Trafficked ‘brides’ stuck in China due coronavirus after fleeing abuse

Reuters
By Matt Blomberg

PHNOM PENH (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Coronavirus travel restrictions have forced anti-trafficking groups to suspend rescue operations of Vietnamese and Cambodian “brides” from China, with some now in hiding having escaped the homes of men holding them against their will.

Over the past decade, tens of thousands of Southeast Asian women have been lured to China by criminal networks promising lucrative jobs, only to be sold as brides – some to abusive men – as China grapples with a gender imbalance.

Charities in Vietnam and Cambodia said some women who fled this year have been detained and shut off from communication, while others who are “not under immediate threat of being killed” have been advised to sit tight.

“Some say the husband is mentally ill, they’re being beaten, maybe prostituted to the neighbours, their lives are in immediate danger at this point,” said Michael Brosowski, head of Hanoi-based Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.

“They say they have to go, they have to go now. All we can do is advise them on a safe place to hide.”

Blue Dragon rescued one women every three days on average from China in 2019, but was forced to freeze operations in late January as coronavirus travel restrictions took hold.

“Getting to remote places, it’s just not possible now – and even if you could, the borders are closed,” Brosowski told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While Blue Dragon remains in touch with 27 women who have called for help in 2020, Phnom Penh-based anti-trafficking charity Chab Dai said it has lost contact with some who fled their abusers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Chab Dai programme manager Chan Saron said in early January, one women reported being transferred to “government-controlled detention” and held “under very strict conditions” before contact was lost.

“According to Chinese law, survivors are often treated as illegal migrants,” Saron said. “We receive dozens of cases like this but there could be many more.”

A Chinese assistant to the Cambodian consul in Shanghai said little could be done to assist women who had escaped their captors and were now uncontactable.

“If we can get in touch with the women, we will find a way to help,” she said, giving her name only as Hayley. “But with no information, how could we find them?”

Authorities in Cambodia, Vietnam and China have in recent years tried to combat the trafficking of “brides” but campaigners fear a ban on marriage broker services has driven the trend further underground and put women at higher risk.

Chinese men typically pay brokers between $10,000 and $20,000 for a foreign wife, a 2016 United Nations report said.

Criminal gangs scour poor regions for young women and pitch a dream life in China, where there is a surplus of some 40 million men – a legacy of Beijing’s one-child policy.

Targets are coaxed by the promise of a life of relative luxury in China, and while some do marry happily and send money home to their families, others end are facing sexual abuse, violence and exploitation.

(Reporting by Matt Blomberg, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Migrants raped and trafficked as U.S. and Mexico tighten borders, charity says

By Christine Murray

MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Central American migrants are being kidnapped, raped and trafficked in Mexico as they seek to enter the United States amid a migration crackdown, a medical charity said on Tuesday.

In Mexico’s Nuevo Laredo city – separated from the United States by the Rio Grande – almost 80% of migrants treated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the first nine months of 2019 said they had been victims of violence, including kidnapping.

“They’re treated as if they aren’t really people,” Sergio Martin, Mexico coordinator for MSF, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “They’ve suffered violence … and what they find on their journey is more violence.”

Mexico has ramped up efforts to stop Central American migrants, often fleeing violent crime and poverty, reaching the U.S. border under pressure from President Donald Trump who threatened to put import tariffs on its goods.

It has deployed the National Guard to stop migrants crossing northwards and increased detentions and deportations.

Mexico’s immigration authority and interior ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said he wants to apply immigration laws while respecting migrants’ human rights.

The United States has sent 57,000 non-Mexican migrants back to Mexico to await their U.S. asylum hearings, restricted asylum criteria and limited the number of claims it receives daily at each port of entry.

In September, 18 of 41 patients in Nuevo Laredo who had been sent back to Mexico to wait for U.S. asylum processing told MSF they had recently been kidnapped.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We think that as a direct result of many of these policies there are people who are suffering more violence,” said Martin.

“It’s easier for them to fall into human trafficking networks or into extortion networks, and no one look for them.”

MSF found 78% of almost 3,700 patients in Mexico who sought mental health care in 2018 and 2019 showed signs of exposure to violence, including assault, sexual violence and torture.

