International Police operatives have rescued 64 victims of human trafficking and people smuggling comprising Nigerians and citizens of three other African countries.
INTERPOL said this was made possible during a coordinated operation in Mali.
“The victims – mostly women and girls – were rescued from sexual exploitation forced labour in the mining sector, as well as forced begging,” the outfit stated in a report on its website on Friday.
Tagged ‘Operation Horonya’ (‘freedom’ in Bambara language), the activities took place from October 3 to 11 “to support the Malian authorities to identify and dismantle the criminal groups operating in the country and more widely across the region,” Interpol noted.
Police also conducted raids at known trafficking and smuggling hotspots in the country.
“The nearly 70 victims identified and rescued came from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali; and were working in bars, homes and mining sites,” it stated.
“Among them were three young boys rescued from an illegally operated Koranic school, where they were allegedly forced to beg for money,” it added.
Four suspected traffickers have been detained awaiting sentencing. Investigations are ongoing to identify additional suspects, it said.
During Operation Horonya, officers carried out checks at the international airport in Bamako, screening passengers’ passports against a range of INTERPOL’s databases.
Key to Operation Horonya was INTERPOL’s database of stolen and lost travel documents that enables police to check the validity of a travel document in seconds and detect its fraudulent use.
The authorities said the operation highlighted a regional connection between organised crime networks: victims were from across the region, and initial reports show that they had been exploited in different countries before their arrival in Bamako.
“INTERPOL will continue to support regional and international cooperation to help investigators identify other suspects and dismantle the criminal groups,” the agency assured.
“Mali serves as major transit country for human traffickers who target the most vulnerable members of society.
“With victims from a range of countries, this operation showed that human trafficking and people smuggling is a truly transnational problem,” said Secretary General Jürgen Stock.
Abou Sidibe, Head of the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Bamako, thanked INTERPOL for its operational support and highlighted Mali’s commitment to fighting human trafficking.
During the operation, the Malian government passed a decree on the creation of a police unit dedicated to human trafficking and migrant smuggling.
Operation Horonya was conducted under the umbrella of INTERPOL’s Project Flyway, funded by Norway, which aims to identify and disrupt the criminal networks involved in people smuggling, human trafficking and related crimes in North Africa.