© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Chagala… Travails of Nigerian girls inside Egypt’s slave markets ( Part2)
This is the second part of the investigation revealing how Nigerians, especially under age girls, are sold into slavery in Egypt. WALE AJETUNMOBI, who followed the trail of traffickers to El Ashiru, the slave market in Egypt, brought this report.
* This investigation was conducted with funding support from the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).
*How human traffickers and underage victims’ families conspire to sell them into slavery
ROSALINE Usifo, 23, still carries deep scars of multiple sexual abuses in her heart. The 23-year-old native of Edo State was deported last February by Egyptian authorities after spending almost five weeks in jail. She was handed over to the police, following allegations of theft and seduction levelled against her by Rama, her master’s wife.
Usifo said she was sexually abused multiple times by Chadoury, Rama’s engineer husband, within a period of four months when the couple was not on talking terms.
She said Chadoury forcibly had unprotected sex with her several times. The first time he had sex with the victim, Chadoury threatened to kill her if she reported him to his wife.
Chadoury reportedly said: “Hey you slave! I am thirsty for sex. I need you to remove your clothes right now. If you argue with me, I will cut you into pieces. I will slit your throat open and kill you here. After that, I will spit on your corpse. You worthless piece of shit.”
Frightened, Usifo could not resist her abusive master, who was holding a long-blade knife.
“He penetrated me forcibly and had unprotected sex with me. After the sex, he threw 1,000 Egyptian pounds at me and told me not to tell his wife about it. The following day, he bought contraceptive drugs for me. At times, he would demand that I quickly give him a blow job. By the time the wife found out what was going on, I had lost count of the number of times he had sex with me within a period of four months,” said Usifo.
Usifo was hired by the Egyptian couple as a nanny and cook in August 2017, two months before they quarreled and became estranged from each other.
“I didn’t know what led to the issues, but I discovered that they stopped talking to each other and slept in separate rooms, which was not the situation when they hired me and I started living with them”.
Knowing the gravity of his offence, Chadoury begged his wife and told her that Usifo seduced him. Rama called in the police and accused Usifo of theft and seduction. The latter was moved to deportation camp in January; and she was deported from Egypt five weeks later.
Sold into slavery by boyfriend
Deborah Francis is another sad victim of human trafficking and abuse. Two years after she completed her secondary school education, she was trafficked to Egypt by a Cairo-based smuggler whom she identified as Aisha Salami.
Francis, an indigene of Urome in Edo State, met Salami in 2012, through her boyfriend, Efosa. The latter introduced her to the trafficker claiming they were high school classmates.
“Aunty Aisha called my boyfriend from her base in Egypt and said she wanted ladies that she would take to Egypt for work. She claimed to be a job agent helping people for overseas employment. Efosa asked if I was interested, I declined because I initially thought it was prostitution. Since I didn’t know the kind of work I was to do, I did not show interest,” said Francis, who was a restaurant waitress at the period, in Surulere, Lagos.
She was however, surprised when Salami called her phone and told her there were lucrative jobs she could do in Egypt.
“When she called me, Aunty Aisha confirmed that the jobs she was talking about didn’t have anything to do with prostitution. That was when I agreed to go to Egypt, even though she didn’t tell me the particular job she had for me,” said Francis.
At Salami’s instruction, Francis paid N60,000 to a third party to facilitate visa processing. She paid for the processing of her travel documents, including an international passport which carried wrong information.
She submitted the travel documents to the visa agent introduced to her by Salami. Weeks after, a single-entry tourist visa with three-month validity was issued by the Egyptian Consulate in Lagos but the victim could not afford to pay for the flight ticket to Egypt, which, at the time, cost N130,000.
Francis became desperate as the visa expiry date approached even as her boyfriend, Efosa, promised to source for money for flight ticket. Days later, Efosa showed up with the flight ticket as promised. Unknown to her, Salami bought the ticket online with a stolen credit card.
According to Francis, “When I arrived in Egypt, Aunty Aisha and her husband arranged for my pick up at the airport. After we got to their house in Sallab district, they asked for my international passport and seized it immediately. As I tried to understand what was going on, Aunty Aisha told me she would take me to where I would start work the following day.
“I asked the kind of job she was talking about; she told me it’s Chagala and said the job entailed housekeeping, washing and babysitting. She told me I would be earning close to $450 per month. When I converted the money into naira at the then exchange rate, which was N150 to $1, it was N67,500 monthly. This was better than my salary as a waitress.”
