COTONOU, Benin – Nearly 500 victims of human trafficking, including 236 minors, have been rescued following an INTERPOL operation carried out simultaneously across Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal.
In total, 40 suspected traffickers were arrested and will now face prosecution for offences including human trafficking, forced labour and child exploitation. They are accused of forcing victims to engage in activities ranging from begging to prostitution, with little to no regard for working conditions or human life.
In one case, a 16-year old Nigerian girl was promised work in Mali which would allow her to care for her family. She was taken on by a ‘sponsor’ who then forced her into prostitution to reimburse her travel costs.
In another case, a 15-year old was in the process of being sold into forced labour by suspected traffickers and was intercepted just before the transaction could be completed. The victim was found holding a blue plastic bag containing their entire possessions.
To ensure that victims received the necessary care following their rescue, the International Office for Migration (IOM) and several NGOs were involved in post-operation interviews and treatment.
Operation Epervier was held under the aegis of the Sahel Project, an initiative funded by the German Foreign Office which targets the organized crime groups behind human trafficking across the region.
Officers from INTERPOL’s Regional Bureaus in Abidjan and Yaounde assisted in coordinating the operation, which also included specialist officers from INTERPOL’s Trafficking in Human Beings unit at its General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon, France.
“In addition to arrests, this operation has opened a number of ongoing investigations to further disrupt the crime networks involved in trafficking in human beings, emphasizing the effectiveness of such operations via INTERPOL’s international network,” said Yoro Traore, a Police Inspector with the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Bamako.
“The results of this operation underline the challenge faced by law enforcement and all stakeholders in addressing human trafficking in the Sahel region,” said Innocentia Apovo, Criminal Intelligence officer with INTERPOL’s Trafficking in Human Beings Unit and coordinator of the operation. She also thanked the German Foreign Office for their continued support of such initiatives.
The operation was followed by a regional working group meeting in Cotonou, gathering 100 participants from 15 countries across West Africa and the Sahel. Discussions focused on the outcomes of Operation Epervier as well as the way forward for future activities in the region.
“This type of regional exchange is important to ensure that good and not so good practices are shared, to ensure that we collectively improve on prevention, protection and prosecution,” said Anke Strauss, IOM’s Chief of missions in Mauritania.
Emerging trends in human trafficking will be high on the agenda of the 5th INTERPOL Global Conference on Trafficking in Human Beings and Smuggling of Migrants, which will be held on 6 and 7 December 2017 in Doha, Qatar.