“Nearly 500 victims of human trafficking, including 236 minors, have been rescued following an INTERPOL operation carried out simultaneously across Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal” reported INTERPOL last week. Many of the children and young women trafficked were lured in by promises of a better life or the ability to support their families, but were instead sold into everything from forced labor, to prostitution. Often victims were “abused if they didn’t bring in enough money.”
Numerous NGO’s and the International office for Migration (IOM) became involved in postoperative interviews and treatment to ensure necessary care was provided to the victims, many of whom were trafficked far into countries they had never before been to.
“They didn’t want to spend a single day further in Mali, given the ordeal they suffered,” said the operation’s coordinator, Innocentia Apovo, about a group of rescued girls.
Regarding the suspected traffickers, INTERPOL reports that 40 have been arrested and will face prosecution for “human trafficking, forced labor, and child exploitation.” Police have since identified other possible suspects involved as well, according to ABC News.
The transnational operation, dubbed Operation Epervier, was organized under the German Foreign Office-funded Sahel Project, a larger scale regional initiative investigating organized crime. Following its completion, a regional working group representing 15 different West African and Sahel region countries met to discuss efforts moving forward.
“This type of regional exchange is important to ensure that good and not so good practices are shared, to ensure that we collectively improve on prevention, protection and prosecution,” said IOM’s Chief of missions Anke Strauss. With an estimated nearly 25 million human trafficking victims still enslaved today, the majority in hard labor or the sex trade, Strauss is right that even after a big catch like this, there is still much to be learned and an enormous amount of work to do to fully dismantle the international slave trade.
The topic will be “high on the agenda” of INTERPOL’s upcoming 5th Global Conference on Trafficking in Human Beings and Smuggling of Migrants, to be held on the 6th and 7th of this December in Doha, Qatar. It will be interesting to see where INTERPOL and the German Foreign Office’s Sahel Project plan to expand upon their efforts after such a successful transnational operation.