Refuge Network International

Modern Day Slavery: the Shocking Ordeal of Nigerians and other Black African Girls in Egypt’s Slave Market

In this report funded by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, we get a glimpse of the harrowing experiences of Nigerian women trafficked into Egypt where they are dehumanised and commodified by modern slave dealers. 

How much is a human worth? With just $2,000, an underage girl is sold as a slave in Egypt where human traffickers are making fortunes smuggling women for forced cheap labour and domestic servitude. Wale Ajetunmobi reports the travails of Nigerian girls trapped in slavery in Egypt.

About 200 metres from the cenotaph that welcomes visitors to Nasr City, a lively suburb in Cairo governorate, Egypt, a row of constricted streets laden with grocery stores and boutiques shoulder one another.

The narrow but untarred streets open into El Ashiru, a slummy neighbourhood, which offers shelter to foreigners from different countries.

A great number of Egyptians, who are artisans and food vendors, live in the neighbourhood. El Ashiru is also home to a sizeable number of undocumented immigrants, mostly Nigerians, Ethiopians, Somalis, Senegalese, Kenyans and Sudanese.

Being the commercial hub of Nasr City, El Ashiru booms with activity. Traders move around, pushing their wares for sale. But not every item in this shanty market is material commodity.

Human beings are also offered for sale in the market, and they are sold as domestic slaves to wealthy Arabs. Underage girls trafficked from West Africa and war-torn countries, such as Somalia and Sudan, are part of the commodities being traded in El Ashiru, but the slave trade is done in the most discreet manner.

No one, except members of the trafficking rings and their contractors, understands the forces of demand and supply in this human trafficking market. Findings showed that traffickers sell victims in groups to a set of suppliers who enslave them for years.

Depending on the cost of bringing the victims to Egypt, the price placed on each trafficked girl in El Ashiru could be up to $3,000. A supplier could buy three girls or more in a single trade, and enslave all of them to make an annual return of $5,000 per slave.

Posing as a dealer, this reporter visited the El Ashiru slave market. Having contracted the services of a repentant human trafficker, entry into the market was seamless. The repentant smuggler introduced him to dealers in the market.

Thus at his entrance into the market, the reporter was pulled to a street corner by a couple, whose major business in Cairo is trading off trafficked girls. After a brief haggling on price, a deal was struck and the reporter offered to buy two girls for $5,000. One of the girls, apparently underage, was produced on the spot.

The transaction, however, failed because the reporter couldn’t produce the cash to seal it with the couple.

The engagement took a dangerous turn when the traffickers suspected the reporter could be an undercover agent for security agencies. He was only allowed to go in peace after the couple placed a call to the ex-trafficker who facilitated the meeting.

Further investigations revealed that beyond El Ashiru, undocumented girls trafficked from West Africa are sold as slaves in other districts, including El-Sallab and Taba. Despite regular raids of the slums by the police, traffickers make profitable business buying and selling helpless girls into slavery.

A neighbourhood in El Ashiru where Nigerians and other Africans are sold as slaves. [Photo credit: Wale Ajetunmobi]

A neighbourhood in El Ashiru where Nigerians and other Africans are sold as slaves. [Photo credit: Wale Ajetunmobi]

Ayisat Oyekunle, 50, experienced an unimaginable torment for three years. This was after she succumbed to the lure of a human trafficker, who deceived her and her 15-year-old daughter, Modinat Oyekunle, with promises of riches and profitable labour in Egypt.

Mrs Oyekunle, a barely literate widow and petty trader, was deceived by one Alhaja Gold, a trafficker who had no known physical address in Nigeria. Alhaja Gold visited Mrs Oyekunle at her Ibadan home and regaled her with stories about how she could earn quick cash and escape the dragnet of poverty, simply by releasing her daughter, Modinat, to be taken abroad for a job.

After the demise of her husband, Mufutau, a truck driver, eight years ago, life had been tough for her and her three children. To survive, she and her children are forced to live off meagre proceeds from her petty trade and handouts from neighbours and family members.

Even though she narrated her ordeal to Alhaja Gold, it struck no chord of sympathy in the human trafficker. While she sought empathy from Alhaja Gold, the latter schemed to exploit her. To convince Mrs Oyekunle to release her daughter, Alhaja Gold told her lofty stories of good fortune to be made only if the young girl followed her abroad to work.

Thus Miss Oyekunle, the widow’s 15-year-old daughter, was withdrawn from school and smuggled to Egypt to do menial work. As a minor, her consent was not sought; she was handed over to Alhaja Gold who subsequently took her on a trip that she would later regret.


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