A recent CNN video demonstrating a slave auction–migrant guys being sold one after another near the Libyan capital–shocked audiences around the globe. It prompted calls for dramatic action by several European leaders, most especially French President Emmanuel Macron. But as The Daily Beast’s correspondent Philip Obaji Jr. has found in a year-long investigation, the truth is far worse compared to the CNN movie indicates.
A number of the migrants he talked to already was enslaved once in the hands of Boko Haram, a faction of which has vowed allegiance to the so-called Islamic State. They fled to the streets of Nigerian cities or to persons camps, and increased money to pay smugglers to take them to Libya. There, they expected they would have the ability to make it to Italy across the Mediterranean.
The Daily Beast has reported extensively about the perils on the high seas, where thousands have died. But desperate expectation and terrible danger marks every step of the way as the traffickers follow the same paths.
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria–At a bus station at the capital of the northeastern Borno State of Nigeria, 17-year-old Abba got save his life, and, perhaps, set for a trip that he expected would take him to a life that is new.
He wore a white cotton shirt and white trousers, and leather sandals just like a typical Nigerian schoolboy returning to the dormitory after vacations. Beside him were a guy who directed them to get their tickets and three other boys. It was clear that he coordinated the trip. The boys held on securely hoping to board a bus but their destination was Italy, a nation, a body of water they had never seen, and the Mediterranean Sea.
I watched Abba from afar as he and the others got out of a taxi. I waited for them to get their tickets, and then walked up to Abba as they had been completed.
We understood each other nicely. Abba was clearly one of quite a few former Boko Haram kid victims I’ve interviewed and awarded counselling to in Maiduguri, that’s the birthplace of the group. Me struck as a kid. He had told me so much that I did not know about the jihadists.
It had been Abba who first explained that Boko Haram was instructing kid soldiers to rape women, after he stumbled upon a small boy getting directions from a senior militant on how to carry out the act. He also told me how militants used Viagra to boost their sexual performance when it was time to rape their female captives, although I had been careful not to identify him too tightly when I wrote about these two disheartening subjects for The Daily Beast last year.
ABBA SAW HELL in the hands of Boko Haram militants who abducted him from his house in Gwoza’s northeastern town in March 2015. He had just finished having his bath and prepared to go to his cousins on another street when the jihadists struck. Armed with guns and machetes, the militants transferred from house to house kidnapping mostly children and women, and setting some homes ablaze. In substances, the jihadists centered on children who seemed like they had been in their teens. Was among these.
“They shot my brother,” he told me when we first met in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Madinatu, near Maiduguri, in May 2015. “They killed him because he wouldn’t let them take me away.”
It took hours to proceed the others along with Abba they kidnapped to their base in the Sambisa Forest as the militants kept altering routes to prevent a clash. When they came late at night, the jihadists started to distinguish the boys.
“They asked each of the women to sit while the guys stood,” Abba said. “One of the militants proceeded around counting and requesting us our names and what we do.”
As the headcount went on, another militant attracted the attention of his colleagues to the fact that two captives wore the shirts of English Premier League soccer clubs. One of these was Abba, who wore an old Arsenal shirt design. Another was.
Abba was requested to step out in the audience, and a militant employed a small knife onto his shirt tearing out the part that had the brand of the club, and asking the boy to take off his shirt .
“At first I thought they [the militants] loathed Arsenal,” Abba said. “I became perplexed when they called out another boy and did exactly the same to him.”
They had committed a crime in eyes. “They said we had been supporting infidels,” said Abba. “They flogged us with electrical cables”
BOKO HARAM’S TORTURE of Abba and also another boy occurred just as the jihadists had vowed allegiance to the so-called Islamic Condition and were hoping to replicate its mode of performance. Cutting team insignia from shirts is among the many strict rules ISIS imposed in its self-declared caliphate in the Middle East.
Boko Haram, like the organization believes soccer is anti-Islamic. It has targeted fans watching the match in seeing centers in several of suicide attacks.
In the past, ISIS in the now-defunct caliphate spanning Syria and Iraq beheaded members of a soccer team after labelling them “spies.”
The 2 teens were tortured by Boko Haram. The victims were tied and made to sit until the morning after on floor. They weren’t given food or water.
