Gambian President Adama Barrow on Saturday vowed to punish people traffickers as he mourned the deaths of 60 Europe-bound migrants who drowned off Mauritania when their boat capsized.
“To lose 60 young lives at sea is a national tragedy and a matter of grave concern to my government,” he said on national television.
“A full police investigation has been launched to get to the bottom of this serious national disaster. The culprits will be prosecuted according to law”, he added.
Barrow said 60 people were confirmed dead in Wednesday’s tragedy.
He said funds had been sent to Mauritania to cater to the immediate needs of the survivors admitted to hospital and to finance their repatriation.
The boat was attempting to reach Spain’s Canary Islands — a perilous and poorly monitored route along West Africa’s coast — when their boat hit a rock.
Barrow pledged to “fast track prosecution of cases involving human trafficking.
“Law enforcement officials are also instructed to increase surveillance and arrest… criminals involved in human trafficking”, he said.
“Also, I have been informed that 189 people have been intercepted by the Mauritanian authorities. Arrangements have been made to transport them back to Banjul,” the Gambia capital, he added.
On Friday, Mauritanian authorities intercepted a vessel carrying 192 Gambian migrants headed for Spain, a Mauritanian security source told AFP.
The boat left Banjul on Monday and was intercepted in the high seas off Mauritania. The passengers were brought back to Nouamghar, about 150 kilometres (95 miles) north of the capital Nouakchott and were given food and blankets.
The sinking off Mauritania is the largest known loss of life along the so-called western migration route this year, and the sixth deadliest migrant capsize globally, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Mauritanian authorities said the boat had been carrying between 150 and 180 people when it sank.
Eight-three people survived the disaster by swimming ashore.
Migrant passages along the route from West African countries to the Canary Islands have increased recently as authorities clamp down on crossings to Europe from Libya.
Some 158 people are known to have died trying to reach the Canary Islands so far this year, according to the IOM, against 43 last year.
Eniolorunda said that the Command worked on a lead which came from interrogating one Lucky Otuba, a suspected member of the gang who accompanied the mother of the victims to report the case.
He added that they moved into action by contacting other anti-human trafficking agencies, including the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) which led to their rescue from the syndicate led by one Madam Taye based in Mali.
“Our efforts actually paid off as they were able to track them in Mali, identify them and hand over to our embassy and through the help of IOM, one of our principal partners, they were brought to Lagos and subsequently to us in Benin,” the Immigration Comptroller said.
Narrating her ordeal, Miriam told Channels Television that the whole incident has remained confusing as she cannot really tell how they agreed to go on the trip.
She said the person who recruited them for the journey, one Madam Blessing, had told them that they were going to work as hairdressers in Senegal before ending up in Mali where they were eventually rescued.
The victim said, “I cannot explain how we agreed to travel with her. it is as if we were not with our senses.”
The police also seized vehicles, cash, mobile phones and computers in the course of the operation.
The minors were aged between 11 and 16, with the youngest rescued at the land border between Nigeria and Benin Republic.
In his reaction, INTERPOL Secretary General, Jürgen Stock, described human trafficking as a transnational crime from which the vulnerable, especially children, simply cannot walk away.
“This operation underlines the need for cross-border collaboration between law enforcement and all stakeholders to ensure that together we can enhance our prevention, protection and prosecution efforts,” the INTERPOL chief stated.
During the operation, the police found a boy who had been forced to carry clandestinely between the two countries heavy goods, including bags of rice weighing up to 40 kg.
According to INTERPOL, all the victims originated from Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Togo.
It explained that the victims were recruited and trafficked by means of deception and coercion, after which they were held in bondage in various labour intensive activities.
The organisation added that before regaining freedom, many of the minors were moved around as ‘merchandise’ themselves, across the border.
The victims were also forced to work in markets all day, peddling goods, fetching water, cooking, and carrying heavy loads.
In other cases, some were made to work as housemaids and others were victims of sexual exploitation.
INTERPOL said most of the minors endured beatings and psychological abuse, as well as death threats and warnings that they would never see their parents again.
It, however, highlighted some of the steps taken to ensure the rescued victims receive the necessary care following their rescue.
These include social services while some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) undertook post-operation interviews and provided support services to the victims.
In Nigeria, the organisation revealed that the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) took charge of the minors.
The Comptroller of the Nigeria Immigration Service at Seme border region, Do Asogwa, called for a collective effort to tackle the menace of trafficking.
He said, “We have to cooperate with one another to combat the crime networks behind the trafficking and smuggling of human beings.
“These crimes can only be tackled collectively and through interagency cooperation.”
In Benin Republic, some of the minors were transferred to shelters, returned to their parents, while others were taken into care by national social affairs authorities and NGOs.
The Police Divisional Commissioner of the country’s Central Bureau for the Protection of Minors and Families and the Prevention of Human Trafficking (OCPM), Hounde Seidou, said: “Nobody belongs in the markets or on the streets as slave labourers.