Some patients said they had been kidnapped in Mexico for long periods for forced labour, sexual exploitation or recruitment to work for criminal groups.

Almost one in four female migrants told MSF they had experienced sexual violence on their journeys.

The MSF data was based on some 26,000 health consultations with migrants in 2018 and 2019, testimonials and a survey.

(Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Daughter’s murder led activist to hunt for Mexico’s disappeared

By Christine Murray

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When a worried parent calls for help finding a missing child, Norma Ledezma says she often immediately has a sense of whether they are likely to be found alive.

Seventeen years after her daughter Paloma disappeared in northern Mexico, Ledezma has helped hundreds of families cope with the psychological and legal aftermath such cases, and experience has taught her how to react.

“You have to learn to understand human behavior, the victim’s environment, the possible perpetrator’s environment,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We’ve found a lot dead and unfortunately most are still missing, that’s the reality.”

The former factory worker, who left school at 11 but has completed a law degree since becoming a campaigner, is one of three finalists for the 2020 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

The 53-year-old founded her organization Justice for our Daughters in 2002 and has had some success.

She succeeded in getting the government to name a justice center for women was named after Paloma, who was 16 when she went missing. She has also helped locate some victims alive, including several who were being trafficked.

Most, however, are never found.

Mexico’s president has promised justice for the more than 40,000 people who disappeared in the country, many in the last decade of corruption and violence fuelled by drug gangs.

But civil society groups have said the government is yet to implement the measures it promised.

They have often stepped in to do the job of authorities – particularly where investigators are unwilling or unable to take on organized crime.

Collectives of mothers who have lost children have scoured the Mexican countryside armed with shovels following tips of where mass graves might hold their loved ones.

About one in four of those listed as missing are women, though the government said earlier this year it was reviewing the data.

Ledezma said the government had no strategy to fix the issue.

The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier this year it said it would allow the United Nations to review reports on cases of disappearances.

Paloma left the house for school in March 2002 and never came home. Her killer was never found.

When her body was found, authorities did not run DNA tests on her, instead relying on clothing samples and the color of her nail polish. Ledezma could not bring herself to go into the room where her body lay.

“I saw very concretely, very clearly the impunity and the lack of justice…that unfortunately is still missing in Chihuahua and Mexico,” she said.

It was on the day of Paloma’s funeral that Ledezma decided to help those who seek justice for similar cases and she has pressed on despite threats from organized criminals.

“I haven’t left the country because I have a debt to my daughter… I’ll be here until the last day”, she said.

The 2020 Martin Ennals Award, named after the British activist who ran Amnesty International, will be given to one of the three finalists on Feb. 19 in Geneva.

(Reporting by Christine Murray, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

U.S. charges two jail guards over Jeffrey Epstein death

U.S. charges two jail guards over Jeffrey Epstein death
NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors on Tuesday unveiled criminal charges accusing two correctional officers of falsifying records on the night financier Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in a New York jail cell.

Tova Noel and Michael Thomas were charged in an indictment with making false records and conspiracy, in connection with their actions at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Manhattan.

Epstein, 66, a well-connected money manager, was found unresponsive in his cell on Aug. 10 at the MCC.

His suicide came a little over a month after he was arrested and charged with trafficking dozens of underage girls as young as 14 from at least 2002 to 2005. Epstein had pleaded not guilty.

(Reporting by New York Newsroom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Bernadette Baum and Chris Reese)

Police find 41 migrants alive in truck in northern Greece

Police find 41 migrants alive in truck in northern Greece
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek police found 41 migrants, mostly Afghans, hiding in a refrigerated truck at a motorway in northern Greece on Monday, officials said.

The discovery came 10 days after 39 bodies, all believed to be Vietnamese migrants, were discovered in the back of a refrigerated truck near London. Two people have been charged in Britain and eight in Vietnam over the deaths.

The refrigeration system in the truck where the migrants were found in northern Greece had not been turned on, and none of the migrants was injured, though some asked for medical assistance, a Greek police official said.

Police had stopped the truck near the city of Xanthi for a routine check, arresting the driver and taking him and the migrants to a nearby police station for identification.

Greece is currently struggling with the biggest resurgence in arrivals of migrants and refugees since 2015, when more than a million crossed into Europe from Turkey via Greece.

