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I share my experience to create awareness about human trafficking -Libya returnee

Human trafficking is a grave violation of human rights that affects millions of people worldwide. This illicit trade involves the exploitation of individuals through force, fraud, or coercion for various purposes.

Today, SONI OKERE shares the story of a young lady who traveled abroad in search of greener pastures but encountered a harsh reality that almost took her life.

Hope Oyiza Yakubu is from Kogi State but lives in Akwa Ibom State. Despite being born into a humble family, her dream was to go to university and succeed in life. After completing secondary school, she secured a job, but the pay was meager.

In 2015, one of her friends proposed the idea of traveling to Libya for work. The friend assured her that there were better opportunities in that country and also connected her to her aunt who was living there. While narrating the experience, Oyiza said,

“She told me that I would earn enough salary, and since her aunt was there, I wouldn’t experience any challenges. I searched for her aunt on Facebook, and all the pictures on her profile were glamorous.

“So, I made up my mind to take up the offer. When I called the woman, she told me that she would pay for my travel expenses; however, I would reimburse her while working in Libya. She also connected me to an agent who would bring me to Libya.”

At a point, I wanted to go back, but the agent said I must pay N1.3m before he’d let me off. Since I knew my poor mother couldn’t afford it, I kept traveling, hoping for the best

Journey to Libya
When Oyiza met the agent in Lagos, she discovered that there were other young boys and girls he was also transporting to Libya, though some of them were also told they were going to Spain, Germany, Qatar, etc.

During the trip, they were given passports with fake names and dates of birth. When one of the girls questioned why they were given such passports, the agent said he chose Islamic names for them because some Arabs hate Christians.

“I started suspecting that something was fishy when the agent forced us to wear black jalabiya and niqab. Then we were crammed into an old car and during the journey, I noticed that the driver was evading checkpoints and authorities. He was driving at night without turning on the headlights, and sometimes, he drove through forest paths.

“We travelled through many towns and each of them had its dark sides. We spent almost five days in the desert, and I still remember the dry bones and corpses that littered everywhere.

“At a point, I wanted to go back, but the agent said I must pay N1.3m before he’d let me off. Since I knew my poor mother couldn’t afford it, I kept traveling, hoping for the best.”

Arrival in Libya
Oyiza said they spent over a month traveling to Libya. When they arrived, she met the woman who had promised her better opportunities. The next day, her madam immediately assigned her to her first job.

“I worked as a maid in a beautiful three-storey building. It was an Arab family, and I’d start cleaning at 6 am and finish at midnight. The workload was too much that I couldn’t stay there for long. After a month, I was reassigned to another house where I worked for seven months. I was sending my salary to my madam. Once I paid off what I owed her for bringing me to the country, I started looking for another job.”

The prison experience
Fortunately, Oyiza got another job, but the challenge was that the first son of the family made sexual advances toward her. When she reported the issue to her employers, they didn’t believe her. Instead, she was accused of trying to tarnish the family’s reputation.
On the day she decided to quit the job, she was arrested and accused of stealing from the family. When the police searched her bags, they found nothing, yet she was thrown into prison because she was a foreigner.

“I was thrown into prison without any court hearing or trials. They didn’t even allow me to call any of my relatives. When I walked into the prison hall, I saw only blacks in there. There were children, pregnant women, men, and their eyes were filled with sadness. Some of them were illegal migrants captured at the borders, while some were thrown in there because they were Christians.

the first son of the family made sexual advances toward her. She reported the issue to her employers, they didn’t believe her. On the day she decided to quit the job, she was arrested for stealing from the family. Police found nothing on her, yet, she was thrown into prison

“I saw hunger, starvation, sickness, sexual abuse, physical molestation, and death in there. What about illegal organ harvesting? Those wardens would take some inmates to the underground prison and harvest their organs. I witnessed when some people were beaten to death. It was a terrifying scene. The blood, the pleas, the fear, and the silence —everything was inhumane.

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“My major concern was for the children because no one cared if they ate or not. Even when they were sick, those Arabs wouldn’t give them drugs. I was beaten for asking for drugs and food for the children. In fact, there was a child that died in my arms while I was begging the prison officers to take the child to the hospital.

“As an empathetic person, I found myself absorbing people’s pain. Sometimes, I tried to uplift the spirits of those kids by telling them that the Nigerian government would come and save us. While they were filled with excitement, deep inside, the feeling of helplessness haunted me constantly.

“After spending some months in prison, the commandant took me to work as a maid in his house. I worked for his family for three months before I was finally allowed to go.”

I saw hunger, starvation, sickness, sexual abuse, physical molestation, and death in prison

The kidnap experience
After Oyiza regained her freedom, she got another job, and her goal was to save up money to purchase a flight ticket back home. However, while she was still hoping to achieve that, something terrible happened.

“The practice of kidnapping migrants is very common in Libya. In March 2017, two of my roommates were kidnapped while going to the market. When I tried calling their phones, there was no response. The next day, I called again, and one of the kidnappers picked up and demanded a ransom of 1,000 dinars [USD $3,249.53].

