British Prime Minister Theresa May vowed on Wednesday to help Nigeria clamp down on human trafficking to Europe and support victims of modern slavery who return to the West African nation.
Britain announced a series of measures to tackle trafficking and illegal migration – ranging from stronger border controls to counselling and training for returnees – during May’s visit to Nigeria on her first official trip to Africa as leader.
Nigerian anti-trafficking officials welcomed the plans but called for more joint investigations between the nations, while activists said they focused on stopping migration rather than slavery and reflected a “fragmented” British approach.
Thousands of Nigerian women and girls are lured to Europe via Libya each year, made to perform black magic rituals then forced into sex work in Italy, fearing their relatives will fall ill if they disobey their traffickers, the United Nations says.
“Today we are stepping up our partnership with Nigerian authorities to find traffickers and bring them to justice,” May said in a statement before her arrival in Nigeria on Wednesday.
Britain’s foreign aid department (DFID) has pledged millions of pounds in recent years to help Nigeria catch traffickers and support victims, as part of a wider drive to ramp up efforts to stop slavery at home and abroad and cut trafficking to Britain.
“But as well as targeting the smugglers and traffickers that cruelly exploit people for financial gain, it’s vital that we support the victims who have suffered enormous trauma and are at high risk of being re-trafficked,” the prime minister added.
Britain said it would help up to 1,700 migrants and slavery victims returning to Nigeria from Libya with counselling, training for jobs, and community reintegration, as well as boost controls at the country’s borders and major airport in Lagos.
Julie Okah-Donli, head of Nigeria’s anti-trafficking agency NAPTIP, praised the measures but urged more cooperation on the crime and prosecutions from countries like Britain, and action to stop rural mothers letting their daughters leave for Europe.
“The measures … whilst positive, seem to follow the overall government’s fragmented approach to modern slavery rather than one based on a coherent strategy,” Jakub Sobik of Anti-Slavery International told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The proposals seem to focus on stopping people migrating rather than falling into modern slavery,” the charity’s spokesman added. “It is likely to make people take different unofficial routes, where they can face even higher risks.”
British opposition lawmaker Diane Abbott said in a statement that May’s “warm words about modern slavery ring hollow”.
“Instead of supporting the victims of modern slavery the Home Office (interior ministry) regularly detains trafficked women in centres … causing vulnerable women so much pain.”