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"The ‘human trafficking crises’ is a desperate, all-hands-on-deck global crisis"

November 02, 2018
topic:Human Trafficking
tags:#Stephanie Linus, #Africa, #human rights, #immigration, #refugees, #Nigeria, #trafficking, #migration
located:Nigeria, Italy
by:Bob Koigi
The global human trafficking business is currently estimated to be worth $150 billion and affecting an approximated 30 million people. Young women and girls accounting for up to 80 per cent of the victims.

Africa remains one of the continents grappling with a burgeoning record of smuggled immigrants and trafficked human beings majority in transit countries as they seek to cross to Europe for better days.

Moved by the plight of thousands of these migrants, Stephanie Linus, a Nigerian award-winning actress who commands a huge fan base across Africa has been running a campaign to rescue victims of trafficking and slavery. In an exclusive interview with FairPlanet, she talks about the inspiration behind the campaign, her harrowing journey to Italy to meet the rescued victims and her crusade to get African youth to invest in their continent to stem migration.

FairPlanet: What inspired you to take on the human trafficking campaign?

Stephanie Linus: It was inspired by deeply felt empathy. It is difficult not to empathise when confronted with the plight of human beings exploited through forced prostitution and other forms of sexual activities, forced labour, forced begging, forced criminality, domestic servitude, forced marriage and the unconscionable forced extraction of vital organs.

Having interacted with victims and witnessed firsthand the rescue, how serious is the human trafficking problem?

The human trafficking problem is severe. Indeed, I was shocked to realise that it is a global problem that affects about 30 million people with about 80 per cent of them being girls and young women enmeshed in poverty and dire conditions. The trafficking business which is reported to generate about $150 billion annually for the traffickers, is especially deleterious to countries like Nigeria with low rates of manufacturing, production and the corresponding high rates of pervasive unemployment. 

You have come face to face with victims of human trafficking. Narrate to us the experience.

Coming face-to-face and interacting with the victims has been quite a harrowing experience for me. Many of the victims of trafficking from Nigeria and indeed, Africa who embark on the perilous quest say that they do so to escape poverty, to improve their lives and support their families. Many of them were deceived, kidnapped and lured into making these journeys based on the promise of greener pastures. Hearing their stories, one gets the impression that they often are victims of criminals who dangle offers of well-paying jobs overseas. Many of the victims have borrowed money from their families, friends and, in some cases, traffickers in advance to pay for arranging the job, travel and accommodation. And when they do arrive in the foreign country, they discover that the jobs they had been promised do not exist, or that the conditions are completely different from what they had anticipated.

However, by the time they become aware of the hollowness of the promises that have been made to them, it’s too late, their documents have been taken away and they are forced to work until their debt is paid off. The ordeals that they go through – from the poverty they are trying to escape, to the traffickers they have to contend with, to the dangerous journeys they have had to endure – traumatise them so deeply that they are emotionally scarred for life. 

You have made some frequent visits to Italy. What has been the mission of those visits and why Italy?

I was invited by Doctors Without Borders to come on board their ship to witness their activities and also have one on one meetings with the actual victims of trafficking, and it was an eye-opening experience that gave me more insight on the issue.

The number of female Nigerians arriving in Italy by boat surged to more than 11,000 in 2016 from 1,500 in 2014 according to the International Organisation for Migration. Who do you think is to blame for these spiralling cases? 

Not to ascribe blame, I nevertheless posit that the responsibility for assuaging and reversing the spiralling case of emigration rests first and foremost with the family to provide the requisite upbringing that fosters positive lifestyles. Next, the local, state and federal governments need to enable the manufacturing production milieu that boosts employment and eliminates the need for emigration.

Is the world doing enough in fighting the human trafficking crisis?

Well, it needs to be emphasised that the ‘human trafficking crisis’ is a desperate, all-hands-on-deck global crisis that requires the unified efforts of all nations. As such, all available resources need to be pooled and galvanised towards dealing with the causes of frantic migration and human trafficking. No; the world is not doing enough until we have ameliorated the conditions that make young women want to escape from their homelands.        

What would you say to those who argue that your efforts cannot match the well-oiled and intricate trafficking syndicate that has been in existence for long and is hard to crack?

Being confident that every bit of effort counts, I know that the trafficking syndicates will eventually lose out to dedicated, conscientious struggle.

A majority of those who are caught in this trafficking web are seeking greener pastures beyond Africa. How, in your view, should African governments and policymakers stem this migration?

With the cooperation of all, the desperate emigration from Africa can be stemmed with the broadening of opportunities through education for all, reduction in wealth inequality, investment in human capital development and building up manufacturing and production facilities. Without a doubt, people who have meaningful jobs that provide dignity do not need to emigrate. Only leaving home for vacation, they stay put and build their societies.

How does this campaign foster long-term solution to migration? After the rescue of the victims, how do you ensure they do not go back?

The whole essence of this campaign is for us to create awareness so that people would not be ignorant. If we can reach one person at a time and change that individual’s perspective that is a success to us. Creating adequate awareness of the consequences is our goal. We want to reach lots of people who are naïve and easily influenced so that they can watch out and be aware of some of the tricks these traffickers use to lure their victims. We can’t curb this problem in one day but when we change one person’s perspective to trafficking, it has a ripple effect that can positively touch an entire community.

What is the ultimate plan for this advocacy?

The ultimate intent of our campaign is to uplift all members of society to achieve true, wholesome development. Yes, all members of society are vital to that quest. I am of the firm belief that girls have rights that need to be respected; they need education, they need access to health care, they need decent jobs, they have the right to choose who to marry and when to have children and how many of them. Indeed, girls and women who are treated with respect and dignity never become migrants, and the same applies to their male counterparts.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Nigeria Italy
Embed from Getty Images
Africa remains one of the continents grappling with a burgeoning record of smuggled immigrants and trafficked human beings.
Embed from Getty Images
Indeed, I was shocked to realise that it is a global problem that affects about 30 million people with about 80 per cent of them being girls and young women.
Embed from Getty Images
Coming face-to-face and interacting with the victims has been quite a harrowing experience for me.
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