Taking a business trip or even leisure trip and going through the immigration process and airports processes is a normal thing to most people. We normally travel oblivious of every other process in the same airport or plane with us; minding our own business to the latter. This was the case for my colleagues and I when we were returning to Kenya from Ethiopia. Checking in and queuing at airport in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia was normal.
As we went up the escalator in search of our gate we met a lady who seemed not to be sure of where she was going. She was staring at the escalator, seemingly not understanding how it works. She did not speak English and thus verbal communication was difficult. She showed her boarding pass to my colleague, she needed to know where her gate was as well and so we directed her. Luckily she was going in our direction and it was easy to help her. Her boarding pass indicated that she was travelling to Lebanon. This immediately became suspicious to us as a possible case of trafficking but we did not make much of it. This was not until we got to her gate. There were seated about nine ladies all travelling to Lebanon. The lady we met on the escalator was happy to see them, they seem to know each other. There and then our suspicion was even better qualified. None of the women spoke English we quickly sought out someone who could speak Amharic which was what they spoke. Luckily, one of the shop attendants agreed to help us. We gave them the contact of an organization that they could get in touch with in case they got into trouble in Lebanon. At this stage, there was nothing much we could do as they were set to travel.
This is just but one out of the many instances that go unnoticed. We often see young men and women that are traveling on fights to the Middle East in the Nairobi and Addis Ababa airports. Ideally there immigration and airport personel should be aware and provide some form of awareness on human trafficking given to such vulnerable groups at the airports so that they are aware maybe we could avert some trafficking cases. If there was a bit more in-depth investigation done by the immigration when such groups or individuals are applying for visas or leaving their countries through the airports; then maybe more cases of trafficking would be averted and even capture the perpetrators. We need sensitization and awareness raising on human trafficking in our airports and with immigration.
By Phyllis Mburu