He added, “As law enforcement officers, it is our duty to combat human trafficking, especially when children are involved.”
INTERPOL said building a sustainable law enforcement capacity to investigate and handle cases of human trafficking and migrant smuggling dominated its strategy on vulnerable communities.
To this end, it explained that ‘Operation Epervier II’ was preceded in Benin Republic and Nigeria by specialised training exercises to help officers enhance their investigative techniques along with victim and offender interview skills.
The organisation said its secure communications system I-24/7 was also deployed to operational hotspots, providing police with real-time access to criminal global databases containing millions of records, including on stolen and lost travel documents and biometrics.
It noted that the G7 Interior Ministers had met in Paris, France earlier in April and called for increased cooperation with INTERPOL against crimes such as human trafficking.
It added that the operation, funded by the INTERPOL Foundation for a Safer World, was undertaken under the framework of the INTERPOL Global Task Force on Human Trafficking.
For migrants who escape torture and starvation at the hands of people traffickers, a “Safe House” in an oasis town offers a rare commodity in Libya: shelter and medical care.
Bani Walid, on the edge of the desert 170 kilometres (110 miles) southeast of the capital Tripoli, is a transit point on the way to the coast and perilous boat journeys across the Mediterranean to Europe.
With the old green flags of Moamer Kadhafi’s regime fluttering in the wind, time appears to have stood still in what was one of its last bastions before he was toppled and slain in the 2011 revolution.
The basic housing consists of rooms made of concrete bricks built around a central courtyard in the industrial zone of Bani Walid, a town outside the control of Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli.
Amara, a 30-year-old from Mali, is one of the lucky ones.
“There were three of us… ,” he said, hesitating to hold back the tears before telling of how the other two died of starvation in one of the jails run by trafficking gangs extorting money from desperate migrants.
“We told them we had no money to pay, so they only gave us food one day out of two,” said the Malian with a gaunt face behind a full beard.
Seated on a breeze-block, Amara was unable to stand up on legs that bore the scars of eight months of being locked up and tortured.
One of his guards, having given up hope of any ransom being paid and taking pity on Amara, decided to let him go before he ended up the same way as his two companions.
According to a local official, Bani Walid numbers around 20 illegal detention centres or gathering points of migrants.
– ‘They beat me morning and night’ –
A 28-year-old Nigerian, named Lucky Monday, received treatment from the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) which makes weekly visits to the shelter appropriately named Safe House.
“I was planning to go to Europe so that I can live a better life, but unfortunately in this country… they can take your life at any moment,” he said.
Lucky was kidnapped by a militia who demanded $2,000 to let him go.
“They beat me and destroyed my hand. They beat me morning and night,” said the Nigerian with his hand in plaster, whose ordeal lasted three months.
He finally came up with the money after asking his family back home to sell a small plot of land he owned and transferring the funds.
Behind him was a fellow resident with tuberculosis who was spitting blood into a plastic bottle.
“Rasta, that man needs to be isolated, away from the others, until a doctor comes to examine him,” said Salah Ghummaidh of a local activists group that runs the refuge housing around 400 migrants.
Rasta Moraba, a 32-year-old from the Ivory Coast, is a founder of the Safe House.
The Federal Government has called on Nigerians to report anyone suspected to be involved in human trafficking in any part of the country.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Affairs, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said this on Thursday during her appearance on Channels Television’s Politics Today.
“Traffickers must be prosecuted, must be arrested and they must be known,” she said. “There is a whistle-blower policy by NAPTIP; report traffickers, they are amongst you.”
This comes amid reactions from government and the international community to reports of slave trading in Libya which involves some Africans, including Nigerians.
While President Muhammadu Buhari had promised to bring home those stranded in the North African country, Dabiri-Erewa spoke about the line of action of the Federal Government in ensuring that Nigerians are no longer trapped in foreign lands.
According to her, government was working to ensure more youths were gainfully engaged to avoid dangerous expeditions in search of greener pastures.
She, however, said Nigerians had since been warned against going to Libya because of the security situation in the country.
The presidential aide also asked the citizens to be mindful and not to fall victim of unscrupulous individuals that have turned slavery into their major source of income.
Despite the challenges Nigeria is facing, she urged the citizenry to keep the faith with the Buhari administration and not to embark on perilous journeys.
“Slavery begins here; for every trafficker, you are sold from here. Let’s look at what is going on, you’ll say poverty. Yes, government must do the needful, create an enabling environment, provide jobs and all that but it goes beyond that.
“What do you say of a mother who sells her land and pays off $4,000 for her daughter to go to Europe? We should look at the family value and the systems.
“For every person who goes on that journey, a trafficker is being empowered, a trafficker is getting richer,” she said.
The former member of the House of Representative further decried the rate of human trafficking within and outside the country, saying it had begun to get more attention the drug trafficking.
She said although government would continue to work relentlessly in fighting the scourge, the people also have a role to play by promptly reporting any suspected case to relevant government agencies.
