A chance encounter

On New Year’s Eve 2019 in Dubai, I was propositioned for sex by a 25-year-old Nigerian woman I will call Amy. After declining we chatted and I discovered that she had been trafficked from Nigeria in August 2019 on the promise of a lucrative sales job. Orphaned at 18yrs after her parents were both killed in a car crash, Amy looked after her younger brother, selling things she made in the local market to feed them. Not hard to see why she had jumped at the opportunity to improve their situation.

Amy was penniless, thin, tired and despondently resigned to her situation, dressed in a bodycon yellow dress and pink slippers. Her captor, a Nigerian woman and her son, had set her a goal of earning £10,000 after which she would be free to leave. It’s unlikely she would be able to.

We exchanged numbers and I photographed her documents and injuries whilst I considered what to do. In the meantime, Amy managed to get me addresses, telephone numbers and an image of her boss to start building a case.

That evening as we boarded our flight home she video-called me to show me the beating she had just sustained for poor earnings. Amy told me her boss’s son had rubbed chilli powder between her legs as part of her punishment. Upon landing in London, I hatched a plan for her escape and after a tense 4 days, she boarded a flight to Nigeria and was reunited with her Auntie in Lagos on the 7th January 2020.

A Nigerian woman trafficked to Dubai for sex

Amy – trafficked to Dubai from for sexual exploitation

This encounter led me to seek out and rescue the 22 other women trapped with Amy in Dubai. I started crowdfunding and was overwhelmed by the level of support, thanks in part to an appearance on the Victoria Derbyshire Show in February 2020 and other media coverage. From the UK I started building a network of courageous and dedicated volunteers in Dubai and set about rescuing the remaining women, picking up other victims along the way. Since this time Send Them Home has assisted many victims of sex trafficking to return from Dubai to Nigeria funded by generous public donations.

We have formed a close working relationship with NAPTIP, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons in Abuja, Nigeria. As a result of our rescues, NAPTIP has prosecuted numerous traffickers, including some high-profile cases. In June 2023 the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists undertook a six-month investigation into sex trafficking in Dubai based on the work of the Send Them Home camapign.

My experiences in Dubai have dramatically reshaped my life and my worldview. I have studied human trafficking and all of its intricacies, the drivers, the pull factors, the victims and the perpetrators. Most importantly I have spent many hours talking and listening to survivors and their stories of entrapment. Whilst the rescues and repatriations should and will continue for as long as we are able to operate on the ground, I am convinced it is more efficient to tackle the problem at source – through the education of potential victims.

I have now created a human trafficking education and awareness program for schools and communities in Ghana, the Hope Education Project (HEP). The program is a mixture of instruction and on-the-feet learning through theatre and will be taught in schools and community groups. HEP’s mission is to disrupt the flow of vulnerable girls & boys, men & women trafficked for exploitation, both internationally and within Ghana.

HEP will be launching its pilot project in Spring 2024 in Tamale in the northeast of Ghana. Together with our local partners, Norsaac and Act for Change, we will be running the program in Junior High Schools. Data collected from this pilot project will be used to refine the program before rolling it out nationally in Ghana and ultimately throughout West Africa.

Both Send Them Home and HEP rely on public donations so it would be great if you would consider supporting Send Them Home’s work with a one-off or regular donation. Thank you for supporting this work, together we can all make a difference.

Angus Thomas – founder of Send Them Home

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