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Nigerian migrants’ sojourn in Middle East ends in woes

Nigeria Immigrant

The quest for greener pastures in the Middle East countries has left many Nigerian migrants, mostly females, worse off than they were before they left the country. Many of them have been sexually assaulted, put in prison on trumped up charges and visited with cruel treatments their employers would not give to beasts. Kafala, a system that gives employers absolute powers over the migrants in parts of the region is compounded by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic which made it impossible for many of them to be paid for the period they slaved for their bosses, INNOCENT DURU reports.

  • Cruel Kafala system, Covid-19 pandemic expose migrants to inhuman treatment
  • Maimed, sexually assaulted victims frustrated, commit suicide

Jummy, a graduate of Computer Science, had heaved a sigh of relief after struggling to complete her university education. “It is time to reap the fruits of my labour”, she said to herself in the hope that she would soon secure a good job.

Her dream of bidding poverty and misery farewell saw a glimmer of hope shortly after she completed the compulsory one year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme.

“Immediately I completed my NYSC, I met a man who asked if I was interested in travelling to Saudi Arabia. He promised that I was not going there to work as a housemaid,” she said.

Jummy said to convince her that a white collar job awaited her in Dubai, “he told me to go with my credentials; that the moment I got there, I would see a woman that would help me secure a job.

“I invested all the money I saved during my NYSC into the travelling project. I also paid the man, but unfortunately, I no longer know his whereabouts. He has not even chatted with me once since I came here.”

Getting to Dubai full of hopes, she said: “When I met the woman here in Saudi Arabia, I gave her my credentials, telling her that I was told she would help me get a job. But to my chagrin, she said I was here to work as a housemaid.

kafala
•Some stranded ladies crowded in a room

“I started crying, telling her that I am a graduate and that I had been promised a better job.

“When I told her that I wanted to return to Nigeria, she said that would be on the condition that I paid her the money she paid to the agent, which, according to her, was more than a million naira.

“Before I travelled, they told me not to tell my family members about it because they could scuttle the plans spiritually.

“I ended up signing two-year contract as a housemaid. Throughout the two years, I didn’t go anywhere; not even outside. They made us to wear uniforms like prisoners instead of our normal clothes. I was made to work all day.

“If they see one sitting down, they will be angry. The salary they are paying is about N70,000.

“At a point, my boss started giving me problems I could not bear. She started dropping broken cups for me to wash. And when I complained about it, she said I was there as a housemaid and that I had been sold to her.

“When one of the broken cups cut my hand and blood started gushing out, she complained that my blood was smelling. I was subsequently locked up in one room where I ate and did everything.”

But she said she was not alone in her ordeal.”There are a lot of our people here that are mentally sick. If they return to Nigeria, they must first go for treatment or they will suffer mental problems,” she said.

It is also a tale of woes for Rayo, who was trafficked to Lebanon by a trusted family friend who had promised her a good job in Dubai.

She said: “I got to Lebanon on August 28, 2019. Two days after I arrived there, I was taken to the hospital to take an injection. Two days after taking the injection, my hand got swollen, causing my employer to reject me.

“I was subsequently taken back to the office of my agent who took me to another employer where I was asked to work from 6 am to 12 am. Following the heavy workload, I fainted on the third day. Thereafter, my agent took me to a place where I underwent training for a week.”

She recalled that after the training, she was taken to another house where she spent about five weeks.

She said: “In that house, there was no food for me. I was not allowed to use phone, and I was to clean the house, work as a gateman, wash the cars and baby sit, among other tasks.

“My agent got annoyed when I told her I couldn’t continue with the work, because I was looking like a skeleton and already having a lot of odour all over my body.

“She subsequently decided to take me to another house where I was to spend another one month for training, but I declined and told her I wanted  to go back home. She got angry, beat the hell out of me and refused to feed me for two days.”

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The agent, Rayo said, eventually took her to another house that was another hell for her.

“There, I cleaned three rooms, three toilets, two big sitting rooms, a big compound and many more every day. The work load affected me seriously, causing me to menstruate for more than six months without stopping.

“With the help of God, Ms Omotola Fawunmi and the Oyo State Government, I returned home on July 11.”

But Rayo’s return did not necessarily spell an end to her troubles.

She said: “Life has not been what we expected it to be when we were coming home. We didn’t come back with any money so survival has been pretty difficult.

“Before I travelled, I was working as a secretary in a hotel. After completing my education, I went into teaching before meeting the owner of the hotel where I was eventually employed.

“It was along the line that I met the agent that said I should travel to Dubai. He assured that I would be paid N120,000 monthly in Dubai. The agent is a brother to my classmate in the secondary school.

“She introduced me to him and because the offer was coming through her, I was convinced that it would not be a scam. It was when I got to the airport that I realised that it was Lebanon that I was going to, and because I had invested a lot of money in the journey, I could not turn back at the airport.”

Omotola
Omotola

After all she suffered in Lebanon, Rayo said she only received salaries for five months of the 11 months she worked.

“I was paid N68,000 monthly. The few months’ salaries I received were used to pay back the money I borrowed before I travelled. They could not pay the outstanding salaries because they could not afford to.”

Another migrant who shared her ordeal with The Nation was Sola, a practising nurse who quit her nursing job in mid 2019 to seek greener pastures in Lebanon.

