Police in Niger rescued 232 human trafficking victims, including 46 under the age of 18, during an Interpol-supported operation targeting organised crime groups in West Africa.
Operation Sarraounia (queen or female chief in the Hausa language) mobilised more than 100 officers from the Nigerien National Police to hotspots in Niamey, leading to the arrest of 18 people on charges of human trafficking and crimes against children.
As part of the pre-operational phase, officers from Interpol’s Vulnerable Communities unit provided training on conducting victim interviews in cases of human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.
During the operation in late January, the Interpol team on the ground helped national authorities make best use of Interpol policing capabilities, including databases and International Notices system.
Of the 46 young people rescued, 37 girls between 10 and 17 were forced into sexual exploitation out of hostels or makeshift camps on the outskirts of Niamey. Other children were taken from their families and forced to beg at markets and bus stations.
The young victims were safeguarded and received immediate medical attention, revealing serious physical conditions, including advanced human papillomavirus infections.
“Whether it’s children, men or women, traffickers show little regard for the health and well-being of victims, they are simply a commodity to make money,” said Jürgen Stock, Interpol Secretary General.
“As vital as it is to track and arrest those behind these crimes, we also need to ensure those rescued are protected and respected throughout the police process,” he said.
All victims were assisted and returned to their families, with follow-ups to be carried out by social services and NGOs.
As a result of the operation, Nigerien authorities requested six Interpol Green Notices warning of the danger posed by individuals who recruited and sexually exploited the young girls.
Promises of ‘decent work’
Following an investigative lead, police from the Special Investigations Division of the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance conducted a raid on a house in Niamey. They found 115 men whose travel documents were confiscated by traffickers. Victim interviews revealed after a bus trip from Ghana, they were met by individuals who led them to the compound and refused to let them out.
Two days later 65 more men arrived.
All were recruited online from Ghana and promised ‘decent work’. They were not told travel fees and all costs relating to recruitment, including commission, would be deducted from future wages.
Three Interpol Blue Notices seeking more information on arrested traffickers were published as part of the ongoing investigation.
Speaking about the operation, Barka Dankassoua, Commissaire de police and Head of NCB Niger said “Operation Sarraounia shed light on several criminal groups and trafficking routes. The skills our officers learned will be put to good use as we follow up on leads.”
Operation Sarraounia was carried out with support from the Human Dignity Foundation, the Interpol Foundation for a Safer World and Project Flyway.