By - Adedoyin Shittu
Human Trafficking ranks amongst the most prevailing transnational crime issues in Africa and the world at large, it is also one of the fastest growing illegal business on the planet worth $13.1 billion industry just in Africa alone. It is sad that African governments are not doing enough to address it. Human trafficking include sex trafficking, forced labour, and domestic servitude. Human traffickers often seek the most vulnerable populations. In South Africa, an estimated 30,000 children are trafficked each year. Furthermore, in countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe and Ghana, girls as young as eight years old are sold as brides.
Victims are lured through false promises of better jobs and living conditions but once they arrive at the new location, they are told they will have to work off a large debt and are forced to work in inhumane conditions for little or no pay. They may also be forced into the sex trade. Sex exploitation victims are usually held under tight security to prevent their escape, some victims are often moved from one safe house to another without ever knowing exactly where they are. They are often plied with disorienting drugs and ordered not to cooperate with law enforcement if they are apprehended. Thousands of women are lured from Nigeria to Italy annually by the promise of a new life, only to find themselves trapped in the sex trade.
Loveth, a 21-year-old from Lagos, was only 17 when she left Nigeria. After being offered a job as a babysitter in Italy, she was instead forced to work in a brothel in Libya for three years.
“Before I went I was made to swear to the gods [in a juju ceremony] and they said if I didn’t pay back the money I wouldn’t be able to have babies and my life would be useless,” she says.
“Before they took me to Libya they used two boys to break my virginity and then they took me to Libya to a house and sent many men to sleep with me. They didn’t pay me, they just used me.”
After being sold to another madam, Loveth refused to work and was beaten and had boiling water thrown on her legs. Eventually she was put on a boat to Italy with 95 other people. “When I arrived in Italy I was very sick so they took me to the hospital and there I found out I was pregnant,” she says. “That is when I knew the juju was a lie. After that I never worked as a prostitute again”.
Victims may also be kidnapped or intimidated through threats, lies, psychological coercion, or physical force. Usually they often share the same national, ethnic, or cultural background as their captors, who threaten to harm their family members if victims don’t cooperate.
Since the death of Libya strongman, Muammar Gaddafi, the Mediterranean has been used as a channel by human traffickers to smuggle victims out of the continent. Willing migrants hoping to leave the continent illegally in search for greener pasture have also moved toward the Mediterranean for an escape route.
In 2016 alone, 602,000 Nigerians attempted to migrate to Europe through the Mediterranean sea. In the same year, Nigerians formed about 21 percent of the total 181,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. In several failed attempts, thousands of migrants have found themselves vulnerable to trafficking and other exploitative practices including organ trafficking.
Libya and Egypt, Hubs for Organ Traffickers
Libya and Egypt is the main gateway for people attempting to reach Europe and smuggling networks have flourished in the two countries as a result of the political turmoil that has besieged the North Africa countries, most especially in Libya. Armed conflict has flourished following Libya’s 2011 uprising that brought down Muammar Gaddafi regime. As the fighting between the forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar and the UN-backed government’s army intensifies in Libya, human traffickers have continued to profit from boatloads of African migrants hoping to reach Europe. The country’s 1,100-mile coastline has effectively become an open border without government forces to monitor who comes and who goes and has seen the rise of armed groups often profiting from multiple types of smuggling to Europe, from fuel and weapons to drugs and migrants. Gaddafi once proudly served as protector to his country’s maritime border, promising that, for a sizeable compensation from Europe.
In the search for better lives, migrants have fallen into the hands of brutal organ traffickers, while some migrants are not given the chance to bargain for their lives but have their precious organ stolen from them while they are left to die, others are given the chance to choose between their organ or their lives. The refugees are drugged first because organs are not useful in the black market when the victim is dead, then the organs are removed and the victims on some occasion is left to die or dumped in a deep dry well along with hundreds of bodies. Some give out an organ for a seat in the boat to continue their ill-fated journey.
While Europe have made so much noise about the number of migrants entering the continent and have continued to raise the stake for the migrants, little is said about the heinous crime of organ harvests committed against them. Organs of immigrants murdered or mutilated move freely and swiftly across national boundaries to save the lives of the rich in Europe, US, Asia and in the Middle East. Is it not ironic that they do not want African migrants in the continent but they do not mind the use of their organs?
Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates that 10 percent of all organ transplants including lungs, heart and liver, are done via trafficked organs. However, the most prominent organs that are traded illicitly are kidneys followed by the liver then the heart is the third. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 10,000 kidneys are traded on the black market worldwide annually, and more than one every hour. It is estimated that the average wait time for a kidney is 4 years with some wait as long as 7 years. In the U.S., the average wait time for a kidney is 3.6 years according to the National Kidney Foundation. In the U.K., wait times average 2 to 3 years but could be longer.
In the US alone, about 120,000 patients are registered for life saving organ surgery, and only about 33,000 organ transplants were carried out in 2016 and the number of those in need of life saving surgery keeps rising. Factoring in the people that needs similar surgery in Europe, the Arab World, Australia and Asia, this makes it very clear that there is a shortage of organs for transplant and hence the reason for desperate patients to go to black market for supply. Every day in the US, about 20 people die waiting for an organ transplant and an average of 8,000 people die every year waiting for the organs they need.
This need has made organ harvest to thrive but the poor migrants are the victims and the rich westerns are the beneficiaries. Even if they have an issue with illicit drug trafficking or prostitution, they are ready to buy organs from the black market because they are desperate to live.
Thousands of African refugees have fallen victim to the illegal organ trade. Hamdy Al-Azazy, head of the New Generation Foundation for Human Rights, believes that doctors are in on the operations, working from mobile hospital units to harvest organs from the victims.
According to Dr. Fakhry Saleh, the former head of Cairo’s forensic department and an expert on the illegal organ trade, “Organ trade is the second most profitable trade in the region behind only weapons trade,” he said. “It brings in more money than drug dealing and prostitution.”
Organ trafficking is run like a cartel that stretches into sub-Saharan countries with agents who are usually countrymen of the victims recruiting victims under the pretence of provision of profitable jobs and a chance to improved standard living conditions in foreign countries. The victims are not aware that their fellow countryman/tribesman are planning sell them for organ which would be used for a rich ailing man living outside the country.
It is only in Iran that organ purchase is legal, but this does not stop body parts black market to boom in other parts of the middle east including Egypt and Libya, and a kidney costs as much as 262,000 US dollars. African immigrants are routinely hunted in Arab nations, captured and killed for the harvest of their internal organs destined for sale into the medical transplant black market. Victims of these organ traffickers are in most occasions nationals from Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, Niger, Nigeria and Ethiopia.
Victims are lured by fake foreign travel agencies that promise work abroad, these fake agencies help victims with their travel documents, only to put them in harms way. The victims are killed and their valuable body organs harvested to be sold in the black market. A lot of people have been offered jobs in the middle east but up to now their family members cannot trace their whereabouts.
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) on Wednesday, July 24, warned Nigerians who respond to lofty job adverts to be careful of falling into the hands of organ traffickers hiding under the guise of recruiting agents.
Director General (DG) of NAPTIP, Dame Julie Okah-Donli said that criminals now roll out advertorials calling for the recruitment of young Nigerians as drivers, nurses and other professionals in some of the notorious Middle East countries but job seekers are eventually used as victims of organ trafficking.
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