“I am working as a maid here (Lebanon) and have suffered a lot. But I thank God I am still alive,” she said as she recounted her ordeal in the hands of her madam.

“I have been working without getting any salary and basic care from my madam, who also beats me up each time I ask her about my salary. She hits me with anything she finds around her. She pushed me one day and I hit my chest badly against the wall and fell down the staircase.

“I wash all the rooms every day and take care of the baby without a chance to rest at all.”

Asked how she got to Lebanon, she said: “It was someone I used to treat as a nurse that facilitated my coming here. I was always telling her that I wished to have a shop to start my own business, but she said I should try and go to Lebanon and that all I would do was to take care of the house.

“Unfortunately I found myself in slavery when I got here. She asked for N250,000 but I have only paid N150,000. The last time I paid her was December last year.

“She is still asking me to send money but my parents said I should not because of the suffering I am undergoing here.

“I have run out of the house when I saw that those people could kill me one day. I ran to the embassy.”

Abbey, who recently returned from Lebanon, said the person she worked for did not pay her any salary. She said: “I went there in March this year. It was Governor Makinde that paid for us to come home. I paid N100,000 to the agent here to travel. When our bosses couldn’t pay and we were complaining, they went and dropped us by a bush.

“We were nine in number. We stayed in the bush for a week before we found our ways to the embassy. It was some of us who had money that were buying food for us.

“The Nigerian Embassy rented an apartment for us but they were not giving us food. We were collecting money from our parents back home to survive.

“I was supposed to be paid $200 a month but I didn’t get a dime as salary all through my stay. When I wanted to do COVID-19 test in Lebanon, it was an NGO called ‘This is Lebanon’ that gave me money to pay before I was allowed to return home.

A check on the nation’s migrants in Oman shows they were not faring better.

One of the returnees, Suzan, described her experience as one she does not want to remember anymore.

READ  Uganda lifts COVID-19 closure admits refugees escaping escalating violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

She said: “I was introduced to travelling to Oman by a man who happens to be my agent. He came with information that they needed a stylist, but at the end, he told me about a teaching job, which caught my interest.

“But the story changed afterwards. He did my passport for N25,000. The experience is a very long and sad story which I don’t wish to recollect.”

Zain Lawson, a co-founder of This is Lebanon, an international NGO assisting Africans undergoing hardship to return home, told The Nation of a Nigerian woman who was supposed to return home recently but could not because her former agent filed a complaint against her.

Lawson said: “The same agent who beat her up threatened to kill her and stole her salary. After she ran away, he reported her to the police so if she tries to fly out she’ll be arrested.

“She reported her agent to Lebanon’s Ministry of Labour but they blocked her after several messages.”

He further said: “One of the Nigerian women who was injured during the Beirut blast was thrown out on the street, went to get her wounds bandaged, went to the airport covered in bandages from her injuries, but was arrested because her employer made a complaint against her.”

Kafala system explained

Experts in the migration world have pointed out the ills of the Kafala system practised in many Middle East countries.

One of them, Omotola Fawunmi, founder of RebirthUB Africa said the system has been around for a long time and it is a predominant employment system in the Middle East.T

Fawunmi said: “A lot has been written about the system but many people sincerely do not know about the Kafala system and what it means for them. It is a system that impoverishes. It is a system that makes an economic migrant either a slave to the recruiter or the employer.

“Kafala should be abolished. It doesn’t give the migrant domestic worker options or choices. It empowers slavery, it empowers subjugation, it empowers oppression of the migrant domestic workers.”

Ground Coordinator of This is Lebanon, Nia Evans, said the Kafala employment system is state sponsored slavery and domestic workers lack the most basic of protections.

“Along with Oman, Lebanon remains the only country in the Middle East without any labour laws governing domestic workers.

“There are no laws of any kind that protect domestic workers. Lebanese employers have complete impunity to treat workers as their property: they can enslave, torture, rape, and kill, with no consequences. Justice is never served in Lebanon for domestic workers.”

Omotola said she has several cases and several stories of migrant domestic workers who have been killed, maimed or raped and forced to commit suicide.”

She went on to advocate the abolition of the oppressive system.

“There are other systems like the one in the UAE that honours the migrant worker and makes sure that the promises are kept by both parties. When our government sign bilateral labour agreement, we counsel that they please read the provisions of that agreement before signing them so they don’t sign away our women and sisters into slavery by executive orders.”

COVID-19 compounds migrants’ plight

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic is said to have aggravated the plight of the migrants. According to Nia Evans of This is Lebanon, “before the pandemic, Lebanon’s general security stated that two women die each week due to these conditions, often from suicide or failed escapes. Now, under restrictions designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, entrapment, increased workplace abuse and non-payment of salary increase the likelihood of self-harm, suicide and death.”

Nia added that COVID-19 is spreading like wild fire in Lebanon and “MDW are the most vulnerable in this society and are therefore more prone to being infected by the virus. MDW have no access to health care or social support. They are stigmatised, abused and subjected to racism on a daily basis.

“They are at risk of homelessness and being detained and placed in already overcrowded detention facilities. Those stranded are vulnerable to exploitation, including sex trafficking or being sold to other employers.”

