The problem of boys being trafficked to Europe from West Africa with the promise of a football career is widespread
LONDON, Nov 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Sierra Leonean footballer who used to play in Britain's top league has revealed he was trafficked as a teenager, taken to Britain by a man who tried to force him into the sex trade.
Ex-Watford player Al Bangura told the BBC that at the age of 14 he travelled from his home country, where a civil war was raging, to Guinea, hoping to play professional football in Europe's top leagues.
He met a Frenchman there who said he would help, but instead tried to force Bangura into the sex trade. He was taken to France and then Britain, where he was left in a building.
"The guy left me, and so all of a sudden I saw two, three guys come around me, trying to rape me," Bangura, 27, told the BBC. "I was screaming, shouting, crying, just proper screaming, and I tried to make my way out."
Bangura, who also played for Blackpool and Brighton and Hove Albion, managed to escape with the help of a man who gave him a bus ticket and told him to go to a government centre where he could apply for asylum, despite having no identification.
"I didn't really know how to speak English, I was cold, I was scared, I was crying, I didn't know where to start, I'm thinking 'this is the end of my life'", he said.
Victims like Bangura are often given fake passports and birth certificates by traffickers, falsified so they appear to be over 18, according to Ed Hawkins whose book "The Lost Boys: Inside Football's Slave Trade" was published recently.
The problem of boys being trafficked to Europe from West Africa with the promise of a football career is widespread, but accurate numbers are hard to come by, Hawkins told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We're talking probably a minimum of a thousand a year to Europe," he said, "but the International Centre for Sport and Security believes it to be far more than a thousand a year."
The rules of world football's governing body FIFA say clubs cannot sign foreign players who are under 18, but clubs find loopholes, and FIFA plays lip service to the rules, he said.
Though many West African boys are trafficked to Europe with the hope of playing in Britain's Premier League or France's Ligue 1, only a handful are as lucky as Al Bangura, said Hawkins.
(Reporting By Joseph D'Urso, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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