“They only untied us when they heard the noise of a jet flying in the skies,” Abba said. “I could not even get up because I had been so weak.”
Where commanders stayed the boys were transferred to the area in the Boko Haram camp, and that became their residence during the period. Their job was to run errands to the militants.
“If they wanted to send messages across to militants in different places, they would ask us to do it,” he said. “You would be punished if you had been caught sleeping in the time there was a message to be delivered.”
The 2 boys contemplated escaping, however they had been too fearful to do because militants told them that if they attempted to run away, they would be hunted down and killed.
The jihadists went for an operation, leaving only one militant behind to watch over the camp, one night. Abba kept an eye on him. After he noticed the guy was sitting for quite a while in one spot and was starting to fall asleep, the boy picked up a huge stick, walked him up quietly from behind and bashed the guard on the head, knocking him unconscious and developing a way for any number of abductees to escape.
“We ran as quickly as we could without return,” he said. “It took us days to get to Maiduguri.”
Eventually they found their way to the IDP camp in Madinatu–among the greatest homeless persons camps out Maiduguri–in which Abba and I first met over the span of a week which I spent as a volunteer in the camp attempting to help rehabilitate him along with several others.
MEETING ABBA for the second time in Maiduguri was difficult. I’d gone to the identical IDP camp, where I first met him in 2015, to see him again. I wished to learn how he and other Boko Haram victims were faring.
A guy who knew him that he now lived in the core of Maiduguri told me, but no one understood who Abba was. Then the guy who’d given me that speech abruptly recalled that the boy was about to travel to Kano, led for Agadez in Niger.
Agadez is an important transit point for smugglers taking young men and women through the Sahel, and I had no doubt Abba meant to try to make it.
On the day that I watched in the station for him and waited, he revealed.
Abba said he had made some money in a job with a construction company in Maiduguri, and he used it to cover the smugglers. He discovered that jobs were simple to get, provided you’re prepared to work, and life in Europe was rosy.
“Two people I know from Maiduguri left for Europe last year,” he said. “People are dying everyday in Maiduguri. Everybody wants to leave.”
His brother as well as Abba’s parents were killed by Boko Haram, and he was taken to the woods. “I really don’t feel comfortable anymore staying in an area which reminds me of the household I’ve lost,” said Abba. “I believe things will be a lot better for me in Italy.”
And is his dream, the adolescent’s love for soccer is huge. He’s hoping he’ll discover a little team to play for once he gets to Italy, and then grab the interest of a massive club. He’s hoping that one day he’ll end up in London.
“It is going to be the best way to place those militants to shame,” he said. “Boko Haram attempted to kill my dream, but I need them to see me living it.”
A growing number of men and women in northeastern Nigeria are hoping to move to Europe. The Boko Haram insurgency has ravaged the region for nearly a decade and made life hard for millions of men and women who are living with jobs.
THE guy traveling with another boys along with Abba is from Niger, a agent for a smuggling ring that traffics migrants to Italy via Libya.
Abba introduced me to some guy named Idris, saying he is a benefactor who helped him pick up the pieces of his own life after he had escaped Boko Haram. We got talking.
Idris said that he spends a lot of his time in Maiduguri to leaving Nigeria for Europe — where he’s talked a number of men and women — including people in IDP camps.
The agent told me that he was. He said he worked for a guy named Amin, a Syrian who controls a “trusted” Libyan smuggling network which has smuggled tens of thousands of people into Europe through the Mediterranean.
Idris said Amin’s guys–many of whom are nationals of all nations–last year helped enter Europe, and that people who made the trip came from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Syria, Palestine, and Libya itself.
Brokers for smuggling rings in North Africa have started to create bases in northeast Nigeria in which they approach–or are approached by–people trying to migrate to Europe.
“There’s still some secrecy in the business, but even if you don’t immediately know someone, you may be lucky to find someone who knows someone,” says Babagana, a Maiduguri resident whose friend successfully made the trip last year.
Idris also has taken advantage of the situation of Boko Haram victims. One of those he’s helped smuggle out of Nigeria he says.
