The story has been told of the deep suffering and ultimately inhumane treatment that trafficked victims face in Libyan prisons and detention camps.
It is endless tales of deprivations and exploitations by Nigerian trafficked victims, who made their way through Libya to Europe for prostitution. Majority of the victims are Edo State indigenes. Patrick Ochoga writes on the horrible experiences of the returnees in prisons, slave and detention camps.
In the last three weeks, Edo State Taskforce Against Human Trafficking, the agency saddled with the responsibility of reintegrating, arresting and prosecuting traffickers had received over 400 returnees from Libya.
As the several bus loads of Libyan returnees drove into the venue of a popular hotel in Benin City, the Edo State Capital, tucked away in the government reservation area, G.R.A. The returnee victims came off in their hundreds. They were deported from various prisons, slave and detention camps in Libya through the efforts of United Nations in Libya.
Clutched to the chests of many are polythene bags containing just few belongings, which immediately informed onlookers of the sorry condition and experiences of the returnees who had hoped to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Italy in search of green pasture.
The sordid tales of suffering, prostitution, drugging, and slavery in Libyan concentration camps from the victims are endless as they recount gruesome ordeals of how unlucky illegal migrants are sold into slavery and prostitution by their traffickers while others are killed in their attempt to cross the desert to Libya.
For some of the returnees, it was like a joyous homecoming stepping foots on Nigeria soil as a part of the living having escaped the valley of shadow of death in Libya. They were full of praises to the federal and Edo State government who had shown commitment in curbing the trend and creating opportunities for the unfortunate mass returnees.
Onuwa Sunday, 27-years-old, and an indigene of Edo State from Orhiomwon local government area, whose right ankle was amputated after he was hit by a rocket in their camp limped his left leg to the reception of the hotel where officials of the task force received him and others to a hall where they were profiled and documented.
He narrated to our correspondent how they were ambushed by some deadly criminal gangs called ( Asma Boys) and taken to different camps where they eventually sold into slavery and prostitution by their captors.
He said in an attempt to cross the high sea migrants’ boats were ambushed by these same gangs and taken a camps where they were forced to call home for ransom ranging between N300, 000 and N700,000.
According to Onuwa “It was a terrible experience, we were abducted on our way to Saba by some group they called ‘burger boys’ and taken to a camp. I was charged 4, 000 dina which is about N400, 000 after spending six months in captivity. Few days later, we made attempt crossing to Italy but our boat was intercepted four hours after we departed the shore of Libya in the middle of the sea by Libyan naval patrol ship. They took us to Zaweya Prison where I spent another one month. I had to pay N170,000 before I was released. On released I got a job at a car wash so that I can save some money to pay for my crossing.
“Unfortunately, after spending two months, fight broke out and that was the beginning of my greater ordeal. The Libyans say they don’t want to any black so they started invading camps so I ran to another camp not knowing that the camp was marked to be invaded.
“When the information got to me I immediately took a cab to escape but I was kidnapped by three men in uniform who shot me on my right hand and leg as I speak I still have bullets lodged in my thigh. I can’t sleep at night.”
Continuing he said, “I was locked up and asked to call my family members for money for my freedom. In the camp where I was, we were over 3,000 from different countries but Nigeria are the highest in number.”
On his part, 30-year-old Marley Ayodo, said he paid N700, 000 to his trafficker but was ambushed and taken to camp where he had to pay ransom for his freedom.
“Majority of our people are usually kidnapped and asked to pay for ransom. Many Nigerians have spent over one year in detention camps. In Gerrian Prison there are about 1000 Nigerians dying on a daily basis due to torture and starvation. Most of the people I travelled with are dead.
“They flog us every day, before and after eating; we all lost hope. I want the government to encourage our ambassador so that he can assist our people. A lot of people who have been document to come home in the last one year are in various prisons suffering.”
Last week, Beauty Okoro, 20, was among the 168 girls deported, out of which 20 of them came back with pregnancy.
Amidst weeping she said: “I travelled July 4th last year. My sponsor told me that within one week I would be in Italy. But when I got to Libya it was another story. These sponsors always convince you and make it look like it is easy, but I have learnt now. I feel the government should arrest them and execute them.
