Project THB West Africa

Combating human trafficking in West Africa

Timeframe: September 2020 to September 2023
Budget: USD 700,000
Donor: US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)

The situation

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.

Project activities

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.

Project updates

January 2023
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.

INTERPOL-certified instructors shared their knowledge in a national training course in Benin.
INTERPOL-certified instructors shared their knowledge in a national training course in Benin.

December 2022
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.

December 2022: officers and prosecutors prepare for Operation Priscas.
A pre-operational meeting was held at the INTERPOL Regional Bureau for West Africa in Abidjan.
Authorities in Côte d’Ivoire ahead of raids.
Vehicle checks in Togo.
Border checks during Operation Priscas.
Officers cross-check identity documents against INTERPOL’s West African Police Information System (WAPIS).

November 2022
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.
September 2022
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.

The Director of the Judicial Police of Benin (front row, centre) opened the Instructor Development Course in Cotonou.

August 2022
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.

The mock crime scene exercise in Abidjan covered both human trafficking and maritime crimes.
The mock crime scene exercise in Abidjan covered both human trafficking and maritime crimes.

July 2022
Intelligence from Operation Weka II leads to rescue of trafficked schoolgirl

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.

After rescuing the kidnapped girl, Togo police brought her to the INTERPOL National Central Bureau (NCB) in Lomé where NCB officers arranged for her return to Burkina Faso.
NCB Lomé officers accompany the girl from the police headquarters, which houses the Togo NCB , to her Burkina Faso flight on Friday 8 July.
The 17-year old schoolgirl had gone missing several months earlier and was subsequently identified as a potential trafficking victim during INTERPOL’s Operation Weka II.
The girl was met by NCB Ouagadougou staff upon her arrival in Burkina Faso.
NCB Ouagadougou staff accompany the rescued girl to meet her family upon arrival in Burkina Faso.
Police cooperation via INTERPOL enabled Togo police to release the girl from sexual exploitation and reunite her with her mother in Burkina Faso
Head of NCB Burkina Faso Commissaire Principal Daoud Traore also welcomed the rescued school girl back to her home country

June 2022
Operation WEKA II: nearly 700 human trafficking victims rescued

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.

Officers in Benin perform checks during Operation Weka II.
Officers carried out intensified checks at border points.
Cote d’Ivoire’s child protection unit in the field.
The INTERPOL-coordinated police action mobilized 44 countries across four continents.
Authorities in Gabon arrest a suspected human trafficker.
Border checks between Mauritania and Senegal.
INTERPOL’s Border Management Task Force provided support during Operation Weka II.
Operation Weka II was supported by a number of partners, including AFRIPOL.
Pre-operational meetings were key to Operation Weka II’s success.

June 2022
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.

Table-top exercise held at the INTERPOL Regional Bureau in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

March 2022
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.

Meeting the Director General of the National Police in Côte d’Ivoire, Youssouf Kouyaté.
Attendees at the environment scan training receive certificates.
Encouraging gender diversity in law enforcement: some of the women who took part in the training activities.