On her part, Omotola said because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the downturn in the economy, a lot of migrant workers were pushed out on the street and left to fend for themselves because they could no longer be catered for.

“They were stranded in a country they couldn’t leave and they didn’t have enough money. Some of them have had to turn to prostitution just to survive.

“While I don’t support prostitution, I find it very sickening that women would have to turn to it to survive because there seems to be no other way to live.

READ  The child refugees risking the Channel by boat – one year on
lebanon arrival
•Some of the ladies on arrival from Lebanon

“Our sisters do not have to live like this.  Our sisters, our mothers, our wives and citizens of Nigeria should not be involved in this.  We need to put an end to this. The government needs to be a lot more responsible and responsive.

“The government needs to understand that when a citizen approaches her government in a foreign country, her government should not collude with her slave masters to keep her impoverished.

“I say this with all sense of responsibility. I say this with all sense of modesty. Our sisters are suffering; period. They are not just in a space of impoverishment and their back being doubly bent, they have also lost their self esteem; they have lost their sense of personhood.

“A lot of them are deeply trumatised, and even if they return home, they cannot raise their heads high because they have been battered.  As a collective, as a nation, and as a body of people, we can do better.”

How African leaders can checkmate Lebanon

Worried by the despicable experiences of Africans in the Middle East, Nia called on African leaders to stop the menace. “Many of these African governments do have the power to stand up and fight for their workers. Unfortunately, only few of them are taking the steps necessary.

“On the most basic level, they can be providing evacuation flights, quarantine measures and ensuring that they have a Consul in Lebanon who cares for each of their nationals, more than the shady business deals done through the consulate.

“These governments could take a coordinated action that would almost immediately get all migrant domestic workers in Lebanon home who would like to leave.

“The African governments could solve this problem overnight. Lebanon is in a currency crisis, and one of the largest sources of income in Lebanon is money sent from Lebanese nationals who own businesses in Lebanon.

“These countries could unite and say that they won’t allow money to be sent to Lebanon until Lebanon returns their women. The African sending countries have the upper-hand, but they have to choose to use it.”

Quoting the Lebanese Embassy in Nigeria, Nia said there are approximately 5,000 Nigerians living in Lebanon.

“Many of these Nigerians are MDW, identified as females and being made destitutes. They have been forced into domestic servitude. They have been mistreated physically, sexually and mentally by their employers and agents.

“As a collective, This is Lebanon and Syrian Eyes have been assisting the Nigerian community of MDWs since August 2020. So far, in the safe houses we have supported approximately 150 Nigerian women with zero assistance from Nigerian authorities.

“At present, we are supporting approximately 51 women who have escaped from abusive agents/employers, women who have been dumped in front of the embassy and women who have been forced into homelessness.

“With very limited resources we have been attempting to meet the women’s most basic needs by providing food, covering rents, purchasing flights and covering the cost of PCR tests.”

Lebanon stops issuance of visas to domestic workers from Nigeria

The Lebanese Government early in June this year announced that it had suspended issuance of working visas to Nigerians seeking to work in Lebanon, particularly for domestic work.

Lebanese Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador Houssam Diab, stated that the suspension started since May 1 as a result of complaints of abuse by some employers as well as the case of the video of Peace Busari, a Nigerian lady auctioned for sale for $1000 on social media in April this year, which went viral.

According to Diab, the suspension was to stem the tide for such categories of workers pending the time the procedure would be properly harmonised with the Ministry of Labour, in line with best practices of managed and orderly migration.

 

Culled from The Nation Newspaper

 

 

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Investigation

Inside Italian farms where Nigerian migrants, others are dehumanised

  • Victims lament living conditions in European country
  • Migrants suffer mental health, skin, respiratory problems -Italian NGO
  • Govt, labour unions working to address challenges- NIDO’s spokesperson

Many citizens of Nigerian and other African countries have walked their ways back into slavery decades after the trans-Atlantic slave trade through which their forebears were dehumanised ended. In Italy, many of them are living like slaves in agricultural farms where they are exploited at will and left to live like destitute, INNOCENT DURU reports.

A good number of undocumented migrants from Nigeria and other parts of Africa who survive the herculean task of passing through the Sahara Desert and crossing the Mediterranean Sea end up in Italy from where some of them migrate to other European countries.

To survive in the European country, many of them take up menial jobs they would ordinarily not accept in their own countries. They work in agricultural farms where they pick tomatoes, oranges, grapes and other fruits for daily pay.

And as strenuous and demeaning as the job is, the migrants don’t get it on a platter of gold. “Many of them are illegally employed by mafias. It is called caporalato here. It is a form of illegal hiring and exploitation of manpower through an intermediary. It spreads across Italy and it is particularly frequent in the agricultural and farm sector,” said Jerome, a Nigerian migrant

“When it is not harvest time, the migrant workers get between two to four Euros per hour, compared to Italy’s standard of more than seven Euros per hour stipulated in agricultural minimum wage. And they pay the mafia middleman five to 10 Euros before they can secure working fields,” he added

Ibe, another Nigerian based in Italy, said some cruel mafia sometimes drug the migrants while Aboubarcar Soumahoro, an Ivorian who formerly worked in the farms but  is now an activist, decried the migrants’ inability to achieve their dreams.

