By Sophie Otiende
A few months ago, a young man approached HAART about his sister who is stuck in Libya. One of our volunteers who tirelessly works in his community to ensure that these cases are reported referred the young man to us. The brother had been in contact with her and she had complained of mistreatment and not being paid by her employer. After taking the necessary information from him, it was obvious that this was a case of human trafficking. His sister travelled to Libya and was promised a hefty salary for being a domestic worker in Libya. As soon as she got to Libya, her passport was taken from her, she was overworked and was not being compensated according to the terms of the contract. This is a classic human trafficking story. Most people are aware of this type of trafficking because the media has highlighted the plight of migrant workers in places like Saudi Arabia.
HAART tried to contact the sister but it was not easy to reach her through the number that her brother had given. It was extremely important that we gather all the information needed to follow up the case. HAART decided to contact the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Tripoli to assist in following up the case. However, the information that was available initially was very little to go by, but HAART still kept the case open.
A few weeks ago, the brother contacted HAART again with a new number for the sister. He also gave an additional number of the friend of the sister who was also in Libya. The sister was still unreachable but the friend was contacted and it was easy to get information from her. She not only relayed to us her story but also gave numbers of other victims in Libya that might need rescuing. The information she gave us is that there were several girls stuck in domestic labor in Libya. She also informed us that more than sixteen women are stranded in Tripoli in the building that was the former Kenyan embassy. The Kenyan embassy in Libya was closed after the outbreak of civil war that rocked the nation in July 2014. According to the reports, some of the staff that worked in the Kenyan embassy were killed and the embassy was closed in a rush. All of these girls arrived at the embassy after it had been closed. Some of the girls arrived at the embassy as far back as July and have been living in deplorable conditions since then. They are also living in fear because of the reports that the war in Libya is getting worse and their security at the embassy might be an issue.
Before we got this case, HAART was in contact with a lady who had raised concern about the situation in Libya. She was employed by a good family but was concerned about some of her friends. However, she never managed to connect us with those friends and it was only after getting in touch with the women at the embassy that we realized that she was one of them. She has been extremely helpful in gathering information about all the women and helping us communicate with them.
We contacted the Kenyan government about the issue because some of the women did not have their passports and traveling from Libya without any form of travel document would be difficult. The Kenyan government told us that upon getting the information about the women, they sent an officer who will facilitate their rescue. IOM have been very cooperative and have agreed to cover the cost of flights for all the girls that were stranded in Libya. HAART commends the urgency with which IOM Libya handled this case and their quick follow up with the women in Libya. This clearly shows the importance of networks in fighting human trafficking. The burden of fighting modern day slavery becomes a little lighter when organizations work together.
The plans were underway for evacuating the women when tragedy struck. The only functioning airport was bombed and could not be used for travel. This meant that the IOM Libya team and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to think of an alternative option for these women to get out of Libya. The women were in a state of panic when they heard the airport was bombed.
Their hopes for ever setting eyes on their loved ones died with the bombing of the airport in Tripoli. It was not easy convincing them to stay hopeful and that there were alternative options for getting out of Libya. At this point, we were worried about the welfare of the women because they were running out of food and money. They had managed to get food by each of them donating the little money they had. Some of them had been in the embassy for more than six months and were now broke. This meant that in some cases they had to rely on good Samaritans to fend for themselves. We were especially worried about the welfare of the women with infants. The women included two women with infants that were 2 weeks and five weeks respectively. There was also a woman who was six months pregnant and was yet to receive the medical care that she needs in her condition.
IOM Libya looked for alternative options and decided to take the women through Tunisia in a bus and from there to Kenya. The women were excited when they heard about the plan and were prepared for the trip back home. However, when the day arrived, they were to face disappointment again. The women were full of excitement as they got into the bus and were headed to Tunisia but the trip had to halted when one of them fell seriously ill. They took a detour to the hospital and the doctor declared her unfit to travel. They had to leave her in the hospital as the others continued with their journey to the border. When they got to the border, the border officials in Tunisia denied them entry. The government official who was escorting them tried everything but they were not allowed to get into Tunisia. This meant that they had to go back to the embassy. As expected the women were heartbroken; it seemed to them that fate had decided that they would not leave Libya.
IOM Libya and Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to go to the drawing board again and look for an alternative route to get these women home. HAART kept in touch with the women the whole time through communication via WhatsApp. Two of the women were really helpful in ensuring that the group stayed calm by passing on the information that we gave to them.
The story is continued here