Most of them are reaching Greek Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast via boats but a large number also come overland, using a river border crossing with Turkey.

Road accidents, mainly in northern Greece, involving migrants trying to cross into other countries have become more frequent in recent years. Police have arrested dozens of people believed to be involved in human trafficking so far in 2019.

About 34,000 asylum seekers and refugees are being held in overcrowded camps on the Aegean islands under conditions which human rights groups have slammed as appalling.

The conservative government that came to power in July has vowed to move up to 20,000 off the islands and deport 10,000 people who do not qualify for asylum by the end of 2020.

Arrivals of unaccompanied children have also increased. About 1,000 minors have arrived since July, the Greek labor ministry said, with the total number estimated at over 5,000.

A fifth of them are now missing, the ministry said, pledging to build more facilities and shelters for migrant children.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas and Angeliki Koutantou; Writing by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Focused look at human trafficking could reveal better data, top US official says

A victim of forced labor speaks during a Reuters interview in a village at Buthidaung township in northern Rakhine state June 10, 2015. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Focused look at human trafficking could reveal better data, top US official says
By Ellen Wulfhorst

WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The United States could fight human trafficking effectively with more refined measuring tools which could distinguish young victims from old, or those trapped in domestic jobs from forced farm work, its top anti-trafficking official said on Tuesday.

Ambassador-at-Large John Richmond, speaking after a top-level government anti-trafficking commission meeting, said targeted questions investigating slavery could expose detailed – and possibly more useful – results.

Some 24.9 million people around the world are estimated to be victims of forced labor, working in factories or on building sites, farms and fishing boats, according to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization.

The ILO has called the estimate conservative.

Counting and classifying people trapped in slavery in a targeted “industry-specific and geographically restricted” way could refine results, such as distinguishing boys trafficked for sex from adults trafficked into farming, Richmond explained.

“Instead of measuring how much trafficking is there in Kenya, ask the question ‘How much forced labor victims are in the domestic workers’ industry in metropolitan Nairobi?'” he said by way of example.

Diverse methods of measuring slavery would turn up “a different set of questions, a different set of traffickers, a different set of victims, a different set of coercive means,” Richmond said.

“I think we have some room to grow in terms of our ability, in terms of developing good methodologies around how to measure the prevalence of trafficking.”

“It would be really helpful as we move forward to figure out … what programs are actually having an impact.”

Richmond, who took up his post at the end of 2018, serves as Ambassador-at-Large and leads the State Department’s anti-trafficking office.

He spoke to reporters following a meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, a cabinet-level group started in 2000.

Top government officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reported on progress and plans their departments and agencies have to fight human trafficking.

Many detailed outreach and training efforts, plans to weed out forced labor in supply chains and support programs for survivors.

The U.S. Congress approved an anti-trafficking program in 2017 which it has funded with $75 million so far, with the aim of measuring the prevalence of trafficking, Richmond said.

“My hope is just that more people would do studies and try different methodologies and test them against each other,” he said. “I think there are ways that we can improve and work in this area.”

An estimated 400,000 people are believed to be trapped in modern slavery in the United States, according to the Global Slavery Index which is published by the human rights group Walk Free Foundation.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Chris Michaud ((Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

UK police arrest man and woman for human trafficking over truck deaths

UK police arrest man and woman for human trafficking over truck deaths
By Peter Nicholls

GRAYS, England (Reuters) – Police investigating the deaths of 39 people in a truck near London said they had arrested a man and a woman on Friday on suspicion of human trafficking amid signs that some of the dead may be Vietnamese.

As forensic experts began the process of identifying the victims, a human rights activist said at least one of them might have been a Vietnamese woman.

Police have said they believe the dead were Chinese but Beijing said the nationalities had not yet been verified.

“We hope that the British side can as soon as possible confirm and verify the identities of the victims, ascertain what happened and severely punish criminals involved in the case,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

Police said they had detained the man and woman, both aged 38, in Warrington, northwest England, on Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and of 39 counts of manslaughter.

The 25-year-old truck driver remains in custody after being arrested on suspicion of murder following the discovery of the bodies in the back of his refrigerated truck in the early hours of Wednesday.