Soumahoro said on his Facebook page: “We want a decent job and a roof over our heads where we can raise our children.  These pictures (displayed on his page) tell us this desire is not allowed to labourers engaged in harvesting agricultural products that end on our tables. As long as our communities accept this kind of injustice, our humanity will be defeated.”

He also alleged in a documentary that the migrant workers are paid low wage because of the colour of their skin. “If you refuse what they offer, you won’t get a contract. So the workers are squeezed to accept the conditions. There are no rights and there is no dignity. They are just workers exploited and enslaved,” he said.

 

Recently, a 27-year-old from Mali reportedly collapsed and died in the southeastern Apulia region after working a day in the fields in temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius.

“You may work 28 days, but they’ll mark only four on your pay slip, so at the end of the month you may get 200, 300 euros,” Marco Omizzolo, a rights activist told AFP.

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“Formally, it is all by the book,” he added.

An Italy based freelance journalist, Gioacomo Zandonini, told our correspondent that the farms  are places of marginalisation and abuses.

He said: “Fruits and vegetables picked up here are reaching countries all over Europe, where their prices are competitive because of this very complex system of exploitation, that goes from the bit distribution companies, setting prices, to local land owners and workers that are paying such a high toll for trying to survive in Italy.”

Francessco, a freelance photographer also based in Italy, told The Nation that in Italy, the exploitation of migrants is useful and functional to the economy. “So there is no interest in stopping the phenomenon. Moreover, the rampant corruption in southern Italy means that there are no controls in the companies where workers, both Italian and foreign, are exploited.

“Migrants, as always, are useful to politics both for propaganda and for the Italian and European economies which function thanks to the work and sweat of people exploited at work.

“In addition, many Italians no longer want to do the most menial jobs. Thus, agricultural entrepreneurs often use migrants living in reception centres, because they are blackmailable and because they are satisfied with little money.”

He added. “There is also a ‘work tour’, where migrants move around various regions in southern Italy according to the seasonality of the fruit harvest.

“Agriculture and the mafia are often linked either through land ownership or through distribution abroad or in supermarkets. The mafia also has ‘caporali’, who are intermediaries between the workers and the boss. Often, the mafia finds migrants in reception centres and uses them to make them work where the mafia wants.”

Urmila Bhoola, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, reported that the “caporalato” system consists both of labour brokers who supply irregular and regular migrants to farms and a network of criminal syndicates and mafia groups who benefit from the exploitation of the slavery-like conditions of migrant workers.

According to the report, most of the workers are from Sub-Saharan Africa. In the province of Latina, though, about 30,000 Sikh workers from India are subjected to extreme forms of coercion, including being forced to take performance-enhancing drugs, which are prohibited by their religion.

Workers are often victims of physical assault and sexual violence, withholding of wages and documents, and threats to their families if they refuse to work.

A recent police investigation offered fresh evidence of widespread abuse among the Indian community. That operation led to the arrest of a doctor in the beach town of Sabaudia. He was accused of illegally prescribing more than 1,500 boxes of Depalgos, a powerful painkiller containing Oxycodone and given to cancer patients, to 222 Indian farm workers.

“The drug presumably allowed them to work longer in the fields by relieving pain and fatigue,” Latina chief prosecutor Giuseppe De Falco told AFP. Migrants lament living conditions

READ  900 stranded Britons to return home next week

A documentary of the living conditions of the migrants obtained by our correspondent spoke volumes of how meaningless the lives of migrants are to their hosts.  After working for 13 years in Italy’s fields, all that a Nigerian female farm worker could show for it was a room apartment tucked in a shanty. The building has no electricity supply, running water or other basic amenities.

Before she could drink the water, she would have to boil it with herbs. “If we don’t boil the water with herbs before drinking it, we would fall sick every day. In my country, I have never lived in this kind of environment,” she said.

Ismail, a Ghanaian who went to Italy hoping for a better life, was seen in the documentary lamenting the condition he was living in.

“I always feel ashamed when anybody back home calls to do video chat with me. I feel uncomfortable to do that because the place I am living in is very shameful,” he said.

Sadio, a Senegalese based in Italy, said: “Life here is inhuman. Look around, many people living here are living in terrible conditions.”

The ghettos where the migrants live in, according to Francessco, are usually full of rubbish.

He said: “They are pieces of uncultivated land which arise in the suburbs or under motorways where there are many tents and huts where migrants live. In these ghettos there are no services such as water or toilets. So there are no human hygienic conditions and no services of any kind. In this way, migrants are increasingly isolated and live in very poor conditions.”

 

Why migrants suffer mental health, respiratory problems among others – Italian NGO

An Italian non-governmental organisation, Medici per i Diritti Umani – MEDU (Doctors for Human Rights – Italy) shared with The Nation their experience helping the migrants over the years as follows: “The migrants from Nigeria that the mobile clinic team meets within the informal settlements in Rome (railway stations, squats) are people who live in Italy permanently and have been here for some years. It’s not uncommon that they live under uncertain legal conditions because their request of asylum have been declined or/and they are in the process of appealing.

“Their life situation is extremely precarious from various points of view. Very often, they do not have a job or they can only get seasonal work. For this reason, in certain periods of the year, they move to the regions of Southern Italy to work in the citrus harvest.