“These sponsors are here in Edo State, and they have their links in Libya too. It is an organized trade, and I have seen it all at this my little age of 20. When I got to a place they call Ghetto, I was there with one other girl. They sold us to one man so we can be doing prostitution.
“The next day another woman came to the Ghetto and bought me as her slave. She bought me for N1,700, and she asked me to pay her N450, 000, that includes my feeding and the water I will be using to bath.
“I called my dad and explained to him that she said my people should send me the money or I will be prostituting to get the money. Then my father sent me N50,000 and pleaded he would sell his land to get me the remaining. The husband of my madam is in Nigeria; my father wanted to sell the land to him so they can help me. But the man said he does not like the location where the land is so he will not buy. I had no choice than to do what my madam said I should do, and that is prostitution. I was sleeping with different men. I worked with her for over two months. I was not allowed to go out, and always indoors sleeping with customers.
“I told my dad that I was tired of the situation so he told me he has a friend in Libya that he will contact him to help me. He contacted the man, and the man informed him that he was staying in a different town. The man then told me to ask my madam how he could come to pick me and that he was ready to pay her off. I asked my madam, and she said the man should bring N300,000. But I reminded her that my dad had already sent me N50,000 meaning that it was a balance of N250,000. But the man (my father’s friend) said he had only N200,000 cash to give to the woman.
“We pleaded with the woman, and she accepted. The man brought N220,000 including taxi money for me to come over to his place. That was how I left that woman.
“Then when I got to my father’s friend’s house, it was the same job I was doing with the woman, that he said I should be doing. That is prostitution. And my father did not know that his friend had bought me from the woman to do the same kind of sex job. The man said I would pay him N440,000. I had no choice than to work hard and pay. By December last year I was done with the payment, then started hustling for myself so I could get money to cross the sea for Italy.
“So, I made about N400,000 and gave the man N300,000 to keep for me. Knowing that I now had some money, I decided to go buy some food stuff that I will use to cross the sea. I met the man to give me my money, and he said he would not give me. I told him that that was wicked because he was sleeping with me, and then I still paid him for keeping me in his house yet he was not satisfied.
“He started beating me until I fell sick. I called my mum that I want to leave that house. Incidentally, my period was delayed that month, and I told the man that it seemed I was pregnant. He said I should go and do a test but the very day I wanted to go for a test, my period started. Then he started beating me that I had gone to remove the pregnancy but I told him it was not true.
“He said he would not leave me that I have gone to destroy his baby and threatened to call the bad boys of Libya for me. I was dying in that house and didn’t know what to do. Then I met one pastor on Facebook and told him my problem. He said I should buy a white handkerchief and send him the man´s picture. The pastor told me that the man, that is Ade a Yoruba man has taken my urine to a native doctor. I was crying, but the pastor said I should not worry. We were eight girls in that house with the man, and we all worked for him.
“He sleeps with all of us, and we still pay him. So, one of the senior girls in the house advised me on what to do. She told me that any time the man is sleeping with me again and that while he is on top of me, I should ask him when he will free me. She told me that whatever the man says at that moment is what he will do. So when he came to sleep with me, and I asked him when he will free me. He replied that I should not worry that he will free me the next Wednesday. That day he promised me was July 11. So on that day, he called me gave me a battery to charge my phone and a Nokia phone. That night he told me a taxi would come and pick me up. He said my transport fare is N60,000, that is from there to Tripoli from where we were to leave by sea to Italy. So this man claimed that he has paid about N210,000 for my transportation including to help me cross the sea to Italy. But I told him that my money is still with him.
“Then, I got to the camp. From the camp to Italy is about one hour thirty minutes. We were there suffering no food and no money. I called the man, and he said I should come back to the house. I said I could not go back to him. He was calling me to come back, but I said rather than go back to him, let me die. The camp was very hot. Several times we woke up to the sound of gunshots and people will be running.
“In Libya, they shoot anyhow and kill people like chicken. There was a night I woke up and was running to nowhere. I fell somewhere and injured my head when a block fell on top of me. People saw me and rescued me, took me to a pharmacy and gave me drugs.
“One day some people were asked to come and cross over. One of my friends, Anita joined that boat because they move people in batches. But Anita died inside the boat when the boat capsized while they were running from security agents.