Among the SMUGGLER clients had spent close to a year in captivity she served as a cook for the jihadists and was afterwards made to marry a militant, where. After escaping from her captors, she found life very hard in an open IDP camp in Maiduguri where food is hardly enough for tens of thousands of men. She began working as a cleaner in the house of a guy who’s a close friend of Idris. It had been that he and the girl fulfilled with.
“I advised her about helping her get to Europe and she had been so interested,” Idris said. “I really don’t know exactly how she did it but she wasted not much time in increasing the money.”
Much like Abba, the three other boys experienced its horror, and traveling with the guy from Niger are in their teens, and have suffered losses as a result of insurgency, even if they weren’t abducted and enslaved.
Usman, Musa, and Ahmed are half brothers from a polygamous household in Maiduguri. Their father married four sisters and has more than 20 kids. The boys come from different mothers, but have become quite close. Virtually all of their lives working together have lived.
Boko Haram militants entered a chemical near Maiduguri, beat up everyone they put fire to the buildings, and saw, including a store. As the boys attempted to escape, one militant stopped them and advised them to take their shirts off.
“He tied the three shirts together to make it appear like a rope, and then used it to tie us together about our necks.” Said. “The guy then dragged us close to the street and started to whip us with a cane.”
“It was not in their plan to kill people,” Musa said. “They only wanted to torture us.”
The militants reproduced. It had been the same manner black slaves– for about 800 years — were united with chains round the neck and hauled through the same remote desert villages the boys on this trip will probably pass.
FOR CENTURIES–and for several years after the Atlantic slave trade was abolished officially by Europe and the United States–foreign merchants bought black slaves from Kano and hauled them via remote desert villages in northern Niger to Fezzan (as the southwestern region of contemporary Libya was known). From there they have been sold to owners and Arab traders.
Smugglers are still using exactly the routes to this day. Kano more trades in slaves as such, however, the town is vital to people smugglers who aspire to sneak clients from Nigeria to Niger.
When the British seized Kano in 1903, they made it the administrative capital of northern Nigeria and started to build railroad and road infrastructure linking to other cities in the region. Consequently, the town started to grow in population and, then, in commerce. Right now, it is the commercial nerve center of northern Nigeria.
I’d decided on the spur of the minute to join Idris and his charges, and our travel–on rocky streets, and through cities and villages which had witnessed many Boko Haram strikes–gave me a photo of how readily smugglers get away with their businesses.
At a number of checkpoints, policemen focused largely on personal automobiles while they allowed vehicles to maneuver freely after bribes were paid by the motorists to the officers.
“It is the main reason why some people [agents and people smugglers] like to perform our businesses using commercial vehicles,” Idris said. “It saves a lot of time.”
Questions are hardly asked by policemen about passengers or the location of these vehicles they board. Consequently, traffickers and smugglers often move freely with their victims within Nigeria , and then find ways as soon as they get to border posts of outsmarting immigration officials.
We came at Kano at about 4 pm full-time, after a nearly eight hour travel that was often interrupted by military and police checks. Eventually, we stopped in the Kurmi marketplace that was popular in Kano’s core, in which a guy named Moussa was to obtain the boys.
KANO’S SLAVE TRADE history has a connection with Kurmi marketplace, which was constructed in the 15th century as a centre for the trade in people. Every year, some 5,000 slaves were exported from Kurmi.
Foreigners buy products . However, it is a point for clients.
The smuggler has been going to be the one to take the migrants into Niger onto a nearly three and a half hour drive and arrived in an old Volkswagen Passat. There they will visit Libya in pickup trucks, in minivans, and on motorcycles.
Moussa’s task would be to take the boys throughout the frontier 161 kilometers north of Kano to Maimoujia village in Niger, and then assist them in getting another car that’ll take them to the central Niger town of Agadez–the main departure point for convoys of people headed for Libya.
People smuggling isn’t a new business to Moussa. The driver comes in the southwestern Niger village of Tongo Tongo, the identical place four American Green Berets were killed in October in an ambush by militants linked to the so-called Islamic State. It was there that his trade was begun by Moussa as a smuggler. He was hired by militants to induce migrants to the village from Mali, from where they are hauled to Agadez in another vehicle.