He has not been formally identified but a source familiar with the investigation named him as Mo Robinson from the Portadown area of Northern Ireland. Detectives will decide later whether to charge him with an offense, release him or ask a court for more time to question him.

The victims – 31 men and eight women – are being moved to a hospital mortuary from a secure location at docks near the industrial estate in Grays about 20 miles (30 km) east of London where the bodies were found.

Post-mortem examinations were beginning to determine how exactly they died while forensic experts sought to identify the deceased.

Hoa Nghiem from Human Rights Space, a civic network based in Vietnam, said at least one of the deceased might have been Vietnamese.

Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent a text message to her mother saying she could not breathe at about the time the truck container was en route from Belgium to Britain, Hoa said.

“I’m sorry Mom. My path to abroad doesn’t succeed. Mom, I love you so much! I’m dying bcoz I can’t breath … I’m from Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam … I am sorry, Mom,” the message said according to Hoa.

She said Tra My had gone to China and was planning to reach England via France.

“Our contact is getting more alerts that there could be more Vietnamese people in the truck,” Hoa said on Twitter.

VietHome, an organization for the Vietnamese community, said it had received news from 10 families that their loved ones were missing. Hanoi’s London embassy was coordinating with British police, the official Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported.

For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in trucks, often from the European mainland. In 2000, 58 Chinese were found dead in a tomato truck at the port of Dover.

BRITAIN ‘HAS NOT FULFILLED RESPONSIBILITY’

China’s Global Times, which is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in a Friday editorial that Britain should bear some responsibility for the deaths.

“It is clear that Britain and relevant European countries have not fulfilled their responsibility to protect these people from such a death,” the widely read tabloid said.

It added that Britain appeared not to have learned its lesson from the Dover incident two decades ago.

The police investigation is focused on the movement of the trailer prior to its arrival at Purfleet docks near Grays little more than an hour before the bodies were found, and on who was behind the suspected human trafficking.

Irish company Global Trailer Rentals said it owned the trailer and had rented it out on Oct. 15. The firm said it was unaware of what it was to be used for.

The refrigeration unit had traveled to Britain from Zeebrugge in Belgium and the town’s chairman, Dirk de Fauw, said he believed the victims died in the trailer before it arrived in the Belgian port.

The Times newspaper reported that GPS data showed the container had arrived at the Belgian port at 2.49 p.m. local time on Tuesday before later making the 10-hour sea crossing to Britain.

Police said the cab unit of the truck was driven over from Dublin on Sunday, crossing the Irish Sea by ship and entering Britain in North Wales. It picked up the trailer in Purfleet shortly after midnight on Wednesday.

The National Crime Agency, which targets serious and organized crime, said it was helping the investigation and working urgently to identify any gangs involved.

The head of the Road Haulage Association said traffickers were “upping their game” and closer cooperation with European nations was needed, although that may be complicated by Britain’s planned exit from the European Union.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Khanh Vu and Phuong Nguyen in Hanoi; Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Frances Kerry and Hugh Lawson)

Police say 39 victims found dead in truck near London were Chinese

Police say 39 victims found dead in truck near London were Chinese
By Simon Dawson

GRAYS, England (Reuters) – Police were given extra time on Thursday to question a driver arrested on suspicion of murder after 39 people, believed to be Chinese nationals, were found dead in a refrigerated truck near London, in an investigation focused on human trafficking.

Officers searched three properties in the County Armagh area of Northern Ireland. The driver has not been formally identified but a source familiar with the investigation said he was Mo Robinson from the Portadown area of the British province.

Paramedics and police found the bodies of 31 men and eight women on Wednesday in a truck container on an industrial estate at Grays in Essex, about 20 miles (32 km) east of London.

For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in trucks, often from the European mainland. In the biggest tragedy, 58 Chinese were found dead in a tomato truck in 2000 at the port of Dover.

“We read with heavy heart the reports about the death of 39 people in Essex,” the Chinese Embassy said in a statement, adding further clarification was being sought with police.

Essex police said their priority was ensuring dignity for the victims during their inquiry.

“Each of the 39 people must undergo a full coroner’s process to establish a cause of death before we move on to attempting to identify each individual within the trailer,” police said in a statement, saying that would be a time-consuming operation.