“That day, two boats entered the sea. I was to be in the sixth boat. One of those boats got stranded in the sea because it was leaking. Some people died while some were rescued. One of the boats before our own left around 5 a.m. that morning. It was not up to 30 minutes after they left, they saw Libyan immigration coming, the man piloting the boat jumped into the sea. And I discovered that the problem was that the man collected money from us but he did not settle the Libyan immigration officials in the sea. We heard that the man felt his father is influential in Libya, so he refused to settle those officials even though he had collected money from many people to cross them.
“They call him Ginabo. So the immigration came, and they knew we were Ginabo´s people, and they started cursing him that Ginabo is a crook; he is a liar that he has collected our money and abandoned us because he refused to settle them. They were speaking Arabic. These people arrested us and said we should call our people to send us money or else we will be killed. In fact, our men suffered under these people. They will force them to bring money, or they will kill them.
“They will beat them until some of them will die, and they will throw the person´s body into the dustbin.
“How I came back? What happened was that one man said we should pay N20,000. He controls another camp. We were there when the police came to that place and started pursuing everybody. We started running to nowhere. The man who owns the camp called us to a room and collected all our phones and money. We were about eight girls. The police surrounded everywhere and took us to one prison. That was where the UN people came for us. They gave us one tiny bread, they call oza bread once a day and sometimes half cooked rice that you cannot give to a dog, but we were managing.
“Sometimes they will lace the food with drugs, and after eating it you will sleep off on the floor, and they will rape you. But the UN people kept us and started deporting us back. They sent back some people, but my name was not among. At a point no water, nothing. We have a lot of Nigerians in that prison. From what I saw in prison, we have thousands of Nigerians in different prisons. Each time you wake up you see five persons dead beside you because the place is tight.
“Once, when I was very thirsty and no water, but I saw water where somebody died, and I had no choice but to drink the stinking water so I will not die. I closed my eyes and nose to drink the water. These people don´t care (sobbing). In fact, I regret embarking on that journey. The orientation we got from my sponsor was that Libya and Italy are close. I did not know that the sea is even dangerous as I later discovered. The person that sponsored me did not tell me all these.
“My advice to people is that they should not dare go to Europe through that means. I saw hell as a 20-year-old girl. I had my SSCE result before I left. I am begging government to help with any job; I will never pass this route again. And I want to advise our youths not to try it; it is better you work here in Nigeria even though you are suffering here endure it and pray to God for better days. I was not patient in life that was why. Nobody should go to Libya; the place is hell on earth. I saw people die like chicken every day and I wondered if ever I would get out of the trauma.”
Igbinewo Praise, a 24-year-old lady, said she travelled with her husband. She is among the pregnant returnees. She wept repeatedly as narrates her ordeal.
“I traveled together with my husband, but he is still there now. Before I traveled, I was a sales girl. I am an orphan. My husband and I paid N900,000 to our sponsor to move us. When we got to Libya, I was lucky to be the first they took to move through the sea, but my husband´s set was not ready. We left, but our boat got spoilt in the middle of the sea. We stayed there without any rescue but the UN boat came and rescued us, but we were arrested. My husband now went to pay N250,000 to release me from prison. Somebody now said we should pay another N150,000 to push me across the sea; my husband paid the money. But while we were planning to move, their immigration people came to arrest us and took us to a prison. I spent months in the prison before we were taken to the deportation camp. I was not staying in the same place with my husband, but we see every day. You can imagine I am pregnant but no food. They give you one small bread per day, and you buy water. Water is very expensive there. My husband will be calling his people to send us money. What they told us before was that in two weeks we would be in Italy, but we never knew it was not like that. We spent seven days in the desert, and it was very hot. You can imagine that when we left Agadez, we were 33 in number but by time we got to a camp in Libya, we have 27 persons alive. I was lucky I was listed as one of those coming back.
Meanwhile, Edo State government has commenced agro-training for 150 returnees as part of effort to meaningfully engage the returnees in productive ventures.
The state government through the Task Force Against Human Trafficking chaired by the state’s commissioner of Justice and Attorney General of the state, Prof Yinka Omorogbe has been working round the clock to redirect the life of the returnees.
The government is working in collaboration with the Initiative for Youth Awareness on Migration, Immigration, Development and Reintegration (IYAMIDR) a non-governmental organization led by Comrade Solomon Okoduwa.