“When they don’t have work to do, they return to big cities like Rome and live on the street or in precarious settlements, shacks, etc.”

On the types of health challenges the migrants face, MEDU said: “In most situations, the health problems they have are linked to the precarious conditions in which they are forced to live, which very often also have consequences on their mental health.

“In winter time, the diseases they suffer from are linked to the respiratory system, due to the environmental conditions or diseases of the osteo-muscular system, due to the condition of sleeping on the street; skin diseases due to poor hygienic conditions and diseases of the digestive system linked to incorrect nutrition but also to the somatization of stress.”

READ  Only 189 migrants returned to Turkey despite EU refugee pact

The organisation lamented that the Italian system does not treat the migrants well. “As for the people we meet as MEDU, unfortunately we have to say that the system does not treat them with dignity. Very often, these are people forced to live on the margins of society and are not given any opportunity to integrate.”

A number of the migrants, according to the organization, are serving various jail terms. “For the few known cases, we can say that the crime for which some of them are incarcerated is above all for the trafficking and sale of drugs.”

A former Edo State Commissioner for Arts, Culture, Tourism and Diaspora Affairs, Osaze Osemwingie-Ero, in a recent  interview with The Nation, said over 300 Nigerian youths are ‘illegally’ detained in Italian prisons for contrived charges on mafia-related offences.

Osaze who spent 18 months in an Italian prison for an offence he claimed not to have committed, says his case was as a result of racial discrimination and manipulation of the Italian justice system, and not the offence that was alleged against him.

“I was alleged to be a Mafia kingpin and on that course was detained. Upon demand for evidence, a manual called the ‘Green Bible’ was presented, which was obviously forged,” he said, adding that some Nigerians have been sentenced to 140 years imprisonment for the same Nigerian mafia accusation citing article 416b of Italian Mafia law.

Govt, labour unions working to address challenges – NIDO’s spokesperson

A former Vice Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation, NIDO Europe, (Italy chapter) and current Public Relations Officer/Assistaant  General Secretary, NIDO, Europe Continental,  Fidel Wilson, told The Nation that the plight of migrant workers were being addressed by the government and the labour unions.

“The main reason most of them are exploited is desperation. No papers and quest for survival. But the government and labour unions are working on how their conditions can be improved,” he said.

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Investigation

Why Nigerian ladies may continue to be lured to Middle-East

Migrants at the Tripoli Airport preparing to board the flight home. Photo: IOM

 

By Gbenga Aderanti

 

For the Nigerian ladies who work in both the Middle East and Arab countries, it has always been one story of woe or the other.

But, despite the stories being told and the human degradation being faced by these Nigerian ladies, some of them still find it difficult to ignore the allure of Arab countries; even when they are not sure of what awaits them in these foreign lands.

Though the reports from the returnees from these countries are chilling and scary, many of the ladies are not dissuaded on their resolve to still go to places like Lebanon, Libya and Oman, Libya.

In some instances, many parents aid the movement of their wards on this perilous journey.

Recently, the Niger State Police Command rescued five victims from being taken to Libya by human traffickers. Two suspects were arrested during the rescue operation while the police said they were on the trail of other members of the syndicate.

The two suspects arrested Osaruwumen Ewodaru (49) and Olaoluwa Adebanjo (43), were caught with female victims, aged between 18 and 23 years, en route Libya.

Further investigation revealed that parents of the victims were in cahoots with the suspected traffickers.

One of the suspects, Osaruwumen claimed it was not his first time he was taking ladies to Libya.

Narrating how she got caught up in the journey, one of the victims, who was with Osaruwumen, said she was told to follow him to Libya where she would find her way to Italy to meet her uncle who works and lives there.

She said: “Osaruwumen lives in my area. He is a bricklayer. When he told my mother he was travelling, my mother asked me to follow him to Libya, and that when I got to Libya, I would cross to Italy to meet my Uncle in Italy.”

She claimed that it was not her decision to go, but her mother assured her that she would make a lot of money if she did.

Another victim, a 300 level student, said that a woman in her neighbourhood told her mother that her daughter in Libya said that workers were needed and they should go for the jobs.

“That was why my mother allowed me to go on the trip. They told us we would work as housemaids or cleaners, taking care of animals on the farm or cleaning old people’s homes.”

Another Nigerian lady, Adetutu, a Mass Communication graduate, who has had the misfortune of travelling to Oman, while narrating her experience to The Nation revealed that if not for her boyfriend, she would have died in Oman. “It was my boyfriend that facilitated my traveling to Oman and when I couldn’t cope with the work there, he was asked to pay N400, 000 before I could be allowed to come back to the country. She revealed that while she was lucky to come back, there are other Nigeria ladies that have been perpetually signed into slavery.

Though Adedutu has found her groove back as she is now married with two kids, she is still haunted by the unpalatable experience in the Middle east.

According to her, the first thing her sponsors in Oman did was to seize her phone and was told point blank that she would not be able to talk to her family members in Nigeria for the two years she would be staying with her ‘Master’.

“I would wake up daily at 5am and would not sleep until 11pm or midnight as I would be busy performing all manner of house chores. I was never offered breakfast until about 4 pm. Many times I would steal bread from the fridge and take it to the bathroom to eat.”