“They [the militants] controlled the smuggling routes in and out of Mali,” he said. “You can’t pass along those routes if you are not friends with them, or if you do not first pay them.”
Moussa had a task then than now. Militants controlled the region . Pick migrants from the location the militants gave to him his job was to get inside Mali and take them across the border to an encampment in Tongo Tongo.
MANY PROSPECTIVE migrants were. Others were people who paid jihadists about 200,000 CFA ($320) each to ease their crossing into Niger. Quite often these men traveled along with wrapped parcels comprising drugs, which they hand over to militants on arrival in Tongo Tongo.
“If I wished to identify individuals who labored on the militants, I will be aware of marks in their face and body,” the smuggler said. “Children are frequently defeated either as a sign on initiation or punishment for disobeying.”
1 afternoon, after Moussa came with migrants from Mali, militants requested for a parcel contained cocaine was said by them. Neither Moussa nor the migrants had it. The militants accused them of stealing and selling the drug. They had been stripped naked and flogged. Moussa sustained a cut. He bled uncontrollably and could not see with the eye for days.
Before the smuggler departed against the boys from Maiduguri, Idris gave them the telephone number of some “link man” in Agadez, who would help them with lodging and then put them in a car to the southern Libya town of Sebha, in which they would be aided by another connection man, who would house them then arrange for them to get to the Libyan coastal city of Sabratha–a main departure point for migrant boats journeying to Europe through the Mediterranean–and there they would meet Amin.
The boys eventually left Kano at about 4:30 p.m., but before they did, Idris gave an important warning to them.
“Do not panic when you encounter immigration officials in your own way,” the agent said. “If you’re doing, it will be the conclusion of the trip.”
Moussa, who has been helping Idris smuggle migrants to Niger since 2015, said he knows how to take care of immigration officials.
“They [NIS officers] want to realize that you are genuine travelers,” the driver, who now resides in Kongolam, said. “I will make sure there’s something to present or some thing to say.”
As Moussa got set to leave with the boys, he promised Idris that he would call them once he had crossed Kongolam. Before the call arrived, I opted to stick about Idris. We sat not far watching soccer on TV as we waited to hear by the driver, and speaking about the agent’s business.
ABOUT FIVE HOURS after the boys and Moussa left Kano, Idris’ telephone rang. It had been the driver calling the agent to notify him that they’d crossed to Niger.
“Well done, my brother,” said Idris. Then he called Amin to update him about the migrants who had just begun their trip to Libya. Amin likes to know the location of migrants he is expected to transfer through the Mediterranean to Italy.
“It helps him know if to proceed with structures or not,” Idris said. “Occasionally, people in Nigeria indicate curiosity to traveling, but they later change their minds even after having a dedication fee.”
Idris claims individuals moving from Nigeria cover a non refundable fee of about 1,440,000 naira ($4,000). For ladies, especially an additional $ 500 charges on top of the fee. The higher the amount you pay, the faster your chances of getting on a ship that renders the shore for Europe. Or so he says.
“Ladies are a lot more eager to journey than guys, and a few can do anything to raise money,” he said. “There are a few different ladies, though, who do not have a lot of money to cover that we believe on a lesser traveling package.”
Women, who do not have money to cover, are expected to make money along the way, often by working as prostitutes. They cover a “commitment fee” of, say, $1,000, which covers their transportation until they get to Sabratha. But after they find their way there, they have to hustle until they could increase an extra $1,000, or thereabouts, to get on Amin’s ship to Italy. This is what Idris describes as a “lesser bundle.”
Because they haven’t paid they do not get housing, and simply to find shelter on the travel they are made to work as prostitutes.
Recently, hundreds of Nigerian women stranded for weeks in Libya have returned home, and a number of these have told tales of smugglers selling them to brothel owners, who compelled them to work as prostitutes until they have the ability to refund double the total paid to their smugglers to buy them. The girls departed Nigeria that they were going to get jobs, but ended up in sexual slavery in Libya and were deported back to their own own country.
According to a UNICEF report published in February (PDF) nearly half of the women and kids by sub-Saharan Africa who try to get to the Mediterranean through Libya are victims of “sexual abuse during migration–often multiple times and in numerous places,” with “widespread and systematic” sexual violence happening at checkpoints and crossing regions.
