No fewer than hundreds of Nigerians are being illegally trafficked to the United Kingdom, where they face sexual exploitation or being forced into domestic servitude, says the UK’s first independent anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland. More than 2,000 potential trafficking victims were referred to the authorities in 2014, and 244 of who were from Nigeria, a 31percent increase from the previous year, official figures show.
But Hyland said this figure was a vast underestimate. The top five countries of origin for people being trafficked into the UK were Albania, Romania, Vietnam, Poland and Nigeria, he said ,but Nigeria was consistently in the ‘top one or two’ and 98percent of those trafficked from Nigeria came from Edo state.
He therefore said clamping down on the problem of Nigerians being trafficked to the UK is a main priority.
Hyland told the BBC it was “deeply concerning” that hundreds of Nigerians were brought in every year for prostitution or forced labour and that the problem of such exploitation was “enormous”.
The Home Office said it was “committed to tackling modern slavery” and was addressing specific issues in Nigeria.
The commissioner, who has only been in post for six months, says he cannot think of anything more worrying than women and children being raped and forced into domestic servitude.
Campaigners believe the real figure of potential trafficking victims from Nigeria could be much higher, however.
Mr Hyland, the former head of the Metropolitan Police’s human trafficking unit, said, “I am extremely concerned about this. And we’re talking about several hundred every year.
“This isn’t just a one-off – it’s continuous – so the treatment of these people, what they go through, is actually a very serious crime, so for me it’s a big problem.
“But also I think the fact that there is a demand for this kind of exploitation in the United Kingdom really concerns me, that there are people who will want to buy sex, will want to exploit, will want to have children as what are current-day slaves, so that is a really serious problem.”
Research published by the Home Office in December estimates that there are between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of slavery in the UK. Home Secretary Theresa May, speaking last year, described the scale of abuse as “shocking”.
Melissa (not her real name), who is in her 20s, was trafficked to the UK to work for a Nigerian woman in London as a domestic slave.
From the age of 10, she was made to clean the kitchen, sell food on a market, feed and bathe other children, and go to school and do her homework. She was beaten regularly, and locked in her room if she answered back.
She said, “I know that this sounds unbelievable and the reason it sounds unbelievable is because, you know, who does that to someone?
“I don’t understand the hatred because that’s how I feel – hated. I felt I didn’t do anything to deserve that and at some point I actually thought I was the one that was the problem, that there’s something about me that’s making her do that to me.”
Debbie Ariyo, executive director of the charity Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, is adamant that the real number of those trafficked to the UK from Nigeria is much higher because many victims are reluctant to speak out.
She deals with hundreds of victims and believes the reasons for these people coming to the UK in the first place are the same.
She said, “There is a notion among the families in Nigeria that once their family has come over here, they will have a better life, they will get better education, and they will have better food and material things.
“A lot of people don’t see the abuse and exploitation and many of the young people who’ve tried to tell their parents back home, it’s difficult for the parents to accept that something like this could be happening in Britain.”The anti-slavery commissioner is calling for further prosecutions and for more victims to be identified, saying that a “handful of convictions is not enough.”
Hyland said, “It’s about working with the law enforcement agencies in Nigeria – working with all those in the communities and telling them this could happen, and that’s never been brought together before so it’s unique.
“This is a new idea – Europol, Interpol, National Crime Agency, all must work together. It is up to me to oversee this.
“This is not about lack of resources but about using them effectively.”
Tatiana Jardan, director of the Human Trafficking Foundation charity, believes that combating this problem is easier said than done because it is a complex issue.
She said: “We believe the role of the commissioner is crucial but solving this is not going to be easy.
“This is a difficult type of trafficking because Nigerians believe in witchcraft so they’re worried about speaking out in case some harm comes to them. The police and other authorities desperately need more education so that they understand these complexities.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “This government is committed to tackling modern slavery, including human trafficking, which is why the Modern Slavery Act 2015 was passed earlier this year.
“This legislation, the first of its kind in Europe, gives law enforcement the tools they need to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice and enhances protection for victims.
“The Modern Slavery Strategy, which was published in November last year, sets out an ambitious plan, including work with international partners, to increase collaboration and target human traffickers.
“We are already addressing the specific issue of human trafficking in Nigeria. This includes working closely with the National Crime Agency and the Nigerian National Agency for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons to identify and disrupt Nigerian networks involved in the movement of potential victims.”
With the commissioner only having been in post for six months, campaigners say it would be unfair to make an assessment now.
Some argue the creation of his role in the first place is a sign the issue is being taken seriously.

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