She was lucky as her rebellious attitude and her nagging made her employer reject her and sent her back to her agent’s office.

She returned to Nigeria without a dime. She was happy that she got her sanity back.

Adetutu blamed both the Nigerian ‘agents’ and radio presenters who, probably out of ignorance “allow criminals to use their air time to advertise this modern slavery.”

Another Nigerian lady, 22-year-old Damilola Falodun, in a report, said her stay in the oil rich Oman will continue to cause her nightmare.

According to her, most Oman men regard black women as sex objects just to satisfy their pleasure.

READ  Nigerian priest leaves German parish after receiving death threat

She lost her parents and her life and education were in shambles. She needed to travel out of the country in order to escape from poverty. Unfortunately,

her initial plan was to go to Canada but this was not to be.

She was convinced by a pastor to take the option of Oman, ‘which was in need of workers,’ she took the option.

She was neither privy to the nature of the job nor her wages. All lines of communication had been severed.

“Under the contract agreement signed here in Nigeria by the agents, unknown to us, communication or the use of the phone was not allowed; hence it would be taken away from us. It was a two year arrangement contracted by Nigerians in collaboration with their Omanis counterparts there.

“The contracts were signed by the two parties secretly. The Omani agents would pay about N700, 000 to agents in Nigeria which would be used to facilitate our tickets, visas and traveling documents.

“But the dubious Nigerian agents would also demand about N600, 000 from us for the same purpose already paid for by the Omani agents. They told us that our own money was what they needed to facilitate the traveling documentation which was a lie. The moment you are gone, they signed you off,” she said in a report.

In Oman, she became a slave.

“In Oman, we were told by the Omani lords in a simple language, “You are our property. We have bought you for two years and you don’t own yourself until you finish the contract.”

“Now, the irony is that, the so-called masters would apply some tricks that would make you not to last for three months in a place.

The moment you became frustrated and wanted to change from your home to another home, the entire contract would be canceled, and you would start all over again. Under these conditions, many girls were inhumanly treated. Some died in the process while some became perpetual slaves to the masters. The job description was horrible. As a maid, you have no rest for a whole year.

We must serve an extended home of about six to seven families. In Oman, they keep nuclear homes and each housemaid serves the entire home without rest or any holiday. Other inhuman treatments include sexual harassment, violent physical attack by wicked masters, while some would push you out to make sure you did not complete your contract.

Moreover, every salary you work for before the completion of the contract would be paid in advance to the agents in Oman. You can only have access to your salary when you complete a contract with a house. Information about work conditions was kept secret and you dare not use their phone in their absence. The experience was horrible.”

According to her, all Arab countries treat young black girls the same way. They will not let them have any decent job even when you are qualified for it. They see us as objects for sex and maltreatment.

 

Nigerian ladies‘ll continue to emigrate to Arab countries

But despite the slavish treatment being meted to Nigerian ladies, it will be difficult for them to ignore the allure of the Middle- East and the Arab countries.

Speaking to The Nation, an agent who has been in Egypt for more than 15 years disclosed that many Nigerian ladies would continue to travel to Arab countries, irrespective of the chilling stories from these, they would continue to be taking their chances.

According to him, it is better out there for ladies who desire better lives for themselves.

He acknowledged that some of the ladies face lots of challenges, but insisted that some of them are still doing well for themselves and their families in Nigeria.

The agent, Ibrahim, pleaded that he would not like his full name in print and said, he had not done any other job outside getting jobs for the Nigerian ladies.

He confessed that the agency he operates is not registered but “there is nothing illegal about our activities.”

The agent blamed poverty in the land as the main reason Nigerian girls would continue to try their luck in the Arab countries.

“And until the situation of the country improves, Nigerian ladies will continue to explore other countries for better prospects.

“There is always a steady order for housekeeping jobs because there are so many families.”

Many of the ladies working in the middle east have complained that the work there is strenuous, Ibrahim told The Nation that while this may be true to a certain extent, he said some of the ladies are lazy to the extent that they cannot do simple house chores.

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Many of the ladies who had been lucky to return to Nigeria warned other ladies who wanted to embark on dangerous ventures of going to places like Oman and Lebanon, Ibrahim said he is always cautious about the country to take the ladies to.

Many of the returnee ladies have accused agents of taking ladies to do prostitution; he explained that for the ladies that are hard-working, the jobs of maids and housekeeping are available in Egypt.

“The Majority of those ladies who come to Oman do menial jobs, such as house- keeping jobs, only few do professional jobs and it depends on the agent that took you to the place.”

He warned ladies who are coming with the mindset of coming to Egypt to prostitute should perish the thought as they would be disappointed.

“You must not be caught prostituting in Egypt because the consequence of being caught is grave. Many of these ladies had been deported because they were caught engaging in prostitution.

While it may be true that some of the girls who are taken to other countries do prostitution, in Egypt, it may be a bit difficult as prostitution is not profitable here. This is because Nigerian men who are supposed to be their clients do not earn much to allow for such excesses.

He described Egypt as a home away from home because foreigners enjoy certain liberties there that are scarce in other countries.

Ibrahim revealed probably because of the way these Middle East are configured, they will continue to be attractive to ladies.