It took Francis no time to discover she was wrong about the details of the menial job she was being fixed up to do and the earnings she expected from it.
“Aunty Aisha told me she was entitled to $400 out of my monthly earning as agent’s fee. She said I must pay back the flight ticket she bought for me to travel to Egypt within 18 months with interest. After paying the money, she said I would be allowed to go anywhere I wished to go.
“I told her I did not owe her any money for my flight ticket, because it was Efosa who bought the ticket. She said she was the one who bought the ticket and it was sent to me through my boyfriend. I was surprised because Efosa never told me anyone bought my flight ticket,” said Francis.
Reality kicked in and Francis realised that she had been trafficked and she was being exploited. She indicated her desire to withdraw from the arrangement, opting to return to Nigeria but Salami brought out an amulet and threatened to afflict her with psychosis, if she refused to play ball.
“That got me scared. I had no option than to succumb to Aunty Aisha’s threat, since I didn’t know anyone I could run to in Egypt,” said Francis.
Few days later Francis was taken to a home where she would work as a house cleaner and nanny for an Egyptian master, in Alexandria governorate, some 218 kilometres from Cairo. Since the place is about three hours from Cairo, Francis had no choice but to live with her master and work for 26 days in a month.
She said: “I only had four days to rest in a month. Since the place is far from Cairo, I did not usually go home. I worked for three months at a stretch, sometimes. I worked tirelessly without being paid. Aunty Aisha usually sent someone to my boss to collect my salary.
“Out of #450 Egyptian Pounds (EGP) I was being paid, Aunty Aisha would instruct the person to give me #50 Egyptian Pounds (EGP).”
Francis paid the bulk of her earnings to Salami monthly, until the ninth month when she revolted. She was accused of theft and deported afterwards.
Making a fortune from human miseries
Human trafficking is possibly one of the biggest illicit trades in the world, earning an estimate of $150 billion in profits yearly for traffickers, according to International LabourOrganisation (ILO) statistics.
Of this figure, $8 billion is allegedly earned, annually, by private individuals who smuggle young people overseas for forced labour.
Every year, the ILO statistics says, some 3.8 million people are trafficked into forced labour and work as domestic workers. Women and girls are the major victims of this illicit business; only 29 per cent are men and boys.
In Egypt alone, the turnover of human trafficking is estimated to be over $5.3 million yearly, based on the estimated number of victims trafficked monthly by several rings of traffickers operating in the North African country.
Findings showed that there could be as many as 2,000 rings of human traffickers in Egypt alone. The proceeds from victims’ exploitation are shared by members of the cartel according to an agreed formula. Tiny fractions of the revenue earned are paid to the victims in cash.
Migrant maids as victims of ritual killing
Some Chagala victims disclosed that new recruits regularly become victims of ritual killing perpetrated by Egyptians. Experienced girls, they said, usually avoid travelling with Egyptians as domestic workers during the summer.
Stella Edeigba, who was trafficked from Edo State in March 2016, said she almost became a victim of ritual killing.
She said: “I was employed as a nanny after I was brought to Cairo by my madam. Three months after, I got a residential cleaning job in Giza which required that I stayed till month end with the master before returning to my base.
“The day after I started the job, I discovered a decomposing human skeleton under the bed I slept in the room provided for me by my master. I rushed out of the room, screaming. I wanted to take my bag to leave the house when my master and her husband accosted me.
“They asked what went wrong. I didn’t say anything but they immediately sensed that I must have seen the skeleton. Then, they told me I must not reveal what I saw to anyone. They threatened to kill me if I revealed what I saw to anyone. I had to run away from their house.”
The mysterious disappearance of BusolaOdusanya, 23, from her workplace still baffles Nigerians living in Egypt. The victim, said to be working with an Egyptian in El Maadi, had been declared missing since 2015, seven months after she was trafficked to Egypt for menial work.
Khadijat Suleiman also went missing in July 2017. The 21-year-old native of Osun State allegedly went on holiday with her master, identified as As-Sidiq, but she is yet to return, 10 months after.
The Egyptian allegedly accused Suleiman of $50,000 theft, but the allegation could not be substantiated when her traffickers confronted him. Nigerians subsequently sounded an alarm and declared the young lady missing in a broadcast message on their WhatsApp group.
The Egyptian police made no effort to search for the victim despite being informed of her mysterious disappearance from her master’s custody.
