(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
An INTERPOL operation rescued 216 men, women and children who were trafficked into forced labor in Benin and Nigeria in April.
During Operation Epervier II, about 100 officers in two countries carried raids and identity checks at markets, airports, seaports and in settlements.
A number of those rescued were victims of sex trafficking.
Police arrested 47 people and seized vehicles, cash, mobile phones and computers during the operation.
The victims were recruited and trafficked through deception and coercion. Many of the 157 children rescued, between the ages of 11 to 16, had been forced to do heavy labor, work in markets, peddle goods or work as housemaids. Some were also sexually exploited.
"Nobody belongs in the markets or on the streets as slave laborers," said Hounde Seidou, the police divisional commissioner of Benin’s Central Bureau for the Protection of Minors and Families and the Prevention of Human Trafficking (OCPM). "As law enforcement officers it is our duty to combat human trafficking, especially when children are involved.”
All the victims originated from Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Togo.
Most of the children were subjected to beatings and psychological abuse, including death threats and threats that they would never see their parents again.
“Human trafficking is a transnational crime from which the vulnerable, especially children, simply cannot walk away,” said INTERPOL Secretary-General Jürgen Stock.
Social services and NGOs interviewed the victims and provided the necessary support services. Minors were transferred to shelters, returned to their parents or taken into care by national social affairs authorities and NGOs.
Operation Epervier was preceded by specialized INTERPOL training exercises to train officers in investigative techniques as well as victim and offender interview skills.
“We have to cooperate with one another to combat the crime networks behind the trafficking and smuggling of human beings," aid Do Asogwa, Comptroller of Nigeria’s Immigration Service in the Seme border region. "These crimes can only be tackled collectively and through inter-agency cooperation."
I-24/7, INTERPOL’s secure communications system, was deployed at operational hotspots, providing real-time access to criminal global databases containing millions of records, including on stolen and lost travel documents and biometrics.
The operation was funded by the INTERPOL Foundation for a Safer World and carried out under the framework of the INTERPOL Global Task Force on Human Trafficking.
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