Modern slavery of African migrants: Fleeing from hardship, trapped in servitude

Modern slavery of African migrants: Fleeing from hardship, trapped in servitude
Modern slavery of African migrants: Fleeing from hardship, trapped in servitude

Africa-PressSierra-Leone. Due to poverty, wars, famine, and poor living standards, Africans migrate in droves to Europe, America, and Asia and other countries within the continent. Not all who wish to move have the wherewithal to obtain visas and other required immigration procedures. Hence many of them travel via illegal routes by land and sea. They pay smugglers to help them cross into Europe from the North or into America or Asia from the South.

Many of the African immigrants who travel via illegal routes end up as modern slavery victims. They become victims of human traffickers and are subjected to inhumane treatments in foreign countries. Some also travel via legal routes and with the right documents but still ended up in modern slavery abroad. In some cases, this is due to unrealistic expectation and lack of marketable skills and academic qualifications. All these desperations result from rising humanitarian issues, which have created a huge refugee crisis in Africa.

Horrific Road and Sea Travel Experiences

Travelling from Africa to Europe, America, or Asia via illegal routes has led many immigrants to their death. The majority travel to Europe and pass through the very hot Sahara Desert and the freezing waters of the Mediterranean Sea. From 2014 to 2019, reports show that more than 19,000 people died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

The report also shows that more people died while crossing the Sahara Desert. In 2017, travellers who survived crossing the Sahara Desert confirmed that many people die of thirst.

Earlier this year, about 130 migrants died after their boat capsized while crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Many die from hypothermia, especially during the winter, and there are also reports of death from suffocation and fuel inhalation. Such reports are constant every year. Only the lucky ones survive and reach their destinations. Even then, many become slaves following false job promises.

Forced Prostitution

Thousands of African female migrants become prostitutes in foreign countries against their will. As reported by Los Angeles Times, 80% of about 10,000 female Nigerian immigrants who sail to Italy from Libya become sex workers. The situation is relatively worse in Germany, where organized prostitution is legal.

Gangs like the Black Axe Mafia manage the prostitution ring. Raids by the Italian police in early 2021 saw the arrest of thirty suspected Black Axe members on counts of many charges, including prostitution. Similar gangs operate prostitution rings in other foreign countries, including Dubai and countries in Central Asia.

According to the forced prostitution victims, these gang members promise them normal jobs upon arrival. These perpetrators transport them for free to pay back the cost when they arrive and start working. Most of them undergo voodoo rites to swear oaths. Upon arrival, they inherit debts that could be as high as $30,000 and must work as prostitutes to pay back.

Forced Labour

Both male and female African immigrants turned slaves are victims of forced labour. They work for extended hours without being well paid, and they often work in unfriendly situations. Minors are also victims of forced labour. The Guardian reports of more than 3,000 child migrants being victims of forced labour.

The story of these forced labour victims isn’t different from other cases of modern enslavement of African migrants.

Traffickers come to them with promises of better shelter and employment. Instead, they end up working in poor conditions for long hours against their will. Sometimes, receive no payment.

Forced labour is also prevalent in Persian Gulf countries. Some female migrants lured with promises of good jobs are sold as maids to buyers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, amongst other countries. Unlicensed agents who go as far as drafting false contracts for them exploit these victims. They also inherit debts as they reside in places provided by their exploiters.

Drug Trafficking

Many African immigrants seeking to move to the Americas and southeastern Asia were deceivingly introduced to drug trafficking. These regions are operational bases for many drug cartels, and many West African drug cartels work together with them. They recruit unsuspecting African immigrants into peddling drugs. The cartel owners cover up their illicit activities with legal businesses, so it’s easy to lure victims.

The majority of African immigrants who are victims of this modern slavery are Nigerians. When arrested, these victims get long jail sentences. In countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, the penalty is execution.

According to Amnesty International, in 2019, out of 1,281 inmates on death row for drug offences in Malaysia, 199 were Nigerians. Similarly, three Nigerians along with a foreign associate were executed for drug crimes in Indonesia. Some victims of this modern slavery are also caught in between drug cartel wars in which they are killed to settle scores.

Poor Working and Living Conditions

Many modern slavery victims of forced labour and prostitution live at the mercy of their owners. This is because the cartel leaders provide their shelter, food, and even clothing. As earlier stated, these aren’t for free as the slaves inherit them as debts.

With the huge debts imposed on these trafficking cum slavery victims, they have no option but to work and raise money no matter the working condition. According to one victim of sex trafficking, Blessing Ighodaro, she accepted her fate because she had nowhere else to go and nothing to live on in Europe.

In the case of these sex slaves, they have to answer to “Madams” (the ringleaders), who often are fellow Africans and former forced prostitution victims. In 2020, the Venice Flying Squad arrested two of these so-called Madams in Italy.

In Qatar, African migrants employed to work in preparations for the 2022 World Cup are also victims. As narrated by a Kenyan migrant, he put in extra work hours daily but received no extra payment. In addition, he worked all week without any day off and is sometimes unpaid for 3 months. Without any alternative, he borrowed money and incurred debts for himself.

Frustrations and Suicide

As of result of these harsh and inhumane experiences, several African migrant slaves develop mental health issues that lead to frustrations and sometimes suicide. According to a study published on Science Direct, sub-Saharan African immigrants in Europe are at higher risk of common mental disorders or psychological distress than natives. However, this is more common among African immigrants in Persian Gulf countries.

About 35 Ugandans committed suicide in 2017 due to unfriendly working conditions in the United Arab Emirates. In another instance, a 36-year-old Ugandan jumped in front of a moving train in Dubai. Reports later showed that “frustration” from poor working and living condition was most likely the cause of the suicide.


Africa is too endowed naturally to be experiencing the current humanitarian crises that make its youths embark on desperate journeys in search of greener pasture. It is high time African leaders rose to their responsibilities and created an enabling environment that allows young people to thrive and realize their aspirations without undergoing servitude in a foreign land.

The widening inequality gap between the ruling class and the masses in most African countries must be closed. Similarly, the high unemployment rate resulting in hopelessness and frustration must be critically addressed.



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