Timeframe: September 2020 to September 2023
Budget: USD 700,000
Donor: US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)
Trafficking in human beings is a lucrative and fast-growing form of crime that involves the recruitment of victims by various means such as violence, deception, coercion or force for the sole purpose of exploitation.
Traffickers use increasingly sophisticated and tailored methods to target and exploit vulnerable people with profound disregard for human life and dignity.
In West Africa, one common type of human trafficking is in the exploitation for labour purposes. This can take a variety of forms depending on the country. For instance, forced labour in agricultural fields, mining and fisheries is prevalent across West Africa, while forced child begging remains an issue in the Sahel region.
A shared characteristic is the vulnerability of people in socioeconomic terms, coupled with challenges on the part of the State to regulate, identify and police illicit practices due to a lack of tools and resources.
About the project
The overall objective of the THB West Africa project is to enhance the capacity of law enforcement agencies and judiciary actors in the following areas:
- investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases;
- improve interagency and international cooperation on human trafficking;
- produce immediate operational results targeting criminals and safeguarding victims.
The beneficiary countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo.
The project is made up of three phases.
- Strategic assessment and environmental scan. The results of this research and a needs analysis, will be used to tailor the project activities. In-depth research into the prosecution of THB cases and the victim protection system in the region will contribute to a final assessment report.
- Capacity building. Training activities will be delivered to a number of participants (law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges) including specialized topics, table-top exercises and train-the-trainer activities.
- Investigative and operational support. The project will work to advance a number of cases through the use of INTERPOL police capabilities, tools, and THB criminal analysis capability, culminating in an operational exercise.
Benin: national training course
Recent graduates of our train-the-trainer programme (September 2022) put theory into practice by leading national sessions on countering human trafficking and migrant smuggling, for lawyers, prosecutors and law enforcement officers.
56 minors rescued from exploitation
Operation Priscas targeted the criminal groups behind human trafficking and child exploitation across Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo. A total of 90 victims were rescued and 15 suspected traffickers arrested. Of those rescued, 56 were underage victims of sexual exploitation and forced labour in gold mines, open-air markets and domestic settings.
Côte d’Ivoire: Kidnapped boy rescued in Algeria
In a case that demonstrates the great risks faced by migrants that resort to smugglers, an eight-year-old boy was rescued by law enforcement, a year after being kidnapped by fellow migrants and held for ransom. Cooperation via INTERPOL was decisive in locating the boy, leading to the arrest of the kidnapper.
Benin: instructor development course
Participants with law enforcement and judiciary backgrounds took part in a training course to become INTERPOL-certified instructors. They will in turn deliver training to colleagues in their home countries to ensure the sustainable transfer of skills to reinforce capacity in the investigation of human trafficking and migrant smuggling. The 12 participants came from Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo.
Côte d’Ivoire: joint training activity
Given the overlap between different types of crimes, and in the interest of boosting joint activities between projects, three police officers from Côte d’Ivoire (part of Project THB West Africa), took part in a mock crime scene exercise organized by INTERPOL’s Project Agwe, also funded by the US INL. The specialized officers shared best practices and discussed ways to improve the investigation of cases occurring in the maritime domain.
Police cooperation via INTERPOL enabled Togo police to release a teenage girl from sexual exploitation and reunite her with her family in Burkina Faso. The 17-year old schoolgirl went missing from her Ouagadougou home in January. She was identified as a potential trafficking victim during last month’s Operation WEKA II.
Coordinated by INTERPOL, Operation WEKA II resulted in the rescue of nearly 700 human trafficking victims and the arrest of around 300 people for human trafficking or people smuggling. As part of this pan-African Operation, the THB West Africa project team set up an Operational Coordination Unit in Abidjan to provide specialized investigative support to national law enforcement and judiciary authorities.
Côte d’Ivoire: table-top exercise
The project team delivered a table-top exercise, based on a real-life scenario, to show the practical application of the skills developed during the specialized training course in March 2022. The simulation enabled participants to gain an understanding of INTERPOL’s role and the use of the different notices and databases in an international investigation, and prepared them for their active role in Operation WEKA II.
Côte d’Ivoire: environmental scan and specialized training
At their first on-site visit in West Africa, members of the project team held a series of meetings with different law enforcement agencies and specialized units in Côte d’Ivoire to present and promote the initiative and to carry out a needs assessment and environmental scan.
The findings from these preliminary assessments were used to tailor a specialized training course delivered to 20 law enforcement and lawyers with the overall aim of enhancing their capacity to investigate and prosecute cases of human trafficking.