Human trafficking in ECOWAS
THAT it took so long for countries in the West African sub-region to collectively move to tackle the scourge of trafficking in persons across borders is bad enough. But to delay further any implementation of the “cross-cutting strategies” among member-states to put an end to desperate citizens being trafficked to Europe adopted by the ECOWAS Commission would amount to condoning slavery in modern times.
Apart from “aggressive enlightenment’’ being contemplated as a battle
strategy, whatever other stringent measures to cage perpetrators of the evil act must be adopted by the commission and made binding on individual countries.
The situation is made worse because most victims end up in far worse conditions in the desert on their way to the ports of Spain and Italy, where they are subjected to inhuman and degrading lives. Many get stuck in Libya in particular and are sold off to waiting buyers who eventually turn the females into sex slaves or place a high price tag on them in dollars if they so wish to retrace their steps back home.
According to reports, the proposed enforcement will be approached from three perspectives of prevention, provision and protection – the first addressing how systems could be strengthened with specific structures, the second to ensure that education is made available to the people while community engagement and public enlightenment will be the thrust of the protection plan. The protection strategy will establish national referral mechanism that ensures appropriate capacity for institutional and non-institutional care of victims, support assistance to witnesses and prosecution, use of community policing, labour inspections and financial probes.
It is heartwarming that the scheme will not lack foreign support as the commission will enjoy the assistance of the Free Movement and Migration consortium, based on a programme by the European Union (EU). The counter-trafficking component boasts of support of consortium members of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Clearly, assistance is required for all-round success, but the commitment and determination of ECOWAS member-states are material to any breakthrough. It is no secret that many of the unfortunate victims of the illicit act who are transported from Nigeria are moved across the borders of no fewer than six countries in the sub-region, the major route, before ending up in the desert hoping to further continue into Europe.
A greater number of them are not so lucky these days for reasons of inclement weather, food shortage, deaths on high seas and tighter restrictions at European ports of entry. Many die of torture and rape in the hands of rebels and criminals. Men who prove stubborn are mercilessly treated and are at times murdered by rebels and criminals who specialise in extorting money from travellers.
Lucky survivors have returned with their experiences of journeys “to hell” having been confronted with sights of “dry human skulls and decomposed bodies” on a daily basis. Parents have lamented children’s plight in the hands of traffickers and the misfortune of their misguided young men and women who went on this journey. Incredibly, these horrible experiences have not fully deterred hundred others in the desperation for a hardly available greener pastures in Europe.
Traffickers employ all sorts of tricks to lure unsuspecting young people away from their equally naïve and ignorant parents, always baiting them with attachment to some phony jobs that would positively change their lives and the family’s.
Some desperate ones are even tricked into paying huge amounts to cover documentation and air passage but are eventually deceived into going by road because the wicked traffickers plead “financial challenges.”
Statistics given the other day by the Lagos zone of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) are heart-rending: in seven months between January and July this year alone, the zone rescued 281 persons and reunited 252 persons with families after thorough investigation involving a process of rescue, rehabilitation and reintegration of victims at the NAPTIP Shelter.
Certainly, this ugly trend cannot continue. Family values must be restored to save the country from constant embarrassment in the international community. All stakeholders – governments, parents, security agencies, civil society groups and faith-based organisations – have a stake in the success of the campaign.
Parents have a duty to properly direct the young ones and watch their every step, irrespective of any unfavourable economic situation. Security agencies need to step up intelligence gathering to fully crack down on the trafficking rings. More of public awareness is required, to educate the youth that there are no greener pastures anywhere other than where such is nurtured. And home is the best place to start, irrespective of the failures of the governments. Campaign in schools, town hall meetings and mobilisation through the media, including especially the social media, to reach the vulnerable is advised. NAPTIP may have to collaborate more with NGOs, schools, and security agents to make its efforts yield better results.
Every responsible government under the ECOWAS banner should see the scourge of human trafficking as an assault on the humanity of the people and a systematic depletion of Africa’s human resources. Potential victims of human trafficking for whatever purpose must be saved from themselves. Slavery belongs in the past and must not be allowed to return in any guise. Any modern version of the evil must be discouraged and where it has taken root, must be stamped out.