Increased Number of Nigerian Migrants Fall Victim to Sex Trafficking, Exploitation in Mali

Chance, a Nigerian VoT who returned from Mali in 2018, speaks about her experience to IOM staff. Photo: IOM

Bamako – Every year, thousands of Nigerian women receive false promises. If they leave their country, they are told, they will find a good job, maybe as a waitress or a hairdresser. There they can earn enough money to begin a new life.  

Instead, many are caught in vicious cycles of sexual exploitation and servitude.   

‘Chance’, a young Nigerian, learned all this the hard way. Just over a year ago she was approached by neighbours who persuaded her to quit school and leave Nigeria for new work opportunities.   

“(They told me) I would work in restaurants and they would pay me USD 800 (400,000 CFA) monthly. They told me the work is in Malaysia,” she recalls. On 4 January 2018, she left with two girls from her neighbourhood.  

“Once we were in Mali, they told me it was for prostitution,” she explained. “They said it won’t take long, it would not even be for a month, just enough time to pay them USD 5,000 (CFA 2.4 million).” 

Nigerian women have become victims of such treatment across West Africa and Southern Europe. The International Organization for Migration (IOM)  reported in 2017 massive exploitation of Nigerian women and girls in sex commerce after being trafficked through Libya.  

But the crime also occurs much closer to home. 

Prompted by an increasing number of referrals from the Government of Mali, as well as members of civil society groups and Nigeria’s embassy, IOM has re-doubled its efforts to ensure victims of trafficking are identified, protected and, ultimately, assisted in restoring their dignity and livelihood back home.  

IOM in Mali has responded to 260 such cases since 2017. According to that mission, 238 of the victims were from Nigeria. In 2018, alone, IOM assisted 188 Nigerian women victims of trafficking (VoTs) stranded in Mali with shelter, food, clothes, medical and psychosocial support, as well as assistance for voluntary return and reintegration to Nigeria. 

“The vulnerability of migrants increases along the route of their journeys, especially for women traveling alone,” said Michele Bombassei, IOM’s Specialist on Migrant Protection and Assistance for West and Central Africa.  

“But we should not think that women only are exposed to abuse. In the case of gold mining, for instance, we witness a large variety of abuse and exploitation, targeting men and women, and unfortunately children,” he added. 

In the past year, IOM has provided capacity building trainings to more than 550 key stakeholders in Mali including prosecutors, judges, law enforcement agents, governmental and non-governmental actors – enhancing their ability to fight against human trafficking and increase the referrals to IOM. 

IOM also trains staff of the Nigerian Embassy as wells as representatives of Nigerian and Malian NGOs on techniques for interviewing, identifying and providing immediate protection to victims (or potential victims) of trafficking. This allows them to better identify victims and refer them to competent authorities for further assistance. 

For that reason, last December IOM cooperated with Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) to organize a fact-finding mission to assess the real extent of the phenomenon.  

NAPTIP representatives and IOM staff met with non-governmental and governmental stakeholders in Bamako as well as with potential VoTs working in a mining village in the Kangaba region.  

“We are working closely with NAPTIP, the leading anti-trafficking agency in Nigeria, and our collaboration during the mission is but one step towards the safe return of these victims as well as their proper rehabilitation to prevent further re-trafficking,” said Frantz Celestin, IOM Nigeria Chief of Mission ad interim.  

To fill in the lack of data on the exploitation of migrants in mines, IOM is also conducting a study on Migration Towards Artisanal Mining Sites in Mali, and in other West African countries. The findings will help IOM better understand the migratory dynamics in relation to gold mining activities in the region and provide stakeholders with evidence-based research to inform their policies, strategies and responses.  

In close partnership with NAPTIP, IOM Nigeria is assisting the return of 162 trafficking survivors with shelter, transportation, and medical assistance. IOM is assessing their needs and putting plans in place for their rehabilitation. 

The current research and assistance provided to these victims of trafficking are funded by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). 

For more information, please contact Florence Kim at the IOM Regional Office for West and Central Africa, Tel: +221 786206213, Email: