfalls of irregular migration, including falling prey to smugglers and traffickers. The mini-series was aired on NTA, Africa’s Largest TV network, reaching over 100 million viewers, and it starred a cast of actors from Nollywood, Nigeria’s booming, multi-billion-dollar film industry.

The series follows Joshua, a young Nigerian university student who migrates to Switzerland through irregular channels but is only able to work in the shadows in unsafe conditions. “The Missing Steps” not only warns viewers against migrating via risky routes but also highlights the opportunities available for Nigerians to move regularly.

Additionally, IOM has implemented prevention activities in the north-eastern part of the country. “Since May 2017, we have reached 3,800 internally displaced persons (IDPs), through sensitization and awareness-raising activities in IDP camps and host communities in Borno and Adamawa, including in Maiduguri and the Newly Accessible Areas (NAAs),” said Tolulope Alabi, IOM Nigeria Counter Trafficking Project Assistant. “These activities inform people to enable them to identify situations that may lead to trafficking.”

This year, the focus of the United Nations’ World Day Against Trafficking in Persons was ‘responding to the trafficking of children and young people’, who represent almost a third of trafficking victims worldwide. The onus to tackle human trafficking does not lie on these victims, but initiatives on the ground aim at making them less vulnerable by equipping them with reliable information.

“The most important thing is that you’ve learned the lesson that there are more regular ways of travelling,” says the protagonist’s father in the series’ final episode. With initiatives such as The Missing Steps, the hope is that fewer potential migrants will have to relive the characters’ bad experiences.

The “Missing Steps” series has been released on DVD and is now available on Youtube. Watch it here.

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