The Exploitative System that Traps Nigerian Women as Slaves in Lebanon

Nigerian migrants arrive in Lagos from Libya. Nigeria has, in the last two years, evacuated thousands of its citizens from Libya and Lebanon after they suffered several forms of abuses, including enslavement. Trafficking has resulted in at least 80,000 Nigerian women being held as sex slaves and forced labour in the Middle East. Credit: Sam Olukoya/IPS

Nigerian migrants arrive in Lagos from Libya. Nigeria has, in the last two years, evacuated thousands of its citizens from Libya and Lebanon after they suffered several forms of abuses, including enslavement. Trafficking has resulted in at least 80,000 Nigerian women being held as sex slaves and forced labour in the Middle East. Credit: Sam Olukoya/IPS

By Sam Olukoya
LAGOS, Nigeria, Sep 14 2020 – “I need help, right now I cannot walk properly,” trafficking victim Nkiru Obasi pleaded from her hospital bed in a video she posted online.

The young Nigerian woman had been injured in the Aug. 4 Beirut blast, which ripped through the Lebanese capital, killing 190 people injuring a further 6,500 and damaging 40 percent of the city. However, it’s not her injuries keeping her in Lebanon but a restrictive and abusive system of migrant laws.

Obasi is just one of thousands of young Nigerian women trafficked to Lebanon with false promises of a better life. The Lagos-based New Telegraph newspaper quoted a source in the Nigerian embassy in Lebanon as saying that some 4,541 Nigerian women were trafficked to the country last year. The chair of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, described the rate at which Nigerian women are trafficked to Lebanon as “an epidemic”.

After sustaining injuries in the blast, Obasi tried to return to Nigeria but she and four others were stopped at the airport under the exploitative Kafala system.

The system, which is widely practiced in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East, prohibits migrant workers from returning to their countries without the permission of their employer.

“Lebanon’s restrictive and exploitative kafala system traps tens of thousands of migrant domestic workers in potentially harmful situations by tying their legal status to their employer, enabling highly abusive conditions amounting at worst to modern-day slavery,” according to Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. The rights organisation called for a revised contract that recognises and protects workers’ internationally guaranteed rights.

In late May, Nigeria attempted to repatriate 60 trafficked women from Lebanon but only 50 could return home. Anti-trafficking activists in the Middle East said the remaining 10 women were held back in Lebanon under the Kafala system.

The Kafala system operates alongside a system that enslaves trafficked women. In April, a Lebanese man posted an advert under the “Buy and Sell in Lebanon” Facebook group. “Domestic worker from Nigeria for sale with new legal document, she is 30 years old, she is very active and very clean,” the advert said in Arabic. The price tag was $1,000.

An outcry from Nigeria forced Lebanese authorities to rescue the woman while a man thought to be responsible for the Facebook post was arrested. The Lebanese Ministry of Labour said the man would be tried in court for human trafficking.

But this is not an isolated case. Many Nigerian women trafficked to the Middle East have spoken out about being sold as slaves.

In January, 23-year-old Ajayi Omolola appeared in an online video saying she and a few other Nigerian women were being held under harsh conditions and that their lives were at risk.

“When we are ill, they don’t take us to the hospital, some of those I arrived in Lebanon with have died,” she said.

Omolola said on arrival in Lebanon, her passport was taken away and she was “sold”.

“I did not realise that they had sold me into slavery,” she said, adding that she only realised the gravity of her situation when her boss told her she could not return to Nigeria because he had “bought her”.

Kikelomo Olayide had a similar account. On arrival in Lebanon from Nigeria she was taken to a market. “In that market, they call us slaves,” she said.

Roland Nwoha, head of programmes/coordinator of migration and human trafficking at Idia Renaissance, a Nigerian organisation working to discourage irregular migration and human trafficking, told IPS that even though Europe is a major attraction for Nigerians in search of a better future abroad, the Middle East is proving an alternative for many.

Nwoha explained that unlike the journey to Europe, which involves a dangerous land journey through the desert and an equally dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea, traffickers fly their victims to the Middle East after procuring visas for them with the promise of good jobs.