According to Idris, a woman fled the violence to Maiduguri in the northeastern town of Damboa, in which he met her. The agent arranged for her to get to Sabratha and talked her into moving to Europe. She lived in the home of her connection guy, when she made it to Sebha. But when she could not cover her housing fee, he offered her to a woman who runs a guest house that was commercial, to work there as a prostitute.
“That is what happens when you don’t go for the full package,” Idris said. “You become a slave of your connection guy.” But Idris asserts by informing them he reveals his clients some esteem.
“We tell them the risk involved rather than paying full before leaving Nigeria,” Idris said. “A number of them are lucky to get better jobs in mini-shops and stores.”
The majority of THE VICTIMS of both trafficking and smuggling in IDP camps are women, and a lot of them are in their teens.
Of the six girls under 18 decades of age which I interviewed in Madinatu, two confessed that they’ve been approached by people who promised to give them jobs overseas if they were willing to work.
“He promised to care for my transportation, but that I will pay back once I start working,” one of them said of a trafficker who approached her. “I denied him because he was not clear on the job he had been offering.”
Bama in June and I visited with. The week that I arrived, a group of women had formed The Knifar Movement, which advocates for the rights of women in the northeast. The women petitioned Nigerian parliamentarians accusing CJTF militia soldiers and members of “sexual abuse and rape” of female IDPs in Bama, also whined that 466 homeless ladies, some of whom had suffered malnutrition, had died, and were buried in a cemetery just by the camp.
I counted 1,331 graves in a makeshift cemetery. Approximately 500 of these graves were of kids.
In May, Binta, as we will call her, left an IDP camp in Bama–72 kilometers southeast of Maiduguri–thinking she was on her way. Until she phoned a member of the CJTF to notify him that she had been stranded in Agadez nobody knew about her trip. Her trafficker absconded and had left her. Nobody in Bama seems to have heard of her since.
Binta had begun living in the IDP camp after Boko Haram militants tortured her, killed her mom, assaulted her house, raped her, and got her pregnant. She gave birth to a female child while but the infant died of malnutrition after a couple of months, and is in among the graves in the cemetery that was makeshift.
A woman who had been part of a team that provided some men with aid materials sneaked Binta out of their camp and took her from where they left for Niger. She had been advised once she came in Italy, that she would be awarded work in a charity house.
“She’s always had my phone number right from when I met her here,” the CJTF member called Umar told The Daily Beast. “After she called the first time, I haven’t heard from her again.”
Seconds before her departure, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of internally displaced persons visited Nigeria, and afterwards he analyzed the position of victims of their Boko Haram insurgency, he noted that a few of the camps they reside in “are in fact the configurations for violence, manipulation and misuse of the very vulnerable,” and that there’s “major security concerns relating to children, women and girls in the northeast region.”
THE CRISIS IN northeastern Nigeria as a whole was a nightmare for women this past eight decades. Dozens of small girls have been used by Boko Haram as suicide bombers, innumerable have been raped by insurgents, and thousands including more than a hundred of the Chibok girls stay in captivity. The government for its part hasn’t completed enough to guard people seeking refuge in IDP camps.
Vulnerable girls who fall prey may experience a type of psychological torture, in addition to the suffering. Often the victims are taken to Benin City in Nigeria’s Edo State, in which they are taken to a shrine and made to execute a juju oath-swearing ritual to ensure they will refund the money spent in carrying them to Europe.
1 such victim is Sarah, a Boko Haram sex slave, who had been kidnapped by jihadists in Bama and taken to the terrorists’ stronghold in the Sambisa Forest.
After people had fallen asleep after a couple of weeks in captivity, Sarah escaped from her captors in the middle of the night. She started to reside in the IDP camp there, and walked for extended hours from which she managed to create her way to Madinatu before reaching a settlement.
In camp, where food was not always adequate, Sarah chose to prostitution on the streets of nearby Maiduguri to have the ability to raise cash to support herself and, she hoped, to return to college and complete her education. It had been in one of her outings that she met a woman who made her a promise to take her to Italy and find her a job.
