Engaging airlines and travel agents in preventing human trafficking

Lagos, Nigeria 10 October 2019: When she was offered a ticket to Oman to start work as a house help, 28 years old Nigerian woman Adaora* already pictured a bright future abroad. But once in Oman, her dreams turned into nightmares. Confronted with a slave-like condition of service, she suffered serious physical and psychological abuse and eventually was forced into prostitution. Her passport was taken from her and there was no escape. She managed to send a distress call home to her family who reported to National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), which flew her back to Nigeria. 

Adaora's trafficking journey by air is no isolated case. Air travel remains the primary modes of transportation utilized by human traffickers. According to UNODC 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 20% of the 225 000 victims detected worldwide between 2003 and 2016 have been trafficked by plane. Airlines, their crew as well as passengers can play a key role as first line responders in detecting victims and their traffickers before departure and while on board of aircrafts before victims become difficult to trace in destination countries.

In the context of its ongoing project with NAPTIP, UNODC is therefore supporting the agency in its efforts to engage airlines, airport management authorities, travel agencies and through them travellers at large in helping to detect and prevent the trafficking of persons. Following its successful partnership with Ethiopian Airlines, UNODC together with NAPTIP, is now forging alliances with key Nigerian stakeholders in the aviation sector, such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) and flight company Air Peace, that has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with NAPTIP.

Following a series of consultations with these partners and with the support of the US government, UNODC together with NAPTIP have developed a series of specific airports and on board sensitization materials on trafficking in persons. Aimed at travel agents, airport personnel, flight crews, and passengers, the materials seek to provide basic information on how to identify victims of trafficking and how to report such suspicion safely. Initially these materials will be deployed in Abuja and Lagos international airports halls, including on electronic boards, on boarding passes, tickets, in-flight magazines and through public announcements on board.  Such materials are part of a general sensitization campaign conducted under the project also targeting traditional rulers, youths in school, civil society organisations, entertainment industry, border communities, law enforcement agencies, state governments and road transport sector. 

In parallel and recognizing that awareness raising materials may not be enough to sensitize the air travel industry, NAPTIP and UNODC conducted a training for managers in the air transport sector on specific operational measures that can be taken to facilitate the detection of victims and their traffickers on 7 to 10 October 2019 in Lagos.  

* The name has been changed