 

Why ladies get into trouble

While not discountenancing the activities of some Shylock employment agents, he explained that most of these ladies get into trouble because of their fraudulent behaviors.

According to him, most of the ladies even before they arrived in these countries had a game plan. “Instead of these ladies focusing on their jobs, they often try to play fast one on their employers, that is when they usually get into trouble.”

“I would advise the ladies coming to Egypt, to respect their culture. You have to be decent with the way you dress.

Don’t think you will make money from prostitution, stay away from it.

“As long as you are not tempted to steal from your employer, you are not likely to get into trouble. The money you are going to earn is enough to take care of you and your family.

“I always tell the ladies I give jobs not to follow men because it is the unemployed Nigerian men that would finish their earnings.

Egypt is far better than places like Oman. One of the ladies who left Cairo for Oman told me that her three years in Oman was a disaster.

“In Cairo, you don’t feel you are not in Nigeria, you are free, you visit people unlike Oman, it is work, work and work from morning to night it is work 24/7 there she told me that was her experience. Those in Oman do not have freedom like those in Egypt.

“In Egypt, Nigerians brings artises, we go for shows, we do naming ceremony and wedding just the way we do it in Nigeria, people do take aso ebi anytime there is naming ceremony or wedding, but you can’t do that in Oman. Egypt is liberal.

What the Nigerian ladies go through in the Middle East, according to Ibrahim, are exaggerated.

Commenting on a video released by some Nigerian ladies about their plight in Oman, he insisted that it could not have been the true reflection about what is happening in the country. “The question is why is it that most of them still prefer to stay there?

“The truth is that most ladies do not have the power to do these odd jobs that is why they complain a lot. I think the freedom they don’t have is what is making them complain. Imagine a person who was not doing house chores before leaving Nigeria and found herself being ordered around by some people?”

 

 

Win- win situation for all

For the good employment agents, it is a win-win situation for the ladies, sponsors and their agents.

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“In all honesty, it is the ladies who benefit more from the deal, not the agents and the sponsors.

“There is always an agreement between the sponsors and the ladies, they agree on the number of years the ladies would work to pay back on the money spent in facilitating the travelling abroad and the cost of getting jobs for these ladies.

The job of the agents abroad ends after collecting his commission after securing a house maid job for the Nigerian lady.

“But the sponsors benefit more. In most cases, they pay their sponsors for a year or more before they start earning money for themselves. But then the ladies collect stipends and upkeeps, part of which the lady sends back home to their families.

“The sponsor is expected to be responsible for her medical bills during the time she is paying back what was spent to bring her into the Middle- East or some of these area countries.

“Some of these girls have medical issues before leaving Nigeria; the sponsors are responsible for their medical well-being.

But after the 18 months when the lady must have finished paying back, some of them stay five to seven years, working and earning money on their own. I know of 10 girls that have stayed five- 10 years after 18 months. If truly the ladies are being exploited, they won’t get a dime.”

Ibrahim argued that if it were so bad as being painted in certain quarters, how come some of them come to Nigeria for holidays and still return to their place of work. Some of them do come home for holidays or leave.

“The employment agents like me are just brokers between the maids, agents and the employers. The maids may not be able to contact me directly, but they contact me via their sponsors.

“Anytime there is a vacancy, I would contact the sponsors, can you do it? This is the amount they are willing to pay, these are the terms and conditions, then I get my commission.”

 

Before you travel to Middle-East

There had been several instances where parents had been approached by agents that they would help in securing employment for ladies; Ibrahim warned parents should be wary of such offers as it could end in a disaster.

According to him, it is very difficult to get to a place like Egypt by road. “If anybody says they are is going to Egypt by road that means that person has fake visa and there is no way he would be able to enter Egypt

“Egyptian visas are difficult to get. That is why agents charge so much to facilitate travelling to Egypt.”

He disclosed that this is why those who are sponsoring these girls ask for big money and that is why they put a clause that the ladies would pay for 18 months.

The Nation gathered that some sponsors ask for between N400, 000-N450, 000 for visa fees from these ladies, excluding ticketing and other fees.

While there are many nationalities in places like Egypt, the only Africans, according to investigations, that can enter Egypt by road are the Sudanese, because the Egyptians see them as refugees and when these Sudanese enter Egypt, they don’t go to the cities, they head straight for the camps.

According to a source, “there are always housekeeping jobs/maids jobs readily available for ladies. Nigerians are not the only people doing their jobs, there are many Asians competing for the same job—including Indians, Pakistanis, and Filipinos.

He said he has not had an issue with his client, I always tell them that if they have a problem with a worker I tell them to call me first and I would settle it before it degenerates. I always make sure that those ladies have guarantors too before I can connect them with Egypt and that they need
them.

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Investigation

I’m not old enough to be a woman: a Burundi child’s protest ignored

“After raping me, he told me that I was still a child, and he threw me outside to sleep. This is the first time I have told anyone because I was scared to say something before.” And so, 12-year-old Elisabeth’s childhood was forever changed.

It had never been a happy, care-free upbringing after her stepfather forced her to live with her grandparents.

“Life was difficult with my grandparents, there was no food to eat. I left to stay with a friend whose neighbours said there was a woman in the village offering to take her to Tanzania,” says Elisabeth.

