Mon, Oct 26, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Halting Nigerian human trafficking priority: EU group

AP, LAGOS, Nigeria

In a Lagos suburb, 22-year-old Omo huddles over her battered mobile phone, scrolling through text messages to find the name of the Russian city where she was coerced into prostitution. It was two years ago and she had just finished her exams to enter university when her mother introduced her to an agent promising a sales job in Russia. She agreed to go hoping for a better future.

“I wanted to assist myself and my family, because I really wanted to go to school,” she said.

When she arrived in Pyatigorsk, a mountain city with a renowned health resort, her travel documents were taken from her and she was told she would be selling her body.

“They said if I don’t do it they will kill me,” she said, staring at the floor. “It was hell.”

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 170 million people, is a regional hub for human trafficking and more assistance is needed to help those who escape the exploitation to find a stable place back in Nigeria, experts who work with survivors said.

Nigeria tops the list of non-EU citizens registered as trafficking victims, according to this year’s Eurostat report released by the European Commission.

“Nigeria figures as one of our top priority countries of origin,” EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator Myria Vassiliadou told reporters.

To stop the exploitation cycle, reintegration assistance is as important as working to discourage Nigerians from initially being sent overseas to work as prostitutes, she said.

“People leave as vulnerable people and come back as vulnerable people,” Vassiliadou said. “What stands between them being trafficked again is reintegration support.”

As many as six out of 10 trafficked women in European capitals are Nigerian, estimates Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons.

The agency said it has rescued 8,006 people since it started in 2003.

Support for survivors when they return voluntarily or are deported back is crucial. Many face stigma and even rejection by their families and finding work and housing is a challenge, according to experts.

Like many Nigerians who are trafficked, Omo was sent into exploitation by a family member. She insisted on not giving her full name to avoid further stigmatization.

“They said I should bear it,” she said, when she called her family for help.

Desperate, she turned to a friend in Lagos, who found a flyer by an anti-trafficking organization in Lagos run by Roman Catholic nun Patricia Ebegbulem.

With the help of Ebegbulem, the International Organization for Migration and local police, Omo returned to Nigeria in March. When her family shunned her, Omo lived for a few months in Bakhita Villa, the Lagos shelter run by Ebegbulem where she learned computer skills and looked for a job.

Omo returned to Benin City, her hometown, after relations with her family improved. She is looking for work in order to save money to go to university, to study international relations in order to work to prevent child trafficking, she said.

Occasionally she travels to Lagos to assist the shelter by speaking about her experience to raise awareness.

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