Since 2015 IOM, the UN Migration Agency, has been assisting victims of human trafficking in Mauritania. Sahel populations have always been very mobile, but in recent years a complex economic situation and the difficulty of finding jobs has pushed more and more people to seek jobs abroad. Unscrupulous traffickers seize on this desperation by promising men and women well-paid stable jobs away from home. Instead, these migrants wind up working under inhumane conditions for families who cannot protect their interests and do not care about their well-being. Deprivation, humiliation, hardship, restricted movement and limited communication with their families become the new norm for those who excitedly embarked on an adventure, with hopes of a brighter future.
Mouna* is a mother in her thirties. She relocated to one of the Gulf nations with help from a hiring agency that had promised her a secretary position at the ministry of foreign affairs and a monthly salary of four hundred dollars. Once she had reached her destination, she was forced to work as a maid and babysitter for a family. One day, Mouna fell ill; in order to avoid paying the hospital bills, her employer abandoned her on the streets and claimed that she had run away.
“I never planned to migrate, I never wanted to leave my children [behind], but it was my destiny,” she later said of her ordeal “Everything is written!”
Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident; too many optimistic economic migrants around the world experience ordeals similar to Mouna’s every year. Misled by false promises, countless individuals find themselves trapped in critical and precarious vulnerable situations.
Tate, a 29 year-old mother of three, was also trapped by the promise of work. A so-called hiring agent, like many others, took advantage of economic migration inflows to develop a network. “I was sold out, exploited,” Tate recalled. “The same hiring agent asked me to help him recruit new girls. I rejected his request! Those were the darkest days of my life, and I do not wish that on anyone else.”
Rama*, 29, once met a handsome, charming man called Ali. He was a so-called hiring agent for a recruitment agency; these groups are often instrumental in convincing migrants to travel abroad for work and they charge for their job placement services. “He made me believe in Eldorado, a world that does not exist,” she said of her encounter with the man who would lead her down a dangerous path. “I found nothing but pain and illusions.”
Sometimes these journeys end well for the migrants that undertake them, so news of economic opportunities abroad often spreads via word of mouth, but there are often many rumours and uninformed claims involved. But equally often, the idea of migrating to a foreign country comes from loved ones. CTDC data show that more female victims of trafficking are recruited by their intimate partners, family, relatives, or friends than male victims. Investing in someone who will help provide for the family is a custom in many communities where trafficking is prevalent.
Nasra, a 34-year-old mother of six, never wanted to migrate, but she bowed to pressure from people around her. “I was strongly encouraged to leave,” she said. “I was homesick, and suffered racial discrimination and unfair treatment in an environment that I thought would be free of bias, free of injustice and full of opportunity.”
“Migrating was never part of my life plan, my family’s advice and my husband’s death influenced my decision,” she continued. “I had to find a way to survive and provide for my children.”
Unfortunately, when journeys like Nasra’s are unsuccessful and the migrants return home empty-handed — if they return at all — many of them are left helpless and abandoned by the same family members that pushed them to leave. The resulting to rejection and judgment of an unsuccessful migration attempt can make the reintegration process an uneasy or indeed impossible experience.
Most migrants spend all of their savings to leave home, and many are left without resources on their return. IOM put a reintegration programme in place to support vulnerable migrants like these. Upon their arrival in Mauritania, Mouna, Tate, Rama and Nasry were able to take part in this programme, along with 95 other women. They were given psychosocial and medical assistance through IOM’s programme, and received financial support to start income-generating activities.
Today, Rama runs a small business. She designs and creates women’s accessories and beauty products, which she supplies to wholesalers and exhibits during traditional wedding ceremonies. Her family was also a great source of support to help her regain her standing within the community. “Together with my brothers and sisters, we were able to renovate our two houses and purchase a third one,” she explained” My brother is a fisherman; with his help we are able to meet our day-to-day needs with dignity.
After going through difficult plights, the women are independent and can meet their family’s needs. They were able to rediscover their sense of belonging, regain respect within their societies and start supporting their own livelihoods.
Mouna runs a ladies’ shop with expanding clients and growing demand for her products. “I never thought I would be able to start-up a business on my own,” she said. “IOM helped me rebuild my confidence and I am grateful, from the depth of my heart.”
For these women, sharing their stories empowers them and helps raise awareness of human trafficking while providing resilience strategies for those who have already fallen victim to this horrible crime.
This story was written by Sibylle Desjardins, who has been at IOM Mauritania since 2017 working on communications and content creation for the mission. She also runs awareness-raising campaigns under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative.