The crisis of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is not a new phenomenon in Kenya. In the period directly after the country experienced post-election violence in 2007, the magnitude of displaced people has risen. As a result of the ethnic-spirited violence in various parts of the country, the number of IDPs has reached an all-time high of up to 309,200 displaced Kenyans according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). Human Rights activist organizations and the international community as a whole have been alarmed with the vulnerability displaced persons have to the scourge of Human Trafficking.
Victims of internal displacement face a myriad of challenges, often of ethnic and economic dimensions, as they are shunned by the host communities and easily become an impoverished minority. Having lost their property and wealth by virtue of displacement and as a direct consequence of the social exclusion they experience upon relocation, these people become easy prey for traffickers. Thousands of reports of trafficking incidents relating to IDP persons and settlements have been recorded, prompting an inquiry into the extent and nature of this particular problem.
Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART) has conducted a research-oriented investigation in this regard and what emerged as the most important question was whether all IDPs are equally vulnerable to trafficking. We recognize that although it is widely thought that IDPs are vulnerable to trafficking, what constitutes the motives for “being-a-population” at risk of being trafficked is still primarily based on assumption.
As IDPs are scattered throughout the country the research has therefore tried to encompass all the regions where they can be found. A total of 12 clusters were formulated which covered the four broad types of IDPs. There were also a select number of key informants who were chosen to give input towards the research. The total number of individuals interviewed came to about 300 people.
The research has faced multiple challenges in the field from extreme weather to language barriers. One of the most memorable has been the resistance incurred while trying to get the evasive government specialists to take part in the research. They insinuated that the issues of human trafficking were nothing but a myth in the country and they haven’t come across such.
The research has been eye-opening, shedding light on the current state and the challenges experienced by the IDPs. Forming a larger bulk of the most impoverished in Kenya it was no wonder that they became easier targets to traffickers and other exploiters alike. Many posed too eager to recover lost wealth by being willing to do anything. It was also evident that a larger percentage of the group were ignorant to the existence of human trafficking and therefore engaged in its vices without knowing.
The final document in this light will therefore attempt to shed light on the depth of the correlation between trafficking and IDPs. The overall intention is that the research findings should help in delivering better protection service to IDPs in Kenya and in other Eastern African countries where IDPs may have a similar status.
You can read the full research here.
By Shirley Nakhumicha Otube
Maria* was walking down a street in Nairobi, covered with blood, beaten up by a customer. She saw police officers and sought for help, in vain. The police wanted “their share” if they were going to help, even just to take her to hospital. This wasn’t an unique situation, around 80% of Maria’s customers are somehow violent. Consequently, she prefers to have oral sex with the customers; she has been raped more than once when she has refused anal sex during intercourse.
“They are stealing our pussies!” was shouted at the nightclub Maria worked in. It was followed by laughter of three sex workers, though they were serious. They were referring to situations where a customer didn’t want or have the money to pay them after sex. Against my presumptions, they were very open with me. “This was always my dream job, since I was a teenager. What could be better than having sex with all these guys?” We were sitting in a round table, and discussing about sex work.
After half an hour Maria seemed to realize that, I wasn’t there to pimp her to my friend who accompanied me, I was there because I was curious and she started telling me. She wished she had made different choices in life, 5 years ago. She had started dating a “wrong guy” who after a while forced her to have sex with men for money. After two years, she managed to leave him; she left when he wasn’t home, changed her phone number and moved to a different part of Nairobi, left everything to protect herself.
Problems didn’t end there, she was unemployed and she couldn’t find a job. There were no jobs and she needed to support herself. Other girls said the same, there were no jobs in Nairobi and some of them had children to feed. So Maria, as well as the other girls, had started to sell sex. With this work, they were hoping to find a rich, preferably foreign, man who could provide them with a better future. Maria and the other girls were selling sex from their own choice, they weren’t forced to do it by another person, though I wonder if there had been many realistic choices left to choose from; poverty and lack of opportunities are driving forces in the sex industry. In order to have sex for money, Maria started to use drugs and alcohol. Without a drink and being high, she couldn’t do it.
The atmosphere in the table had changed for a minute, the laughter had stopped and it seemed Maria didn’t want to discuss her past or her ex-boyfriend any further so we changed the topic. Though Maria might have been trafficked by her ex-boyfriend some years ago, she wasn’t willing to talk about it so I didn’t want to push her and ask more.
I was in one of the many night clubs in Nairobi, where girls were mainly selling sex and the customers were there mainly to buy sex. Selling and buying sex, despite widespread and done quite openly, is illegal in Kenya. Though sex work doesn’t automatically mean human trafficking, sexual exploitation including forced sex work and production of pornographic materials are forms of exploitation within human trafficking.
In some situations, for a buyer or bystander, it is difficult or even impossible to know if a person has been trafficked. Under threats, manipulation and possibly forced to use alcohol and/or drugs, the trafficked victims may work, not only in locked up rooms, but on streets and nightclubs, to look for customers to please. If you were for example threatened that you (or your family) would be beaten or even killed if you didn’t have sex with a certain amount of men in a night, would you be willing to find customers? In order to find customers, would you pretend you wanted to have sex with them?
Even the victims themselves doesn’t always identify themselves as victims, less likely as victims of human trafficking; many of them doesn’t know what is the definition of human trafficking is or that they are entitled to receive assistance. Some of them come from extremely violent backgrounds and aren’t able to identify different forms of violence, for example rape, as exploitation. Some of them are ostensibly free to leave and receive a small salary, but they “only” have to pay their increasing debts for the trafficker and a ticket home before they can leave. The trafficker may be the one who is “saving” money for them and promises to pay when they have gathered all the money needed.