I first met Sarah in January while she had been making preparations to leave for Benin City. The woman who told her was a representative for a trafficking ring operating in the southern town that is ancient. She also gave Sarah the speech of the female leader of this gang, and arranged for the girl to travel to Benin City and meet the woman whom she called “Madam Eunice.”
Before moving to Benin City, which had been presumed to take her at least two days to complete by street on her visit in February, Sarah shared the address with me.
Later Sarah had departed, I visited Benin City–1,429 kilometers of Maiduguri–and moved to the speech Sarah gave. It was not a house, as we both had thoughtit was a temple, where she had been expected to swear an oath of allegiance to her trafficker.
I told him that I had been a close friend of Sarah and has been concerned about her whereabouts and met with the priest. I showed a photograph of this girl to him and she was recognized by him.
Sarah hadn’t spent the night in the temple. On the same day she came, the adolescent participate along with the girls Madam Eunice planned to Italy to traffic.
The priest slaughtered the girls and a chicken declared which they would keep to the promise they made to their madam. If they fail in any manner, the punishment could be “death or an illness nobody can cure.”
The girls were asked to cut their fingernails and also a part of the own hair, and abandon them before leaving in the shrine. It is only when they’ve paid their madam back in total or when both parties choose to terminate the agreement that the priest returns the things to the owners or destroys them.
“If they keep to the agreement, they will not need to be worried about anything,” said the priest, who said the girls moved with their madam to Kano a day after the ritual.
A STRONG BRITISH FORCE seized Benin City in 1897 and fought against the natives. After the war, the British found evidence related to the practice of human sacrifice in town which was tied to traditional beliefs. Until this moment, conventional ritual practices, which mix with Christianity, are carried out in some regions of Nigeria and Edo State in the name of gods.
At Upper Sakpoba Road in Benin City, at which traffickers come from, a woman named Ivie constructed a house with proceeds. After spending five decades there as a prostitute three decades back, her childhood friend returned. Both of these began working together to aid women. A guy brought a orphan, Glory. The girl had lost her parents in Borno in one Boko Haram attack. She found her way to an IDP camp and fortunately escaped.
Ivie and Glory embarked on the trip north. As they came in Maimoujia, armed bandits attacked them in the “connection house” where they had been spending the night. Each of of the currencies in their possession had been taken. Glory has been raped. The morning after, the adolescent was handed over by Ivie to another trafficker in Maimoujia who left to Agadez with Glory.
“I really don’t know if she’s ever got to Italy,” Ivie told me. “There wasn’t any way to affirm because I dropped the contact of this guy in Maimoujia.”
The desert crossing there is barbarous. Survivors tell of marauding breakdowns, bandits, and injuries in the middle of nowhere. One which I interviewed said he had had to drink his own urine, and might never forget seeing skeletons that “littered the desert.”
SO FAR THIS YEAR, 2,803 migrants who’ve made it to Libya and then made it on ships have died along the central sea route to Europe, in accordance with the International Organization for Migration. One of the victims are 26 Nigerian teenage girls supposed to have been sexually abused and killed by people smugglers as they tried to cross the Mediterranean.
After the news of the passing of the girls got to 15-year-old Maryam who lives close to an IDP camp in Maiduguri, she wept, and, then, recalled how a female trafficker approached her in October with a promise to offer her a job in Italy if she had been interested in traveling. She was fearful of trying the trip. So, she diminished. But her sister traveled and jumped in the deal.
“Who knows if she’s among those who died,” Maryam told me. She, along with her older sister, fled Bama after an attack. “Ever since she left last month, nobody has ever heard from her.”
Italian police murdered the 26 girls after having identified only two of the victims. If the sister of Maryam really is among the 24, nobody could understand she had been missing.
“I need someone will call and tell me she’s fine,” she said. “Something tells me all isn’t well.”
Despite the risk the four boys hoping to reach Italy were undeterred. For these the risk could not be worse than a life of uncertainty in a region where nobody knows when another Boko Haram bomb will go off.
“If I could endure Boko Haram, I could survive anywhere,” Abba said, just ahead of the boys left Kano. “I know people in Maiduguri who’ve traveled successfully, and that gives me hope.”
I still wait to hear from him.
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