“Once the money was raised, the next challenge was finding someone to deliver the ransom. I volunteered for the task since I had learned to speak Arabic. At that time, I had a Nigerian boyfriend and was a few months pregnant. When I told him about my plan to deliver the ransom, he objected. However, I insisted, believing that nothing would go wrong.

“I booked a taxi driver who took me to the location provided by the kidnappers. When we arrived, there was no one there. After waiting for almost an hour, we were about to leave when two tinted cars pulled up, and four large Arab men emerged. They were armed. I was scared when I saw them, but I tried to hide my fear. I asked about the girls, but they ignored me. They assaulted the driver, took the money, and then kidnapped me.

My kidnappers ordered me to strip. I lifted my jalabiya and showed them my growing baby bump, which made them to pause momentarily

“As they took me to their camp, I couldn’t help but wonder what awaited me there. Upon arrival, they ordered me to strip. In desperation, I pleaded with them not to subject me to any form of torture because I was pregnant. They didn’t believe me, so I lifted my jalabiya and showed them my growing baby bump, which made them pause momentarily.

“Later, some black traffickers arrived and took me to another location. There, I encountered numerous young black girls who were forced into prostitution. When I inquired about my roommates, I was told they had been sold for prostitution.

“Subsequently, another group of men arrived and demanded that I strip. When I refused, they beat me with electric cables and even stabbed me. I did my best to protect my stomach during the attack. Those brutes were brutal and high on drugs. They tied me down and took turns raping me. I lost consciousness.

“The following morning, I woke up reeking of semen. More men came to assault me, but I grabbed a knife and threatened to kill myself. At that point, their leader instructed them to leave me alone because they had already found a buyer for me.

“Later on, I was moved to a large building filled with people. Some were forced laborers, while others were prostitutes. Given some freedom to move within the premises, I constantly searched for an opportunity to escape. One evening, I entered the bathroom, broke a mirror, and used a shard to cut my hand. Then I smeared the blood on my thighs and claimed I was bleeding. But instead of taking me to the hospital, they instructed me to sleep in one of the rooms.

Those brutes were brutal and high on drugs. They tied me down and took turns raping me. I lost consciousness

“As I lay there, I overheard them speaking with the prospective buyer on the phone, urging them to come and pick me up. I quickly prayed to God to save me. Suddenly, it began to rain. Rainfall is rare in Libya, so they were all delighted about the downpour. While they were celebrating and drinking, I jumped through the window, and started running until I reached the fence. Remarkably, I managed to scale a very high fence, although I still can’t comprehend how I accomplished it.

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“Despite the heavy rain, I continued running through the bushes without a clear sense of direction. After several hours, I reached a major road where I saw moving vehicles. Sadly, none of them stopped to pick me up. I waved and pleaded until finally, a vehicle stopped. When I told them my story, they didn’t believe it.

“So, I gave them my boyfriend’s phone number for verification. After speaking with him, they became convinced that I had escaped from abductors. At midnight, they dropped me off at a particular location. Once they left, I kept walking until I found a building where I slept under the staircase.

“The following morning, I walked to a place where I boarded a taxi that took me home. Everyone was overjoyed to see me, but they were also saddened that I hadn’t been able to bring back my roommates. It took us over a month to locate the Benin woman who had purchased them and was exploiting them as prostitutes. We had to pay her over N1.5 million before the girls were finally released to us.”

Return to Nigeria
After the terrible incident, Oyiza intensified her efforts to return to Nigeria. According to her, back then, direct flights to Nigeria were mainly available during festive periods. Along the way, she gave birth to a baby boy and returned to Nigeria in December 2017 when he was barely four months old.

“Due to those sad experiences, I started having nightmares. I couldn’t go a day without tears, and I lived in constant fear. I cried for help, but no one came to my aid. I was determined to return to my mother and my brother because deep down, I knew a hug from both of them would make the pain go away.”

After Oyiza returned, she started looking for means of livelihood. Since her baby was still very young, finding a job was very challenging. However, she engaged in various trades, worked as a cleaner, and also learned new skills. Thankfully, God blessed the work of her hands and connected her with people who supported her growth and recovery process.

If someone tries to convince you to migrate illegally to any country, kindly think twice and do your research before accepting such an offer

Years later, Oyiza started sharing her story online to warn against illegal migration to other countries. She founded LUNA, which is a non-governmental organization that rescues and helps trafficked victims. So far, the foundation has rescued over 600 migrants, including men, women, and children.

“What I have shared so far is just a glimpse of what I went through. Some of the girls were killed in Libya, and others died after contracting deadly diseases. So, the fact that I am alive today is by the grace of God.

“When I started talking about my experience, my goal was to create awareness about the practice of human trafficking. However, later on, I received the mandate to rescue those who are trapped in those countries.

“What started as an impossible mission has grown to save thousands of trapped migrants. We have two camps in Libya where we temporarily accommodate them until we have the resources to bring them back to Nigeria.

“Additionally, here in Nigeria, we have a home where some of the returnees stay until they are empowered to take charge of their lives.

“The journey has not been easy, but we are doing our best to stop these heartless human traffickers. So, the next time someone tries to convince you to migrate illegally to any country, kindly think twice and do your research before accepting such an offer.”

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