The chair of Nigeria’s House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs Tolulope Akande-Sadipe said 80,000 Nigerian women are being held as sex slaves,and forced labour in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Nigerian women trafficked to the Middle East “almost always end in labour and sexual exploitation,” Daniel Atokolo Lagos commander of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons said.

Gloria Bright, a Nigerian teacher who was promised a teaching job with a monthly salary of $1,000 in Lebanon, was held captive and made to work as a domestic worker upon her arrival. She posted an online video in which she pleaded for help and to be rescued. She said besides being made to work under very harsh conditions, her boss sexually harassed her. “At times he will ask me to massage him, he will hug me, he will kiss me,” she said.

Bright was fortunate to be rescued by Nigerian authorities before the Aug. 4 Beirut blast.

Dabiri-Erewa said the trafficking of Nigerians to Lebanon “is becoming a big embarrassment and it has to be stopped”. In an effort to stop the crime, Nigerian authorities have arrested several people, including Lebanese residents in Nigeria. A Lebanese is being investigated in connection with the trafficking of 27 women to Lebanon, two of whom have been rescued.

The Lebanese ambassador to Nigeria, Houssam Diab, says his embassy is assisting the Nigerian government to stop the trafficking of women to his country. He said the issuance of work visas to Nigerians has been suspended following cases of the abuse of Nigerian women at the hands of their Lebanese employers.

The ambassador said the Lebanese Ministry of Labour will work out a “legal and systemic way to make domestic staff to come into Lebanon legally without the fear of inhuman treatment”.   

Nigerian activists, like Nwoha, who are working against human trafficking say the Nigerian government has to do more to curtailing the activities of the traffickers. They said the government should make conditions at home better to stop Nigerians desperately seeking a better life abroad.

 


This is part of a series of features from across the globe on human trafficking. IPS coverage is supported by the Airways Aviation Group.

The Global Sustainability Network ( GSN ) is pursuing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 8 with a special emphasis on Goal 8.7 which ‘takes immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms’.

The origins of the GSN come from the endeavours of the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders signed on 2 December 2014. Religious leaders of various faiths, gathered to work together “to defend the dignity and freedom of the human being against the extreme forms of the globalisation of indifference, such us exploitation, forced labour, prostitution, human trafficking” and so forth.

Nepal’s Glacial Lakes in Danger of Bursting

Tso Rolpa glacial lake at 4,580m has grown seven times in size in the past 60 years due to global heating. Credit: RASTRARAJ BHANDARI

Tso Rolpa glacial lake at 4,580m has grown seven times in size in the past 60 years due to global heating. Credit: RASTRARAJ BHANDARI

By Mukesh Pokhrel
KATHMANDU, Sep 14 2020 – A new report out this week warns that hundreds of glacial lakes in the Himalaya are in danger of bursting because global heating is melting the ice on the world’s highest mountains. However, on only two of them have there been mitigation measures to reduce water levels.

Those projects have been prohibitively expensive, and questions have been raised about their sustainability and whether they offer a long-term solution.

The water level of the Tso Rolpa glacial lake in the Rolwaling Valley was lowered 20 years ago after scientists warned that it was in imminent danger of bursting. The project cost $9 million at the time, most of it coming from The Netherlands.

Its sluice gate lowered the water level by only 3m, and scientists now say it needs to go down by a further 20m to reduce risk of it bursting. A network of early warning stations downstream also has not functioned as planned.

 

A sluice gate built 20 years ago reduced the level of the water by 3m, but it needs to go down by 20m to reduce the danger of a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF). Credit: RASTRARAJ BHANDARI

A sluice gate built 20 years ago reduced the level of the water by 3m, but it needs to go down by 20m to reduce the danger of a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF). Credit: RASTRARAJ BHANDARI

 

The other project was a drainage channel and gate built on Imja Lake in the Mt Everest region in 2016 by the Nepal Army with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) at a cost of $7.2 million.

