Tuesday, February 28, 2017 9:15 am
The Federal Government on Monday evacuated 41 Nigerian girls who were trafficked to Mali for forced labour and sexual exploitation.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that six persons, alledged to be human traffickers, were also arrested and brought back to the country alongside their victims.
The Hercules C-130 military aircraft, with registration number NAF 913, conveying the returnees landed at 7:45 pm at the Airforce Base of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.
They were brought back by the Nigeria Air Force in collaboration with the Office of the Senior Special Assistant, Diaspora and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).
They were received at the Hajj Camp area of the airport by officers of the NAPTIP and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS).
Addressing newsmen, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, commended the Chief Of Defence Staff, for facilitating the return of the victims to the country.
“We want to thank the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sadique Abubakar, and the Chief of Defence Staff, Maj Gen. Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, for making the return of the girls possible, otherwise they would have still be there.
“The girls came back voluntarily. Some of these girls are between 15 and 17 years old who thought they were being taken to Europe for greener pastures but ended up with traumatic experiences in the hands of their traffickers and their madam.
“So they should not be ashamed of themselves because they are victims. We are going to rehabilitate them through skills acquisition programmes. I am therefore calling on non-governmental organisations to join us in this regard,” she said.
Dabiri-Erewa advised Nigerian parents to watch their children carefully and ensure that they don’t succumb to peer pressure and other activities that could exposed them to traffickers.
She confirmed that six of the alleged traffickers, who were arrested and brought back to the country, would be handed over to the appropriate authorities for prosecution.
According to her, the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration remains committed to the welfare of Nigerians all over the world, hence this intervention.
Also speaking, Mr Joseph Famakinwa, Zonal Commander, NAPTIP, South-West Zone, said 512 victims were returned to the zone in 2016.
Famakinwa said Nigerians needed to go back to the basics of bringing up their children uprightly and discouraging the ‘get rich quick’ syndrome.
He said poverty was not solely responsible for the increase in the human trafficking, stressing that other factors such as negligence, peer pressure and greed were also responsible.
“Once the girls have been rescued, we take them to our shelter houses where they are received by trained counselors who assist them in overcoming their trauma.
“After counseling, for those who don’t want to go back to school, we give them a vocational training of their choice and also assist them to set up their businesses.
“We also meet with their families to let them know that being victims of human trafficking is not the end of the world and advised them on how to render support to the girls,” Famakinwa said.
He said NAPTIP would reveal the identities of the suspected traffickers in due course and ensure that they are brought to justice.
Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has raised an alarm that refugees and migrants, many of them Nigerians, are taking more “diversified and dangerous journeys” to cross rough seas.
UNHCR Director of Europe Bureau, Vincent Cochetel, while releasing a new report “Desperate Journeys” on Monday in New York, said that they are relying on people-smugglers or using flimsy boats to cross rough seas to Europe.
He said that increased border restrictions and lack of accessible legal ways to reach Europe have caused more desperation among refugees and migrants.
“About 90 per cent of them travelled by boat from Libya, and the top two nationalities of those arriving were Nigerians (21 per cent) and Eritreans (11 per cent).
“This route is particularly dangerous and in 2016 more deaths were recorded at sea than ever before.
“Furthermore, children making this journey are especially vulnerable, and the number of unaccompanied and separated children arriving is increasing.
“Last year more than 25,000 came, representing 14 per cent of all new arrivals in Italy.
“Their number more than doubled compared to the previous year,” Cochetel warned.
He explained that the “closure” of the Western Balkan route and the EU-Turkey decision in March 2016, caused a drastic decrease in the number of people reaching Greece via the Eastern Mediterranean route.
“This report clearly shows that the lack of accessible and safe pathways leads refugees and migrants to take enormous risks while attempting to reach Europe, including those simply trying to join family members.
“However, since then, the Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy becomes the primary entry point to Europe and arrival trends in Italy show that the primary nationalities who crossed to Greece had not switched in significant numbers to the Central Mediterranean route.
“In addition to drowning, migrants and refugees also risk being kidnapped, held against their will for several days, physical and sexual abuse, torture and extortion by smugglers and criminal gangs at several points along key routes,” he said.
The UN refugee agency pointed out that in 2016, some 181,436 arrived in Italy by sea in need of international protection, and also victims of trafficking and migrants seeking better lives.
The report also showed that in the last part of 2016, more people reached the continent through the Western Mediterranean route, either by crossing the sea to Spain from Morocco and Algeria, or by entering the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta.
Similarly, people continued to leave Turkey along the Eastern Mediterranean route from April onwards, but in much smaller numbers, it said.
Cochetel explained that most crossed the sea to Greece or Cyprus, others also crossed via land into the country or into Bulgaria.
“Most who arrived by sea to Greece (87 per cent) came from the top ten refugee producing countries.
“This was also the case for those who continued to move along the Western Balkans route: in Serbia, for instance, 82 per cent of those who arrived came from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and almost half are children – 20 per cent of those unaccompanied.”
He said these numbers, however, have reduced since April 2016.
He said the study revealed that, tens of thousands of people also have been reportedly pushed back by border authorities in Europe, including in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Serbia, Spain, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The UNHCR also regretted that there were many cases of alleged violence and abuses in an apparent efforts to deter further entry attempts. (NAN)