Fred Ezeh, Abuja
National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) has raised the alarm over the number of Nigerian women who are trapped in domestic servitude in Lebanon, Qatar, United Arab Emirate (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman and many other Middle East countries.
NAPTIP said the phenomenon assumed worrisome dimension in the last three years, as it has received not less than 50 distress calls from Nigerian women in Lebanon in past few months, crying for rescue and opportunity to return home and reunite with their families, because of the inhuman conditions in which they are made to work.
The Agency added that the complainants said they are forced to work for a minimum of 18 hours per day, mostly on their feet, cleaning large facilities, washing and doing other menial and hazardous jobs such as climbing ladder to clean outside windows.
NAPTIP Director General, Julie Okah-Donli, at a press conference, in Abuja, on Tuesday, said that many of the young Nigerian women in such situation are between the ages of 25 and 35, and are trapped in domestic violence in the Middle East countries.
She, however, expressed disappointment with a recent media report credited to the Ambassador of Lebanon to Nigeria, Houssam Diab, in which he was said to had created impression that none of 56 Nigerian women recently evacuated from Lebanon was victim of human trafficking, but that they were in Lebanon with their full consent and legitimate contract.
She also said the Ambassador tried to create another impression that NAPTIP was raising a false alarm on the status of many of the returnees whom were classified as victims of exploitative labour and other forms of human degradation which constitute human trafficking.
The NAPTIP boss said the Agency has detailed information as well as pictorial and video evidences of such inhumane treatment to Nigerian women in Lebanon.
She said: “These women are forced to work for long hours under cruel working conditions. In addition to that, their salaries and other entitlements are not paid, while some are outrightly sold off to third party buyer. They are called ‘slaves’ and treated as such.”
She confirmed that, at least, 10 of such cases have been referred to NAPTIP through the Nigerian Embassy in Lebanon with notations like, “she lost her sanity due to stress and maltreatment and was dumped at the Embassy gate”.
She added that officials of Nigerian Embassy in Lebanon have also confirmed that the women were badly treated, and one of the returnees, according to them, was limping as a result of the injury she sustained when she jumped from the second floor of a building to escape from her employers.
She, however, confirmed that preliminary investigations revealed that the syndicates comprises of Nigerians and foreigners who are behind the massive recruitment.
“We also found out that the women were signed onto a contract without the benefit of legal guidance, and that the Nigerian and foreign agents exploited them financially by not paying the wages they were promised,” she said.