How I Survived Slavery In Libya, Italy To Become Photographer— Trafficking Victim

Tayo Olanipekun

Deceived by the prospect of earning over 600 Dinars monthly in Libya while transiting to Europe, a Nigerian based in Italy has likened her journey through the Mediterranean sea to a death wish.

Sarah (surname withheld), who is now part of a group using photography for advocacy and social activism, spoke with National Wire on the sidelines of the Trust Conference of the Thomson Reuters Foundation in London, last Thursday.

“It is like wishing oneself death or something terrible when contemplating traveling to Europe the way I did,” said Sarah who survived trafficking and slavery in Libya and Italy. “Nobody will ever wish themself that if they knew how dangerous the journey really is.”

The sights of corpses she saw lying the tracks in the desert, the brutality in the “connection” houses and the exploitation by the traffickers on the road pale into insignificance when compared to her experience of slavery and sexual exploitation, according to her.

A diploma holder of the ICT Adegbenro Polytechnic in Ogun State, the 26-year-old said she had expected that the journey, when successful, would enable her send money home for the upkeep of her mother and three younger siblings.

“My dad had hernia. My mum could barely make enough money to take care of us let alone to further my education and I am the first child. So I felt the opportunity to travel out would enable me to help the family financially,” said Sarah.

But instead, she ended up being a victim in a trade said to be fetching $150bn in illegal profits annually, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The Global Slavery Index in a release in July also estimated that there are 40.3 million slavery victims worldwide.
Of this figure, 71 per cent are said to be girls and women.

“You must work with Arabos, work as a slave. It’s a must. You know how it happens. All these are necessary,” she said euphemistically about sexual exploitation she and others went through during the sojourn in Libya through Italy.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation had held the seventh edition of its Trust Conference, where Sarah exhibited her works, on November 14 and 15, with the theme, Putting the Rule of Law Behind Human Rights.

Other past victims of abuse, trafficking and slavery from many parts of the world were also present at the event to amplify the campaign against the illegal but lucrative practices.

Among them an orphanage trafficking survivor and Community Advocate from Kenya, Joseph Mwuara; Co-Creator, Climb for Albinism, Jane Waithera Wairimu and an acid attack survivor and activist, Natalia Ponce De Leon among others.

The Project Director of Voice of Freedom, the advocacy group Sarah now works with, Leila Segal, said Sarah is one of the 10 Nigerian ladies trafficked to Italy from Libya that have now been helped to tell their stories using photography.

She said in Italy, the girls were met by traffickers, held captive without documents and “often forced to work as prostitutes until they managed to escape.”

Explaining the activities of Voice of Freedom, Segal said, “Stories of victims of trafficking are untold, let alone celebrated. That is why we are helping them to tell the story and to take the message to other young girls in Nigeria.”

One of Sarah’s photos on the exhibition shows a lady’s hand with a glittering engagement ring, a reminder of her personal wish.

“This is an engagement ring. If you get to this level of marriage in my tribe, it’s a very good thing. It’s what I still wish for very much,” the message on the photo reads in part.

“If they didn’t know, they should know now, it’s a risky thing to do,” she now warned in her advice to Nigerians who may be planning to migrate through irregular means.

Her journey to the golden fleece began few weeks before the Christmas of 2015. Sarah did not even realize she would be traveling by road to Europe until she arrived in Kano, northwestern Nigeria.

Over 200 organizations and around 600 delegates from 60 countries registered to attend the Trust Conference, according to Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO, Monique Villa.

The conference brought together individuals who are at the forefront of fight against human trafficking and who are working at many levels to empower people to be aware of, and defend, their rights.

Among these are, President, The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Francesco Rocca; Humanitarian Affairs Advisor, Medicins Sans Frontieres, Hassiba Hadj Sahradui and Senior Advisor, Anti-Trafficking, Modern Slavery and Voluntourism, Lumos, Chloe Setter among others.

**Our reporter also attended the Trust Conference in Westminster, London, on the invitation of Thomson Reuters Foundation for a journalism workshop.

Post Author: Friday Ekeoba