OCWAR-T supports Joint Operation by Côte D’Ivoire and Nigeria against trafficking network

Ivory Coast, 12 April 2022-Valerie a 26-year-old Nigerian woman who was rescued from the hands of a Nigerian criminal gang in Abidjan where she was forced into prostitution. She was first lured by traffickers from her home in Nigeria with the promise of a job opportunity in Côte D’Ivoire. Upon arrival she was stripped off her phone and travel documents and compelled to pay a huge sum of money before she could regain her freedom. Fortunately, members of the Nigerian Community in Abidjan became aware and reported her case to Ivorian authorities who worked with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and the Nigerian Embassy in her rescue and repatriation to Nigeria to reunite with her family.

Human trafficking remains one of the most lucrative criminal markets worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic has only further exacerbated the risks for already vulnerable groups of individuals, in particular women and girls.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons (2020), female victims continue to be particularly affected. In 2018, it was documented that for every ten victims detected globally, about five were adult women and two were girls. About one-third of the overall detected victims were children, both girls and boys, while 20 per cent were adult men.

In March 2022, UNODC under the framework of the Organised Crime: West African Response to Trafficking (OCWAR-T) project, facilitated the joint operation of the Ivorian Transnational Crime Unit (TCU), the Nigerian Police Force Anti-Human Trafficking Unit and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) which led to the rescue of Valerie . The operation was a follow-up to the OCWAR-T Peer Exchange exercise which was held in Abidjan in November 2021.

The joint operation took place in the Yopugon Gesco district of Abidjan and led to the arrest of and questioning of several suspects allegedly part of a Nigerian traffickers’ network as well as the rescue of 22 victims. The Nigerian police and NAPTIP supported the Ivorian TCU in the interviewing of the victims and suspects, especially to bridge the language barrier. The interviews confirmed that the victims were lured from Nigeria to Côte D’Ivoire with promises of legal livelihoods but were subjected to prostitution after their arrival. Others had migrated irregularly to Côte D’Ivoire and were subsequently lured into prostitution once they had run out of funds to continue financing their travels. . Investigations by both countries uncovered a trafficking network, including transporters moving victims from Nigeria, via transit locations to Côte D’Ivoire.

The OCWAR-T project is an ECOWAS support project, commissioned by the German Government and co-funded by the EU. The project is implemented by the German Agency for Development Cooperation (GIZ), in collaboration with UNODC, UNDP, Mines Advisory Group, International Centre for Migration Policy Development and Enhancing Africa’s response to Transnational Organised Crime. OCWAR-T supports the ECOWAS Member States and Mauritania in reducing Transnational Organised Crime by strengthening national and regional structures; supporting capacities in fostering evidence-led policy and decision-making and efforts in enhancing criminal investigation and prosecution, improving small arms control, and reducing human trafficking.