ToyyibatAmodu, also a victim of trafficking in Egypt, disclosed that the Nigerian Chagala community in the country records an average of 12 killings annually, with most being linked to ritual killing. In response, she said traffickers created a closed WhatsApp group to warn migrant maid servants. They constantly share information on the social media platform, on how to avoid being killed for ritual purposes.
In cases where compensations are paid to victims, Amodu said it hardly gets to the victims’ families. A greater part of the compensation, she said, is usually shared among the traffickers that brought the victims to Egypt.
Such was the case of a Nigerian, RukayatRufai, who was deliberately drowned in a swimming pool by an Egyptian boss in 2016. According to Amodu, $30,000 was paid to the deceased’s family as compensation. But, a larger chunk of the money was shared by late Rufai’s traffickers.
“Only $5,000 got to her parents in Ibadan,” revealed Amodu.
‘Trafficking Kenyans comes cheaper than bringing in Nigerians’
Posing as a trafficker, our reporter engaged in a 15-minute discussion with Patience Edet, 38, a human trafficker at her liquor store in Tabah, Egypt’s slummy border with neighbouring Israel.
.The reporter asked if she could help bring a 25-year-old lady from Nigeria for Chagala in Egypt, and she declined stating that she would be too difficult to manage.
“Nowadays, it is difficult to bring any Nigerian girl that is above 21years to work in Egypt. When you sign an agreement with them for 15 months, they would start giving you problems in five months. It is better when they are underage at the time you are bringing them to work in Egypt,” said Edet.
“These girls we bring from Nigeria are easy to control when they are underage. At 25, your sister is too old to be managed. But, if you have any Kenyan girl, I will bring her here. It is cheaper to bring girls from Kenya to Egypt. It costs $1,000. This means that the money I will spend to bring a girl from Nigeria ($2,000), will be used to bring two girls from Kenya.”
Porous airports, official collusion
To traffic a girl from West Africa to Egypt is capital intensive. Traffickers invest close to $2,000 on a girl to be taken from Nigeria, even though it costs only $75 (N27,000) to get Egypt’s single entry three-month visa.
Before the Egyptian embassy was moved to Abuja in 2015, Oladimeji, a former recruiter for traffickers, said it was cheaper and faster to complete a visa process for trafficked girls.
“We use to get the whole visa package and flight ticket for $800,” Oladimeji said, claiming the bulk of the money usually went to visa agents.
When the Egyptian embassy moved its visa application office to Abuja, the cost of delivering the trafficked girls in Egypt went up to about $2,000 because of the ‘exorbitant’ visa processing fee charged by independent visa agents and expensive flight ticket.
A substantial fraction of the money also went into bribing local airport officials to facilitate unhindered passage of the trafficked girls.
Findings showed that some officers of Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) are in constant collusion with traffickers to smuggle the victims out of the country.
Oladimeji said: “Bribing the immigration and FAAN officers was necessary to ensure they didn’t question the girls about their mission outside the country. We always had issue with these people at the airport. The bribe we gave them was to stop them from asking the girls questions.”
LateefahShittu, trafficked at 17 years in 2014, paid N50,000 in cash to airport officers before she could be allowed to move to the boarding gate.
“I had the money in a big leather purse with a note and was told to hand it over to an immigration officer, a woman, at the passport control section. When I did, the immigration officer signalled other officers and I was to go without asking any question,” said the 21-year-old deportee.
‘It pays being a slave in Egypt than returning home’
Three years after she fulfilled the contract signed with her traffickers, the 24-year-old Sonia Omoruyi would not give up Chagala. Since she was freed, she had been working on her own, earning a monthly income of $350 from menial jobs in Alexandria Governorate, some 300 kilometres from Cairo. Yearly, Sonia saves about $2,500 after paying her rent and utility bills. From her savings, she takes care of her parents and two siblings back home.
Sonia, a secondary school drop-out, said it would be suicidal to return home. To her, there is no point returning to poverty.
“There are no decent jobs in Egypt for foreigners, especially Black Africans. Even, our boys are into Yahoo Yahoo(Internet fraud). Prostitution is illegal in this place. So, what do you expect us to do? If you know my story, you would see that I had no choice than to do the work. I would rather stay here and work as a slave than return to poverty. Since I am now independent, I save my money and use it take care of my parents and siblings. I have no apology for this. After all, it is my life. It shouldn’t be anyone’s headache,” she said.
*The names of victims have been changed to protect their identities and shield them from being harmed.