The Human Rights Watch has claimed the Federal Government has detained survivors of human trafficking “in shelters, not allowing them to leave at will, in violation of Nigeria’s international legal obligations.”
It also said the authorities failed to help the traumatised victims, including women and girls, who suffered sexual abuses in Europe and Libya where they were taken to by traffickers.
The global human rights group revealed this in a 90-page report titled ‘You Pray for Death: Trafficking of Women and Girls in Nigeria released’ in Abuja on Tuesday.
HRW stated that the report was based on interviews with 76 trafficking survivors in Nigeria, as well as government officials, civil society leaders and representatives of donor governments and institutions supporting anti-trafficking efforts.
The report provided detailed accounts of how human trafficking operates in the country and asked the government to provide the necessary care and psycho-social support for victims.
“Women and girls trafficked in and outside Nigeria have suffered unspeakable abuses at the hands of traffickers, but have received inadequate medical, counselling, and financial support to reintegrate into society,” a HWR senior women’s rights researcher, Agnes Odhiambo, said.
“We were shocked to find traumatised survivors locked behind gates, unable to communicate with their families, for months, in government-run facilities.”
The report further disclosed that many survivors of sex and labour trafficking struggled with unaddressed health challenges, poverty, and abhorrent conditions upon their return to Nigeria.
“Nigerian authorities have failed to provide the assistance that survivors need to rebuild their lives and have unlawfully detained many of the already traumatized women and girls in shelters,” it said.
The human rights organisation admonished the government to address the serious health conditions, social exclusion and poverty faced by survivors, and stop further traumatising them by detaining them in shelters.
It acknowledged that the authorities had taken some important steps to address the widespread problem of trafficking, including establishing shelters, assisting with medical care, and creating skills training and economic support programmes for trafficking survivors.
However, the group complained that the authorities relied too heavily on shelters, as opposed to community-based services, as the primary means of providing services for survivors.
It stated, “Nigerian authorities have also detained trafficking survivors in shelters, not allowing them to leave at will, often for many months, in violation of Nigeria’s international legal obligations.
“Protection should not be an excuse to arbitrarily detain women and girls and deprive them of their liberty and freedom of movement; Such detention conditions risk their recovery and well-being.”
But the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons insisted Nigeria had observed the global standards in the operations of its shelters for trafficked victims, adding that HWR’s claims that its shelters were detention centres were false.
The NAPTIP Director-General, Julie Okah-Donli, stated this on Tuesday at a press conference in Abuja to react to HWR’s report.
The DG said the agency observed “best practices in victims handling as enshrined by the Palermo protocol which includes that no victim shall be kept in a shelter against their will.”
She said, “After going through the report, we found out that it is a mere figment of the imagination of the writers as the narratives fall below the standards in the operation of our shelters as well as the standards for our victims’ support and assistance.”
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