The International Organisation for Migration, IOM, has urged Nigeria to take decisive actions toward curbing trafficking and sex slavery in the country.
IOM’s Chief of Mission in Nigeria Frantz Celestin made the call in a message to commemorate the 2021 International Day Against Trafficking in Persons which is celebrated on July 30.
Mr Celestin also charged the United Nations community and other stakeholders to support similar action.
According to him, Nigeria’s role is very crucial considering that it accounts for the highest number of trafficked victims in Africa, and also serves as a transit and destination country.
He said a 2018 Walk Free Foundation report had estimated that more than million people were living in modern slavery in Nigeria, with most of them being victims of domestic trafficking.
He added that criminals of such a highly profitable business model had devised ways to cover their tracks and increase gains, thus underscoring the need for the right actions to be taken.
For the UN representative, top on the list of actions that could help curb the menace is to give voice to victims and survivors, a charge which he said resonated with the theme of the 2021 commemoration: “Victims’ Voices Lead the Way”.
He said in order to be able to take the right actions toward tackling trafficking in persons, it had become important to listen to and learn from the experiences of victims.
“On July 30, 2021, we commemorate the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
“The plight of millions of children, women, and men suffering coercion, exploitation, and humiliation is real.
“This year’s theme for the World Day against Trafficking in Persons – `Victims’ Voices Lead the Way’ – highlights the importance of listening to and learning from survivors of human trafficking.
“Sadly, often unheard, victims’ and survivors’ voices are key to developing and implementing strategies, policies, and measures to prosecute perpetrators.
“In worst cases, they face revictimisation and punishment for seeking help for the crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers.
“We call upon our partners to put victims and survivors at the centre of our collective responses, learning from their stories and gaining inspiration from their courage and resilience,” Mr Celestin said.
He pointed out, however, that the criminal elements always took advantage of economic, social, and political vulnerabilities to exploit their victims, stressing that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had worsened such susceptibilities, especially with governments’ attention distracted.
He said with the attention of governments focused on how to strengthen health systems and cope with the increasing rate of job losses, the victims were often left with no chance to be heard.
Mr Celestin noted that provision for essential services and support mechanisms had been extremely limited as countries now struggled to respond to all challenges posed by COVID-19.
“At the IOM we are concerned about the severity and dimensions of this issue.
“This is why our counter-trafficking work strongly focuses on providing assistance and protection to victims of human trafficking including other vulnerable migrants and conducting awareness-raising activities.
“IOM works closely with NAPTIP to build and strengthen the capacity of state and non-state actors across the board to provide protection support using a victim-centered approach,” he said.
He said that the IOM had continued to work with NAPTIP to counter trafficking in persons, with the creation of the multiple state task forces on human trafficking and “legal hubs” for trafficked persons.
He said that such efforts had enabled access to justice and strengthened cross-border coordination.
Mr Celestin recalled the commitment made by Nigeria in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration to facilitate the access of trafficked persons to justice.
He pointed out that the initiative also allowed them to safely report experiences without fear of detention, deportation or penalty, and to provide migrants who have become trafficking victims with protection, assistance, and redress.
He stressed however that a lot more needed to be done, calling on government partners, civil society organisations, and the UN community in Nigeria to “give a voice to trafficking victims and survivors – make them powerful agents of change in our societies.
“Let us benefit from their experience and knowledge to create human rights-based and victim-centered anti-trafficking interventions.
“Enhance international, regional, and local cooperation – to monitor migration routes to prevent trafficking, collaborate in cross-border investigation and prosecution of perpetrators, and provide protection and assistance to those in need at any stage of their migration journey.
“Identify, refer, and assist victims of trafficking promptly – to protect their rights and dignity and foster their psychosocial recovery and reintegration into society.
“Implement a whole-of-society approach to address trafficking in persons –reaffirming the key role of frontline actors, including victims and survivors-led initiatives, to inform effective responses to the needs of trafficking victims.
“Human trafficking is a crime and a violation of human rights. It has no place in our world. Victims and survivors must be heard,” he said.