Police were given permission from local magistrates to detain the 25-year-old driver for an additional 24 hours on Thursday.

The trailer part of the truck arrived at Purfleet docks in Essex, southern England, from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge – as did the vehicle involved in 2000.

“ULTIMATE DREAM”

Its red cab unit, which had “Ireland” emblazoned on the windscreen along with the message “The Ultimate Dream”, entered Britain via Holyhead in north Wales, having started its journey in Dublin, police said.

Irish company Global Trailer Rentals said it owned the trailer and had rented it out on Oct. 15 from its depot in County Monaghan at a rate of 275 euros ($305) a week, Irish broadcaster RTE said. The firm said it was unaware of what it was to be used for, RTE added.

The discovery of the bodies was made at 1.40 a.m. just over an hour after the container arrived in Purfleet, not far from the industrial estate in Grays.

The vehicle has been moved to a secure site at nearby Tilbury Docks where forensic work can take place. Officials have set up a book of condolence at civic offices in Grays.

The National Crime Agency, which targets serious and organized crime, said it was helping the investigation and working urgently to identify any gangs involved.

Shaun Sawyer, national spokesman for British police on human trafficking, said thousands of people were seeking to come to the United Kingdom illegally. While they were able to rescue many of those smuggled in, Britain was perceived by organized crime as a potentially easy target for traffickers.

“You can’t turn the United Kingdom into a fortress. We have to accept that we have permeable borders,” he told BBC radio.

The head of the Road Haulage Association said traffickers were “upping their game” and closer cooperation with European nations was needed, albeit that may be complicated by Britain’s potential exit from the European Union.

“There is simply not enough being done in terms of security, in terms of the protection of vehicles across Europe,” Richard Burnett told BBC TV.

 

(Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Janet Lawrence amd Andrew Cawthorne)

UK police discover 39 bodies in truck, arrest driver

UK police discover 39 bodies in truck, arrest driver
By Hannah McKay

GRAYS, England (Reuters) – British police found the bodies of 39 people inside a truck believed to have come from Bulgaria at an industrial estate near London on Wednesday, and said they had arrested the driver on suspicion of murder.

The discovery of the bodies – 38 adults and one teenager – was made in the early hours after emergency services were alerted to people in a truck container on a gritty industrial site in Grays, about 20 miles (32 km) east of central London.

The truck was thought to have entered Britain at Holyhead, a North Wales port that is a major entry point for traffic from Ireland, on Saturday and to have originally started its journey in Bulgaria, police said. The driver of the truck, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, was in custody.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was appalled by the news and was receiving regular updates about the investigation.

“We know that this trade is going on – all such traders in human beings should be hunted down and brought to justice,” he said.

All those in the container were pronounced dead at the scene after the emergency services were called to the Waterglade Industrial Park, not far from docks on the River Thames.

Bulgaria’s foreign ministry said had been in contact with the British authorities over the incident.

“At present, it has not yet been confirmed whether the truck has a Bulgarian registration,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman said. “There is also no indication of the nationality of the human bodies found in the truck. British police have warned that the identification of the bodies will take a long time.”

“DESPERATE AND DANGEROUS SITUATION”

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Irish authorities would carry out any investigations necessary if it was established that the truck had passed through Ireland.

Police officers in forensic suits were inspecting a large white container on a red truck next to warehouses at the site. Police had sealed off the surrounding area of the estate with large green barriers as they carried out their investigation.

“At this stage, we have not identified where the victims are from or their identities and we anticipate this could be a lengthy process,” Essex Police Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills told reporters. “This is an absolute tragedy.”

Mills said finding out who the victims were was their top priority, while a key line of inquiry was determining the truck’s route from Bulgaria to Ireland and then onto Britain.

Nearby businesses said they had been unable to gain access to their units on the site due to the large police cordon.

“The police came in the night – they have closed the whole area,” said a worker at a nearby cafe, who declined to give his name.

For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in the back of trucks, often seeking to reach the United Kingdom from the European mainland.

In Britain’s biggest illegal immigrant tragedy in 2000, customs officials found the bodies of 58 Chinese people crammed into a tomato truck at the southern port of Dover.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said the latest deaths were an unbelievable human tragedy that needed answers.

