By Alhaji Haruna Sani
“Victims of trafficking stories are horrifying yet can also be inspiring, as they show the strength to express and overcome distress, demonstrating resolve to find a dignified life after all. They are also wake-up calls for us, UN agencies and operational partners and governments, as we need to vigorously advocate for operational solutions to tackle the issue.Let us seize the opportunity created here in this conference to strengthen our resolve and continue working together in combatting trafficking, and dedicate the required resources implement programmes that support government and the national TiP taskforce efforts that ultimately help prevent trafficking and assist those who still fall victim to it,”Christopher Gascon, IOM-The UN Migration Agency, Regional Director for West Africa and Central Africa was speaking during a two-day Regional Conference of ECOWAS Member States to end human trafficking held at the Freetown International Conference Centre in Aberdeen.
The conference was organized by the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in collaboration with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the African Programming and Research Initiative to End Slavery (APPRIES)
Director Christopher Gascon noted that the Regional Conference is a timely opportunity to reflect and plan for actions to continue the joint fight towards ending Trafficking in Person within the ECOWAS region.
He assured the gathering that IOM will persevere with the strategic priorities of the national TiP taskforces, looking pragmatically at the 3 P paradigms (Prosecution-Prevention-Protection) to provide operational support and take comprehensive approach to addressing human trafficking, based on respect for human rights, the physical, mental and social well-being of the individual and his or her community, and the sustainability of those actions through institutional capacity development and partnerships.
He expressed delight in witnessing an event of such magnitude taking place in Sierra Leone. He said he felt privileged to see all stakeholders united, committed to the fight against human trafficking within the ECOWAS region.
“I also thank IOM’s donors namely the Migration Multi-partner Trust Fund (MPTF) the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) funding the “Africa Regional Migration Program” and France’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs that contributed to this event. Without their trust and support, IOM could not work closely with governments in responding to priorities related to counter-trafficking,” he said.
Director Gascon commend the government of the Republic of Sierra Leone for taking an important decision in drafting the Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Act of 2022 approved by Parliament and acclaimed the Minister of Social Welfare for her leadership in combating human trafficking.
He also commended commend ECOWAS for its commitment to working together with IOM to achieve collective solutions.
“With 20 years working on this issue, we as IOM-the UN Migration Agency recognizes that combatting trafficking in persons requires comprehensive approaches and strong partnerships with Government, UN agencies, Civil Society and NGOs to make tangible progresses in combatting and preventing human trafficking,” he stated.
He went on to inform the gathering that since 1994, IOM and its partners have provided protection and assistance to close to 100,000 Victims of Trafficking (VoTs) worldwide.
He said in 2017, IOM launched the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative: first global, open-access data hub on human trafficking.
He said between 2017 and 2022, IOM assisted over 5000 “Protection” – for Victims of Trafficking (VoTs) with voluntary return, mainly in the ECOWAS region (including 89% adults and 83% females).
“It may be of interest to know that nearly 76% of identified/referred female VOTs are Nigerian nationals returning from Libya and Mali. Turning to Sierra Leone, direct assistance interventions of the IOM office was given to 220 VOTS in 2022 and already 100 victims of trafficking in 2023,” he said.
Victims of trafficking returning to their homeland face a multiplicity of challenges upon their return. While acting as breadwinners and often supporting their families and communities while working abroad, their return often results in disappointment and is plagued with stigma.