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INTERVIEW - UK anti-slavery tsar says human trafficking from Nigeria surging without global cooperation

by Ed Upright | @edupright | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 24 March 2017 17:12 GMT

"What was a trickle of victims has now become a flow" - Britain's Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland

By Ed Upright

LONDON, March 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Human trafficking by Nigerian crime gangs is one of the biggest challenges facing Britain's anti-slavery tsar who expressed frustration at seeing the numbers of Nigerian women likely to be trapped into sex slavery explode in the past two years.

Kevin Hyland, who was appointed Britain's first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner in 2014 as part of the widely lauded Modern Slavery Act, said a failure of authorities to work together to end trafficking has let criminal groups flourish.

Hyland said Britain's groundbreaking legislation may have caused a legal and cultural sea change against modern slavery but more needed to be done - both in the UK and internationally.

He said there has been an eight-fold increase in the number of women arriving from Nigeria into Italy between 2014 and 2016.

Of the 11,000 Nigerian women recorded arriving in Sicily in 2016 it is estimated about 80 percent showed signs of being trafficked, he said, with witchcraft or "juju" spells often used to bind girls to their traffickers who use them as sex slaves.

Hyland said the issue needed to be tackled upstream before victims reached Europe.

"Why are we just waiting until [the victims] arrive here, until they've been exploited?" Hyland told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview to mark the second anniversary of the Modern Slavery Act.

"We need to be a little bit more ambitious and stop it happening in the first place."

Campaigners have hailed the Modern Slavery Act, which came into force on March 26, 2015, as a milestone in the struggle against a crime which affects as many as 46 million people worldwide, with up to 13,000 victims in Britain.

The act, seen as setting a global precedent, combines harsh penalties for traffickers with better protection for people at risk, and requires companies to disclose what they are doing to ensure their supply chains are slavery-free.


Hyland, formerly head of the London Metropolitan Police Service's Human Trafficking Unit, said despite its successes, the fight against a growing menace exacerbated by global conflict and the mass movement of people needs to be stepped up.

He said international wars, huge profits and a slim chance of arrest for those responsible are the main drivers of modern slavery, something that has become a "crime of choice".

Hyland is urging for more cooperation and programmes in conflict-scarred southern Nigeria.

Last week he told the U.N. Security Council that traffickers have operated there for decades, deceiving victims with false promises of better lives in Europe.

"But what was a trickle of victims has now become a flow," he said. "These criminals are taking advantage of conflict and instability ... and have massively scaled up their trafficking operations by utilising these now ungoverned routes."

The UK government recently announced 5 million pounds ($6.2m) to work with Nigeria to take on trafficking at source.

Hyland said a much more coordinated approach to the fight against modern slavery is growing steadily in Britain.

But he said good progress since 2015 has been undermined by bureaucracy and a reliance on systems rather than response.

Yet Hyland added if the massive joint resources of police, law enforcement and government agencies work together more effectively they can create huge change.

(Reporting by Ed Upright, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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