Authorities rescued 64 victims of human trafficking and people smuggling during an Interpol co-ordinated operation in Mali.
The victims – mostly women and girls – were rescued from sexual exploitation, forced labour in the mining sector and forced begging.
Operation Horonya, “freedom” in Bambara, took place in October supporting Malian authorities in identifying and dismantling criminal groups operating in Mali and across the region.
Police conducted raids at known trafficking and smuggling hotspots in the country.
The 70 victims identified and rescued are from Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Nigeria and were working in bars, homes and mining sites. Among them were three young boys rescued from an illegally operated Koranic school, where they were allegedly forced to beg for money.
Four suspected traffickers were detained awaiting sentencing. Investigations are ongoing to identify additional suspects.
During Operation Horonya, officers carried out checks at the international airport in Bamako, screening passports against a range of Interpol databases.
Key to Operation Horonya was Interpol’s database of stolen and lost travel documents that enables police to check validity of travel documents in seconds and detect fraudulent use.
The operation highlighted a regional connection between organised crime networks: victims were from across the region and initial reports showed they were exploited in different countries before arriving in the Malian capital.
Interpol will continue to support regional and international co-operation to help investigators identify suspects and dismantle criminal groups.
The International Organisation for Migration, as well as local NGO War against Human Trafficking ensured victim protection and assistance.
“Mali serves as major transit country for human traffickers who target the most vulnerable members of society. With victims from a range of countries, this operation showed human trafficking and people smuggling is a truly transnational problem,” Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock said.
“Interpol’s role in connecting police agencies across the world is essential in fighting these crimes and we will continue working with member countries.”
Abou Sidibe, Head of the Interpol National Central Bureau in Bamako, highlighted Mali’s commitment to fighting human trafficking. During the operation, the Malian government passed a decree creating a police unit dedicated to human trafficking and migrant smuggling.
Operation Horonya was conducted under the umbrella of Interpol’s Project Flyway, funded by Norway, which aims to identify and disrupt criminal networks involved in people smuggling, human trafficking and related crimes in North Africa.