Echoes of the bloody anti-drugs campaign in the Philippines as Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, instructs police to shoot traffickers.
The South-east Asian country is struggling to contain a narcotics crisis.
The new order has drawn comparisons between Widodo and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte who launched a fierce crackdown about a year ago, leading to the deaths of thousands of alleged drug dealers and users.
Widodo hasn’t ordered extra-judicial killings like the ones taking place in the Philippines, but he is urging cops to kill traffickers who enter Indonesia and resist arrest.
The president has faced international criticism for supporting the execution of drug convicts, including two Australian men, who were among a number of foreign traffickers killed in recent years.
Governments and activists have called on Indonesia to abolish the death penalty, but the country’s police chief has echoed Widodo’s message, saying he’s ordered officers not to hesitate when it comes to using lethal force.
Operatives of the special task force, Operation Safe Haven, have intercepted a transaction involving the sale of a four-month-old baby in Plateau State.
The Commander of the Task Force, Major General Rogers Nicholas, said members of the security outfit intercepted the deal which was purportedly brokered by a legal practitioner, through an intermediary where an amount had been agreed and paid for the baby.
Recalling how a similar syndicate was intercepted a few months ago in Jos, Major General Nicholas expressed concern over the growing trend of child trafficking in the state.
The baby’s mother, the buyer, the intermediary and the legal practitioner, were paraded at the headquarters of Operation Safe Haven in Plateau State.
The suspects were accused of attempting to sell and buy the four-month-old baby for N100,000.
The 20-year-old mother of the baby, Sandra Ishaku, a resident of Angwan Rukkuba in Jos, claimed that the father of the baby had rejected her and she could not take care of the child.
She said the development led to her decision to sell the baby for N400,000, an amount the buyer, Gladys Chukwuma, said she could not afford but allegedly offered N100,000 for the child through a third party.
The Legal Officer of the task force, Captain Sunday Akinkunmi, stated that no adoption requires any fee as he negates what the legal practitioner involved in the case, Osim Jones, had claimed after allegedly receiving N30,000 as part payment for a processing fee.
The suspects have been handed over to the Police for further investigation and prosecution.
Cameroonian couple with a two-week-old baby boy suspected to have been stolen have been arrested by officials of the Nigeria Immigration Service in Cross River.
The Cross River State Command of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) cautioned couples or singles planning on smuggling or trafficking babies to have a rethink.
It says monitoring had been stepped up to ensure further arrests.
The State Comptroller of Immigration, Mrs Funke Adeuyi, gave the caution in Calabar, the Cross River State Capital following an arrest of a Cameroonian couple with a two-week-old baby boy suspected to have been stolen.
Briefing reporters at the State Command, the immigration boss said, the suspects were arrested at the Nfum Control Post in Eteng Government Area of the State baba border patrol team.
According to her, the suspects were arrested after the first line of interrogation which proved that, their surnames and that of the baby didn’t match neither did the date and place of birth given by the supposed mother match.
The couple have been handed over to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons for further investigation and prosecution.
The Police in Niger State on Tuesday arrested two suspected child traffickers along the ever busy Kontagora Yauri road. The suspects, Shehu Jubril and Salisu Rabiu were in possession of twenty one children, aged between 12 and 15 years, who could not establish their relationship with the men or tell where they were heading to.
On interrogation by men of the Niger state Police command, the suspects who claimed to be relatives of the children and taking them from Jigawa to Niger state could not identify the children by their names or remember their parents’ names.
Confirming the incident, the Police Public Relations Officer, Niger state Command, Pius Edobor noted that what raise the curiosity of the Police team on a regular patrol on the road was the inability of the suspects to give satisfactory accounts of where they got the children from.
The Police spokesman also revealed that on questioning, the children could not state their mission to Niger state and also deny any relationship with the suspects.
The suspects are currently being detained at the Criminals Investigation Department of the Niger state police command.
Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun has assured that his administration will continue to render necessary assistance to security agencies in the State in order to ensure adequate security of lives and property of residents.
Governor Amosun gave this assurance today in his office while receiving the new Comptroller of the State Command of Immigration Service, Mrs Victoria Ekaete Isang who paid a courtesy call on him.
He disclosed that as a state that shares borders with a number of West African countries, Ogun State faces a lot of challenges, particularly the menace of inter-border crimes. He therefore urged Officers and men of the Immigration service to work hand in hand with other security agencies to help combat the menace.
The Governor assured that his administration would continue to interface regularly with the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs on issues bordering on immigration affairs in the State.
Earlier, the new Comptroller, Mrs. Ekaete Isang had expressed the Command’s appreciation for the assistance which the State government had been rendering to it, recalling that recently, the Governor gave it N1 million for logistic support towards repatriating illegal immigrants out of the State.
Mrs. Isang who assumed duty last month also gave thumbs up to Governor Amosun for the various developmental projects his administration has embarked upon across the State, promising that her Command would not relent in ridding the State of illegal immigrants and collaborating with other agencies to ensure security of lives and property in the State.