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During the 2018 event, Russia received host of fans from different countries that participated in the soccer, including Nigeria. According to a Reuters report on Thursday, the Russia police estimated that more than 2,000 Nigerian girls and young adults were brought in on fan IDs.
Fan IDs allowed visa-free entry to World Cup supporters with match tickets but did not confer the right to work. However, many girls flew into Russia, thinking there would be an opportunity to get away from Nigeria but found themselves in forced labour, working as a prostitute.
Narrating her experience as a victim, 19-year-old teenage mother, Blessing Obuson had hoped to work as a shop assistant in Moscow city to provide for her two years old daughter and younger siblings back in Edo State last June.
Instead, on reaching Russia, she was locked in a flat on the outskirts of Moscow and forced into sex work along with 11 other Nigerian women who were supervised by a madam, also from Nigeria.
Obuson said her madam had confiscated her passport and told her she could only get it back once she had worked off a fictional debt of $50,000 (about N18 million).
“I cried really hard. But what choice did I have?” Obuson said in the report after being freed by anti-slavery activists.
The 19-year-old girl had her lucky freedom after Russian Police arrested and charged two Nigerian human traffickers who wanted to sell her for $30,000 (about N10 million). Two Russian police officer had posed as a client to the two Nigerian human sellers for her to be rescued, said the prosecutors in the report. A prosecution which was launched for Obuson was attended by the Reuters journalists.
Apart for the 19-year-old Obuson, eight more girls aged between 16 and 22 brought said they were brought to Russia from Nigeria on fan IDs and forced into sex work.
“They don’t give you food for days, they slap you, they beat you, they spit in your face… It’s like a cage,” said one 21-year old woman who declined to be named.
The report even included how a 22-year old Alifat Momoh was killed, in September by a man who refused to pay for sex. The police said the woman had come from Nigeria to Russia with a fan ID.
Russian police said over 1,800 Nigerians who entered the country with fan IDs had not left by January 1, 2019, the date when the IDs expired.
Reuters said it contacted the Russian police and the Nigerian Embassy in the country, but neither responded to requests to comment.
An anti-trafficking worker in Moscow, Kenny Kehindo, said he had helped around 40 girls to return to Nigeria, while many were still in slavery.
“Fan ID is a very good thing, but in the hands of the human traffickers it’s just an instrument,” he said. Kehindo thereby called for more cooperation between the authorities and anti-trafficking NGOs during major sporting events, including the 2022 Qatar World where a fan ID system would be considered to prevent cases of trafficking.
A Russian anti-slavery group said in the report that its helpline had fielded calls from Nigerian women held in St. Petersburg and other World Cup host cities.
The Director of Public Enlightenment of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, Orakwue Arinze, who the ICIR contacted via a phone call said the agency was aware of the situation. Arinze confirmed that some Nigerians that went for the World Cup in Russia did not return to the country.
Arinze added that even before the World Cup they had been aware of the issue, and the agency had a meeting with the Ministry of Sports to share the information.