The project located at 5,000m altitude was criticised at the time for being an expensive show-case on a popular tourist site near Mt Everest, and for wasting money on a lake that is relatively stable because it is buttressed by two side moraines of the Lhotse Nup and Nuptse Glaciers. Glacial lakes like Thulagi in Lamjung on the Hongu basin were said to be in much greater danger of bursting, and needed more urgent mitigation.

And it has emerged that four years after the project was completed and the water in Imja Lake lowered by 3.4m, the Nepal Army and its main contractor have yet to remove their excavators and other equipment from the site as per the contract — flouting guidelines of Sagarmatha National Park, which is a World Heritage Site.

Despite recent interventions by UNESCO and the national park, the Nepal Army has said it is technically not possible to take the equipment out because of altitude restrictions on its helicopters. The firm hired by the army, Krishna Construction, says its contract does not say anything about removal of equipment.

The Glacial Lake Inventory report launched at a webinar on Monday says that of the expanding glacial lakes in the Himalaya, 47 on the watersheds of Nepal’s three main rivers are at high risk of bursting, and causing catastrophic floods downstream. Of these, 42 lakes are on the Kosi River basin in eastern Nepal, three are on the Gandaki and two on the Karnali watersheds.

However, not all the lakes are located in Nepal. Of the 47 dangerous lakes, 25 are in Tibet and empty into rivers that flow down directly into Nepal. One of the high risk lakes is in Indian territory near Karnali.

This week’s report by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and UNDP mapped 3,624 glacial lakes in the three river basins in Nepal, China and India, of which 2,070 are within Nepal’s boundaries. The other 1,509 are on the Tibetan Plateau in China and 45 are in India, but drain into Nepal.

 

The researchers evaluated the risk factors for the glacial lakes depending on the integrity of their moraine dams, topography of the surroundings and the risk of avalanche into the lakes, as well as downstream settlements and infrastructure and divided them into three categories. Of the 47 dangerous lakes on the Kosi, Gandaki and Karnali basins, 31 were found to be at very high risk of bursting and causing damage. Twelve other lakes are at moderate risk and there are four lakes in the lower risk category.

 

The researchers evaluated the risk factors for the glacial lakes depending on the integrity of their moraine dams, topography of the surroundings and the risk of avalanche into the lakes, as well as downstream settlements and infrastructure and divided them into three categories.

Of the 47 dangerous lakes on the Kosi, Gandaki and Karnali basins, 31 were found to be at very high risk of bursting and causing damage. Twelve other lakes are at moderate risk and there are four lakes in the lower risk category.

The lakes are expanding because the ice fields feeding them are melting faster due to global heating, as well as increased deposition of soot particles on the snow. An ICIMOD assessment last year reported that even in the best case scenario, the Himalaya will lose one-third of its ice and snow during this century. But recent studies have shown that the melting is actually happening faster than previously thought, and is accelerating.

This has increased the number of glacial lakes in the Nepal Himalaya as well as their sizes. For example, remote sensing data in the report showed that there were 3,609 glacial lakes in Nepal’s three river basins with a combined area of 180sq km. By 2015, the number had grown to 3,696 and they covered a combined area of 195.4sq km.

Scientists have long noted that the rate of melting is higher in the eastern Himalaya than in the west, and the report confirms this. Interestingly, while the number of glacial lakes in the Kosi basin has gone down, their total area has increased by 14sq km – largely because supraglacial ponds have merged, or the lakes have drained without bursting.

The report has also recorded 26 glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) events in the Nepal Himalaya since 1977, but only 14 of them were on lakes located in Nepal. This emphasises the importance of trans-boundary early warning system – especially on lakes in Tibet upstream on the two Bhote Kosi rivers, Tama Kosi, the Arun and others.

This story was originally published by The Nepali Times

Rebbilib Episode 2

By External Source
Sep 14 2020 (IPS-Partners)

Come to the table, with a willingness to share and be vulnerable: This video is the second in a 3 part series hearing directly from Monitoring Evaluation and Learning practitioners [...] Read more »