These are some of the reasons why sometimes identifying a sex worker, who is in fact a victim of human trafficking, can be complicated. Also a quite general confusion between abuse, exploitation and trafficking exists. Though sex workers face exploitation and multiple forms of violence generally more than workers in other industries, sex work is not trafficking if the workers are selling sex from their free will, without involvement, for example, of coercion, fraud or threats. When sex workers face violence, it is a crime, but not human trafficking. They become victims of violence, but not victims of human trafficking.
In addition, there is always the danger of a single story. There are women and men in the sex industry who sell sex from their free will, there are women and men who sell sex because they don’t have better options and there are victims of human trafficking who are forced, raped or threatened. Everyone should respect every person’s right to self-determination and avoid victimization of persons who are not victims, at the same time, giving the victims their status of a victim, rather than shaming and blaming them of their own situation. Everyone should also disprove every form of violence and exploitation, regardless of person’s work, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background, social and economical status. It shouldn’t be that difficult.
By Pauliina Sillfors
Human trafficking is a global problem that affects almost every country in the world. See the info graphic below to get informed.
Hope for Human Trafficking
A few months ago we posted an email from a lady who was stuck in Saudi Arabia. Now she has written again to explain what it is like going modern day slavery. Read her first email here.
When opportunities come, always remember all that glitters is not gold.
A stranger gives a woman trying to fend for her children a promise of greener pastures. All she has ever wanted to do is raise her children well and educate them so that they can get a better future. She takes the deal without considering the negative side of the deal. She is promised a good life and a secure job for two years; little does she know she is signing up for modern day slavery. That woman is I.
The broker and agent were all smiles when I accepted the offer. They salivated for the big money they will make after sealing the deal. I was not aware of what awaited me in the country of destination in this case, Saudi Arabia.
The process was swift and all paperwork was done within a month. The agent promises that after you leave they will monitor your progress and will always communicate. All these promises are not true it’s just a way of making sure you don’t back off the deal.
As I am writing this, it’s been one year and four months in Saudi Arabia. Its been a struggle. I am being overworked, underpaid and discriminated against. No one values me here. I thank God I am able to use the internet to communicate.
It will be my second Christmas away from my family it feels so sad. I am lonely I can’t wait to return home to my family and children.
We can all join hands to fight modern day slavery and yes somebody is in the process of being trafficked, as I am writing this.
I wish you all a merry Christmas. Thank you HAART for standing with the survivors. Thank you for fighting for fighting with us.
“Thank you for giving me my voice back. I thought my traffickers had taken it forever. I know this is not true because you have taught me that it is not true and I can use my voice to fight human trafficking.” (Testimony from a victim)
Last year at this time, we were preparing to receive 31 women who had been trafficked for forced labor in Libya. It had taken us five months to get this far and all this had been done remotely through Facebook and WhatsApp. The hopelessness of the situation was debilitating. There was nothing that we could do at that moment but offer words of comfort and encouragement until we figured out a rescue plan. We never anticipated that this would take five months.
The first time we heard about this case was through our Facebook page. A woman in Libya was concerned that her friend was being mistreated and she was requesting for HAART’s intervention in the matter. This was in June and by late July the war in Libya had escalated and we got more information that 16 women were stuck in the Kenyan embassy and had no means to get home. We quickly started following up the issue with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get these women back home. Their stories revealed that all of them were victims of trafficking and had been recruited by agents in Kenya promising good jobs. When they arrived in Libya, their passports were taken and many were also physically and sexually abused. None of them received the promised salaries and some did not receive anything at all.
We soon found out that there were more women stuck in houses around the country. The women had formed a WhatsApp support group and as soon as we started working on the cases, the other women who were not at the embassy reached out to us through WhatsApp to see if they could also be rescued. In one case we followed updates the whole day on WhatsApp as a woman were trying to travel the 1,200 kilometers from Benghazi to Tripoli through the warzone. We guided them to the embassy and eventually worked with the International Organization for Migration and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to bring them back home just before Christmas.
Fast-forward to December 2015 and most of the women that came back are reintegrated back to society. The process included offering psychosocial support, medical aid for those that needed it and economic empowerment. When reintegrating victims there isn’t a one size fits all process, you have to treat each victim as an individual and cater for their specific needs. Sometimes we are not always able to meet those needs but we do our best. The women who survived this ordeal are stronger and are slowly healing from all the scars that they got and we are happy that we are a small part of that experience.
In the fight against human trafficking, social media can be used for prevention by creating awareness through the different social media. HAART has a vibrant Facebook page and we have used it to give people reliable information about human trafficking. Social media can also be used for protection purposes, especially in cases where victims are outside the country. Victims and families of victims have reached out to HAART through social media and through it we have managed to follow up on cases and in some cases ensured that the victims were rescued.
Human trafficking is a crime that evolves. Those working in counter- trafficking like us have to learn to adapt to these changes. Today, learning how to effectively use social media to fight human trafficking is very crucial because traffickers are using it as a tool to further their agenda.
Human trafficking is a complete violation of the most basic human rights. Most victims of trafficking go through more than one form of abuse, making the reintegration process slow and difficult. Some of the issues the women went through in Libya, they have only now started to share after a year of psychosocial support. The process needs to be comprehensive to be effective. To completely eradicate human trafficking, we have to continue learning and being vigilant in the efforts that we adapt and using social media as a tool is one of the many crucial lessons learned one year later.
By Sophie Otiende
In October, HAART’s partner Youth Career Initiative published a short film about the work we do together to empower victims of trafficking through providing job opportunities. HAART has been working with YCI and its partners to place victims of human trafficking in training programmes in hotels in Nairobi. Read more here and watch the video below.