By Allieu Sahid Tunkara
Approval is being sought from the government for the establishment of a safe home in the Northern town of Kambia as part of an effort to combat trafficking in persons often referred to as human trafficking.
The safe home will temporally house victims of human trafficking that would be repatriated from Guinea and other countries to Sierra Leone.
It is one of the initiatives of Advocacy Movement Network (AMNet), a local non-governmental organisation specialised in combating incidents of trafficking in persons.
The organisation works in close collaboration with UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) as well as the Ministry of Social Welfare (MSW) formerly known as Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA) which maintains the Trafficking In Persons (TIP) task force.
Quite recently, Kambia featured prominently in incidents of human trafficking in the form of moving children from Sierra Leone to Guinea in adoption of fraud schemes.
Most times, if not often, the traffickers beat down the security checkpoints or roadblocks by using other routes not manned by police and army officers.
An official at AMNet said they encountered lots of challenges in conducting contact tracing for victims to be re-unified with their families.
‘’The safe home will serve as a holding centre for the repatriated victims. Thus, the problems would be eased to an appreciable level,’’ she opined.
In its quest to cut down the occurrence of human trafficking, AMNet, last year initiated a project titled: ‘Combating Human Trafficking and Protecting the Rights of Children, Migrants and Women victims through Community Engagement Actions in Sierra Leone.
The organisation started work in 2004 as a small entity with a vision of a free Sierra Leone where a rights-based approach to human dignity is accepted.
It was officially registered with the Government of Sierra Leone in 2006 as a national non-governmental organisation.
A steering committee within AMNet was set up to provide oversight functions in the implementation of the project.
The committee meets monthly to discuss policy and operational issues revolving around the success of the project.
It comprises representatives from various public sector institutions including MSW, Trans-National Organised Crime Unit (TOCU), Family Support Unit (FSU), World Hope International (WHI), Sierra Leone Immigration Department (SLID), Office of National Security (ONS) and Media Against Trafficking in Persons (MATIPS). Each institution has a specific role to play.
The project covers seven border districts including Kambia known for its porosity of borders for quite a long time. Kambia was identified for the safe home as it is labelled a transit point for human trafficking owing to its unmanned routes.
It is an old problem the district has been grappling with and still remains unsolved.
Recent incidents of trafficking further added weight to the claim. The project almost clocks a year now since its inception and set to wrap up January next year.
It is hoped that incidents of human trafficking with its attendant dangers would compel the funders for extending the life of the project.
The country’s standing for final evaluation on Trafficking in Persons benchmark in March next year constitutes another factor for the extension of the project
The Programme Officer, Sam Bangura, is sure to present a strong case for the extension so that other emerging issues would be appropriately addressed.
Bangura told Nightwatch that the documentation for the approval to be given was on the verge of completion.
He was quite hopeful that in a week’s time, the order would be given them by the High Court of Sierra Leone.
‘’The AMNet officer is liaising with the law office, and proper documents have been put in place for the safe home construction to start,’’ Bangura assured.
He however stated that AMNet was supposed to establish seven focal representations in the seven districts but owing to budget constraints, they could not employ regular staff.
Several times, he continued, they had cause to readjust budget lines to meet the cost of the project operations.
While rolling out the project, AMNet has held and still holding training sessions for police officers especially detectives from TOCU, CID and FSU to capitalise them on handling TIP issues when they emerge.
Similarly, law officers including magistrates have also benefited from the trainings with Adrian Fisher being the lead facilitator.
In his delivery of the training to police officers via power point, Fisher entreated police personnel to be highly professional in the investigation of TIP matters.
He espoused legal implications and ramifications about investigations conducted into TIP issues.
He reminded them of the existence of the Money laundering law which should be applied simultaneously with the Anti-Human Trafficking Act.
‘’ Suspected traffickers could be charged under section 15(C) if there is evidence they receive money out of trafficking in persons,’’ Fisher emphasized.
Fisher explained that quite recently, Sierra Leone was tagged a trafficking country and bashed by the American government.
Government officials were accused of not doing enough to curtail the human trafficking threat.
Fisher is poised to secure more convictions in the courts to send a message to the international community that the country has braced up to end trafficking.
The trainings on TIIP is also being cascaded to the local level as stakeholder organisations including women’s groups have been trained about human trafficking thus raising awareness about such issues.
The trainees were invited to Freetown for a week-long training at AMNet office at Wilberforce community in Freetown.
Women are especially targeted as they are prone to trafficking and inclined to tending to children being the most vulnerable.
It is no gainsaying that human trafficking has cost Sierra Leone hundreds of millions dollars apart from the aid money it lost recently as a result of disqualification under the Millennium Challenge Cooperation, an initiative of the United States.
Because of the frequent occurrence of human trafficking incidents, Sierra Leone was recently placed at Tier-2 Watch list and also runs the risk of relegation to Tier-3.
The Tier-3 level is the most dangerous implying that the country would benefit no aid and no investment by any American company.
It will demonstrate that the authorities are reneging on their mandate. The safe home is one such attempt to prevent the slide to Tier-3
By Allieu Sahid Tunkara