She knew she wouldn’t get a salary there, but it meant food on the table and a bed – for a while.

“The woman started to ask me to steal bananas from neighbours’ crops and threatened to kick me out if I refused. Another family in the village offered for me to go their friend’s house to work instead. They introduced me to a man that was to be my new husband. I refused and told them, ‘I did not come here to marry’. They laughed and took me to a bar nearby.”

She went along but did not drink. “We came back at night, and they told me I could sleep in the man’s house next door. When I refused, they suggested one of their girls could accompany me, but it was a trap. The man asked the girl to get him a beer and instead she locked the door from the outside, leaving me alone with him.

”’Even if you refuse to marry me, I already paid your dowry in beers tonight’, he told me.

‘I’m not old enough to be a woman’, I told him.”

She struggled and screamed but no one came. “They all could hear and knew what was happening. Eventually, he overpowered me. I was 11 or 12 years old at the time.”

Elisabeth went from house to house, staying with anyone who would take her in. “Some refused my offer of domestic work because I was a minor. Others offered me 30,000 Tanzanian shillings (EUR 11) a month, but I never received it. Each time I asked for it they would reply ‘later’, ‘another time’ or ‘how do you think we pay for your food and bed? That’s already money’.

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Eventually neighbours called a Tanzanian organisation called Kiwohede, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Burundi, which collaborates with the NGO to assist and reunite child victims of trafficking (VoT), stepped in. ” Kiwohede took me into their shelter until IOM came and helped me to find my family and bring me home.”

Now 16 and too old for primary school, Elisabeth is being taught couture. ”I hope that I can be really good at it and become independent with this profession.”

Elisabeth’s disturbing story is all too familiar. Human trafficking is an issue that hangs in the air like smoke in Burundi. It permeates society as it does across the world in at least 148 countries.

Burundi is a source country for children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. According to the United States (US) Bureau of international labour affairs, children are trafficked to Tanzania for work in agriculture and gold mines or domestic work. Burundian girls are trafficked internationally for commercial sexual exploitation in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and countries in the Middle East. In Burundi, trafficking in persons mostly involves forced labour, commonly for domestic work and childcare, along with agriculture, hospitality, construction, begging, and peddling.

 

From victim to survivor

The centre which helped Elisabeth works to identify and shelter girls who have been trafficked in one of the 23 districts and seven regions which they cover. They work with local authorities to conduct door-to-door visits to scout for children who are being exploited and to raise awareness through local radio stations.

“People often call to alert us of children in exploitative situations,” say Tuyizere*, the centre’s manager. The centre identifies child victims of trafficking (VoT), provides them temporary shelter, and it offers psychosocial counselling and life skills training. There are games, toys and an area to play group sports. Often these children are illiterate and are too old for primary school. Professionals teach life skills such as how to sew, to weave baskets, to cook or make soap, among other things. “The children also share their knowledge and talents with other children if they can,” adds Tuyizere.

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According to IOM Burundi’s Survivor Database, 49 per cent of survivors are identified and referred by local NGOs, followed by community leaders (17 per cent), other trafficking survivors (9 per cent), family and friends (7 per cent), IOM missions elsewhere (5 per cent), government officials (5 per cent), and social workers (5 per cent).

IOM conducts its own screening to identify the VoT and provides psychosocial counselling services, in addition to support provided by UNICEF – the leading United Nations actor on child protection. Finding the children’s families, assessing whether it is safe for them to return and helping them to reintegrate within their communities is integral.

 

Burundi ramps up efforts to combat Trafficking in Persons

IOM data show that over 1,000 VoT have been identified and assisted in Burundi since 2017 but this direct assistance is only a fraction of the effort to combat human trafficking in the country. IOM Burundi is engaged in several initiatives to strengthen government capacity to combat TiP, thanks to generous support from the Kingdom of the Netherlands and USAID. These include hosting mass awareness activities throughout the country and training police, magistrates, and immigration officers on TiP, Gender-based Violence and wider protection issues. According to the Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies in Burundi, labour laws are not sufficiently enforced which then encourages the normalization of certain forms of exploitation, such as non-remuneration for economic activities which affects more than a third of women and men between 15 and 49 years.

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Sixteen-year-old Elisabeth* during one of the sewing lessons she has taken up to provide for herself. Photo: IOM/Lauriane Wolfe

The Government of Burundi also plays a leading role in the fight against TiP. Recently, in its 2021 TiP report released on 1 July, the United States Department of State announced that Burundi had moved from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List classification. It is now among the countries whose governments have made considerable efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of TiP.

It has appointed an Inter-ministerial Anti-trafficking Ad hoc Committee made up of key ministries and adopted a 2014 Law on the Prevention and Punishment of Trafficking in Persons and Protection of VoT, in accordance with the 2000 Palermo Protocol.

Despite gains, more needs to be done to enhance prevention, protection, and prosecution in the country. To that end, IOM is collaborating with the Government of Burundi and its Committee to finalize standard operating procedures and develop a national referral mechanism to identify and refer victims to appropriate services – among other actions.

*Names have been changed to protect their identities

Support Voice for African Migrants


Support VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS journalism of integrity and credibility.

Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

For continued free access to the best and latest migration, trafficking, displacement and humanitarian reports including thorough investigative reports in these areas, we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.

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