“Can we just think for a moment of what it must have been like for those 39 people, obviously in a desperate and dangerous situation, for their lives to end, suffocated to death in a container,” he said.

(Writing by Michael Holden; Additional reporting by William Schomberg and Kate Holton in London and Angel Krasimirov in Sofia; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alex Richardson)

West African slavery lives on, 400 years after transatlantic trade began

A woman, who says she was a victim of sexual exploitation and calls herself Claudia Osadolor to protect her identity, works as a tailor after training with the support of Nigerian charity Pathfinders Justice Initiative in Benin City, Nigeria July 20, 2019. Picture taken July 20, 2019. REUTERS/Nneka Chile

By Angela Ukomadu and Nneka Chile

LAGOS (Reuters) – Blessing was only six years old when her mother arranged for her to become an unpaid housemaid for a family in the African Nigerian city of Abuja, on the promise they would put her through school.

In her home town in southwest Nigeria, her mother had trouble making enough money to feed her three children. But when Blessing arrived in Abuja, instead of going to school, the family worked her round-the-clock, beat her with an electrical wire if she forgot one of her chores and fed her rotten leftovers.

When her mother later moved to the city to be closer to her daughter, Blessing was unable to be alone with her when she came to visit.

“They would tell me that my mother was coming, that I should not tell her what was happening to me, that I should not even say anything,” she says of the family.

“If she asks me how am I doing I should say I am doing fine, they said.”

As the world marks 400 years since the first recorded African slaves arrived in North America, slavery remains a modern-day scourge. Over 40 million people are estimated to be trapped in forced labor, forced marriages or other forms of sexual exploitation, according to the United Nations.

Blessing, now 11, is one such victim. She was rescued in 2016 by the Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF), an anti-human trafficking group, after two years of isolation and abuse. She is still under the care of WOTCLEF, which gave consent for her to be interviewed for this story.

Africa has the highest prevalence of slavery, with more than seven victims for every 1,000 people, according to a 2017 report by human rights group Walk Free Foundation and the International Labour Office. The report defines slavery as “situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.”

Trafficking of sex workers, many of them tricked into thinking they will get employment doing something else, is one of the most widespread and abusive forms of modern-day slavery.

The experiences of Claudia Osadolor and Progress Omovhie show how poverty increases women’s vulnerability to exploitation.

After Osadolor’s family in Benin City in southern Nigeria hit hard times, she dropped out of university and headed to Russia after a cousin told her about someone who could help her get work there, with travel expenses paid. She left Nigeria with three other girls she did not know in June 2012. When she got to Russia a “madam” came to pick her up.

Osadolor, now 28, says she was forced into prostitution and suffered internal injuries after being made to sleep with up to 20 men a day. She was trapped for three years, with the madam coming round every two weeks to take almost all of her money.

She cries as she recounts the trauma and her relief at escaping thanks to a chance meeting with a representative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at a metro station.

“I feel like I paid the ultimate price for my family,” she says. “But I thank God that I came back alive.”

Osadolor has been able to reintegrate into society after training as a tailor back in Benin with the support of Nigerian charity Pathfinders Justice Initiative.

Omovhie, 33, also found herself enslaved after leaving Nigeria in 2015 in search of work. She paid an agent 700,000 naira ($2,290) – money she had borrowed – to smuggle her on a journey across the Sahara desert to Libya, hoping eventually to go to Europe.

The intended final destination of people smuggled across Africa like this is often Europe, but few make it that far. Many are jailed or sold as indentured laborers when they get to Libya. Some are even sold on slave markets, according to aid groups – a chilling echo of the trans-Saharan slave trade of centuries past.

Once in Libya, Omovhie says she started working long hours as a cleaner for a well-off Arab family in Tripoli, often on an empty stomach.

“I worked three months and they did not pay me in that house,” she said.

Another agent promised to help Omovhie escape by sending her to Italy, but she was rounded up by police on the Libyan coast and detained there for six months. She returned to Nigeria in July under a state program to help refugees and migrants. It has helped over 14,000 Nigerians return home since 2017.

Blessing and Claudia Osadolor are pseudonyms requested to protect their anonymity.

(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Tim Cocks and Susan Fenton)