Zinder (Niger), 03 October 2023 - Amidst the arid landscapes of Zinder, a region in central-eastern Niger, a story of resilience and transformation is unfolding. It showcases courage, compassion, and a steadfast commitment to justice. In the face of a significant challenge—the prevalence of trafficking in women and children—IOM offers crucial support to the victims of trafficking.

A social worker provides care and support to a child at a centre for trafficked persons. Photo: IOM/Alexander Bee

Trafficking in Niger is a complex issue stemming from the limited socio-economic opportunities available, which force individuals to resort to unsafe migration routes. Additionally, social and cultural practices contribute to this issue by placing immense pressure on young people to provide for their families, normalizing these practices instead of recognizing them as crimes. The lack of education and opportunities further hampers efforts to raise awareness and prevent trafficking.

Ramatou Laouali, an assistant of protection at IOM’s sub-office in Zinder, sheds light on the reasons behind these migrations.

“The cultural context and economic hardships faced by families push mothers to seek opportunities for their children elsewhere. The hope is that by finding work as domestic helpers in other regions or countries like Algeria or Libya, they can send money back home to support their families,” she explains.

But the reality often falls far short of these dreams.

“These children, sent out into the unknown, find themselves abandoned and vulnerable to the ruthless networks of traffickers. Many are coerced into begging or forced into the harrowing world of prostitution, in particular girls that are most at risk of becoming targets while boys face greater risks of becoming victims of labor exploitation, as shown in our recent study on trafficking in persons in Niger. In Algeria, a particular fate befalls them. Covered in sugar or honey, the children are sent to the streets to beg. Flies, attracted by the sticky substances, swarm around them, giving the illusion of a severe illness. It is a desperate ploy to evoke sympathy from passersby, who might offer them a glimmer of support,” she adds.

Under the COMPASS initiative, a dual reintegration approach for child trafficking victims and their parents is used. It involves educational reintegration for the children and supporting mothers to start their own businesses. Photo: IOM/Alexander Bee

But the story does not end there. IOM joined forces with local authorities to put in place a multifaceted response to address this crisis. When intercepted by the police, these vulnerable children are swiftly removed from the streets and find solace within the Niger Trafficking Victims Centre upon return in the country. Opened in July 2019, this centre stands as a testament to the unwavering commitment of Niger to combat trafficking in persons. Managed by the National Agency for Combating Trafficking in Persons and Illicit Migration (ANLTP/TIM) with support from IOM since its launch, it serves as a lifeline for those who have been victimized.

Alhassane Hamidou, the Head of the Department of Communication and Public Relations of the ANLTP/TIM, shares Niger's commitment to combatting all forms of transnational organized crime.

“Through the establishment of structures to combat human trafficking within their legal framework, including the creation of the National Agency for Combating Trafficking in Persons, Niger has demonstrated its dedication to protecting the vulnerable and seeking justice for the victims,” says Alhassane.

Dedicated social workers engage children in a variety of recreational activities at the centre for trafficked persons, fostering a nurturing environment. Photo: IOM/Alexander Bee

Within the walls of the centre, a comprehensive range of support is provided to trafficking victims. Upon arrival, each individual is registered and engaged in personalized interviews to identify their vulnerabilities and specific needs. The dedicated social workers of the ANLTP ensure the provision of vital services, including medical and legal assistance. No aspect of healing and recovery is overlooked.

Notably, nearly 60 per cent of the centre's population consists of children seeking refuge before they can be reunited with their families. Recognizing the importance of normalcy and the power of play, the centre offers a diverse array of recreational activities. Engaging reading sessions, invigorating games, and sports provide these young souls with moments of respite, allowing them to rediscover the joy and innocence often stolen from them.

"People who come to this centre are in a significant state of distress, and these activities allow them to regain a normal life and help them forget what they have endured along the way," says Alhassane Hamadou Maiga, a social worker at the Trafficking Victims Centre.

Through the COMPASS initiative, generously supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IOM also helps by strengthening the capacities of the ANLTP staff. Through comprehensive training programs, the dedicated personnel have also developed their skills in providing care to victims of trafficking and efficiently managing the centre. Additionally, IOM actively contributes to the centre's operations, ensuring that essential resources such as food, medical assistance, and vital non-food items are readily available.

A comprehensive range of support is provided to trafficking victims. Upon arrival, each individual is registered and engaged in personalized interviews to identify their vulnerabilities and specific needs. Photo: IOM/Alexander Bee

But the journey doesn't end within the confines of the centre. ANLTP and IOM social workers embark on a crucial mission of family reunification. Venturing into communities, they tirelessly work to identify parents and offer reassurances about the well-being of their children. This hands-on approach is further augmented by community-wide awareness sessions, aiming to educate leaders, village chiefs, and all community representatives about the perils and detrimental effects of trafficking. Together, they strive to create a united front against this heinous crime.

As trafficking victims return to their original communities, IOM remains unwavering in its commitment to facilitating their socio-economic reintegration. Comprehensive support is extended to empower vulnerable populations and address the root causes that drove them into migration in the first place. With a twofold approach, parents are assisted in developing sustainable economic activities, reducing the need to send their children away. Simultaneously, efforts are made to ensure access to education, supporting children's enrollment in schools and providing essential materials such as pencils, pens, and clothing.

Mentoring and tutoring programmes have been established to assist the children to perform better in school. Photo: IOM/Alexander Bee

Since 2021, the COMPASS initiative has become a lifeline for over 70,000 migrants worldwide, through various forms of assistance. The centre for victims of trafficking has provided crucial assistance to 220 trafficking victims in 2022, including 157 men and 63 women, among them 138 boys and 58 girls. Out of the 220 individuals, 28 have received invaluable support for their socio-economic reintegration, a testament to the power of compassion and collective action.

Written by Alexander Bee (consultant for IOM Niger) and edited by Aissatou Sy, Public Information Officer for IOM Niger

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