Rescued Trafficked Women Held In 'Abhorrent' Conditions In Nigerian Shelters, New Report Says


-- When Adaura was promised a job as a domestic worker in Libya, she jumped at the chance. Little did she know she'd end up in a sex trafficking ring, enduring years of physical and sexual abuse. 

The woman who told her about the job said she'd earn more than $400 a month, a fortune for the then 18-year-old who had lived a life of poverty and abuse. 

She willingly embarked on a journey that took her from Nigeria, across the Sahara desert and into Libya in 2013. 

Adaura unwittingly became one of tens of thousands of vulnerable Nigerian girls trafficked across Africa and Europe by criminal networks that lure them with job offers that never materialize.

Thousands of people leave Nigeria for Libya -- a treacherous destination and route for migrants going to Europe in hopes of better job opportunities. Most are fleeing economic hardship and conditions that make them easy prey for traffickers.

More than 10,000 Nigerians stranded in Libya and other countries returned home between April 2017 and October 2018, according to the International Organization for Migration estimates.

Survivors held under abhorrent conditions

But Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a new report titled " 'You Pray for Death:' Trafficking of Young Women and Girls in Nigeria," said many rescued victims on their return are kept in "abhorrent" conditions in Nigerian shelters similar to those they faced when they were trafficked.

The report said though Nigeria has taken steps to address trafficking problems in the country by signing on to international laws and creating shelters, authorities have failed to provide adequate resources that survivors need to rebuild their lives.

Adaura, now 24, is interviewed in the rights agency report, where she is referred to as Adaura C. She said she was forced to work as a prostitute in Libya by her trafficker who told her she owed $4,000 paid to transport her from Nigeria. 

Adaura said a woman, who was part of the trafficking ring and known as the "madam" forced her to have sex with different men without condoms and made her have abortions when she became pregnant.

She was eventually rescued and sent back to Nigeria where she now lives in a shelter but says there is not enough food and she only receives 100 naira (around 27 cents) per day for transport. Adaura told researchers that she "sometimes thinks about killing herself."

Another unnamed trafficked woman told HRW in the report that she had been held against her will at a National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) shelter for six months.
"I have been here for almost six months.... I eat and sleep and shout. They do not open the gate...I told NAPTIP I do not want to stay here; I want to go home. They said they will allow me to go. I do not feel okay being here. I cannot stay here doing nothing," one of the women says in the HRW report.

Some of the women told HRW they were detained in government-owned shelters run by NAPTIP for months without adequate food, toiletries and medical care. Others said they were kept in closed shelters and denied access to their families.

"We were shocked to find traumatized survivors locked behind gates, unable to communicate with their families, for months on end, in government-run facilities," said Agnes Odhiambo, HRW senior women's rights researcher in the report.

They also told HRW they were kept in the dark about their rehabilitation process and officials did not give them information on when they would be reunited with their families.

HRW said the report was based on field research between 2017 and 2018, which included interviews with 76 trafficked victims, experts, NGOs and authorities working with survivors in Nigeria.

Odhiambo told CNN that many of the shelters visited were "rundown" and many of the women complained that their mobile phones were taken away from them.

"Women and girls looked so unhappy to be there. They complained about being controlled. Basically, like a transfer of conditions from captivity," Odhiambo said.

However, Arinze Osakwe of NAPTIP'S public education unit said the right's agency's report did not capture many aspects of their work in rehabilitating trafficked victims.

He admitted that some victims were delayed at shelter longer than the six weeks stated by the agency because of ongoing investigations from partner agencies. 
"Even among those rescued are traffickers who pretend to be victims to recruit more people from the shelter on their release back to Libya for instance. We work with a lot of agencies to profile them depending on the intelligence report we have from the countries they came from. Their release is not that simple," Osakwe told CNN.

He denied that victims were denied food and said the agency was working to make survivors as "comfortable" as possible.

Osakwe said the agency runs closed shelter for survivors and regulates their access and communication to protect victims from their traffickers who may still be after them.

"Most of the victims are witnesses to crimes committed by traffickers who will stop at nothing to get them. Let's not forget that the survivors were initially trafficked by family members who want to get them out of the shelter to recruit them again," Osakwe told CNN.

Osakwe said officials conduct medical screening on victims while tracing their families for joint counseling, a process that often takes time.

"We need to know they have family that will take them back. Some victims are rejected — the easiest person to traffick is a returnee victim with no support from society. We have had cases where we rescued and released a victim, and six months later, we are rescuing them from another country," he said.

Trafficking hub

Nigeria is a source, transit and destination point for many criminal trafficking networks operating in Africa, and the majority of their victims are women. 

According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 11,000 women and 3,000 children who arrived by sea in Italy in 2016 were from Nigeria. More than half the victims have been sexually exploited, according to recent data from the UN migration agency.

One survivor shared a harrowing account of her journey across the Sahara desert to Europe.
"You pray for death. You cry until you cannot cry any more. People die, faint, are beaten, raped. I would not advise even my worst enemy to travel by land," the woman was quoted as saying in the HRW report.