Stranded Gambian trafficked women today staged a protest march at the office of The Gambian Honorary Consul and vandalized the property, Gambia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saikou Ceesay, has told Freedom Newspaper. The women have been demanding to be repatriated back home. Now they are running out of temper. They stormed the Honorary Consul’s office and allegedly vandalize it.
The protesters had their faces covered. They could be heard chanting ” we want to go home, we do not need Mr. Ali, the Honorary Consular.” They were armed with hammers. The door to the Consulate was damaged.
There was a Lebanese media house on site videotaping the riot. There were also onlookers on the sidewalk.
Ceesay has condemned the conduct of the protestors. He says The Gambian government wouldn’t condone violent protest.
Spokesman Ceesay says the destroyed property doesn’t belong to The Gambian government. It belongs to a Gambian born Lebanese, who has been hired by the government to represent the country in Beirut as an Honorary Consul, he said.
The women had earlier stormed the Consulate protesting, demanding to be evacuated home.
Ceesay said the girls were not arrested because the Honorary Consul had asked the police not to arrest them. He says The Gambian government has prepared the passports of the stranded women and they would soon be repatriated to return home.
“Efforts are underway to return the girls to reunite with their families and loved ones. I cannot give any specific timeline as of when we can receive them in The Gambia.”
Freedom Newspaper has on Wednesday interviewed one of the stranded women, who goes by the name Mariama. She hails from a Gambian village called Pirang. She was trafficked to Lebanon back in 2016.
She says her passport was confiscated from her upon arrival at the Lebanon airport. She arrived there at night and was escorted to the mountains in the countryside, to the home of her trafficker’s mother.
Speaking the Mandinka language, Mariama says she left her child behind in The Gambia to search for employment overseas. She had briefly attended Arabic school, but later dropped out, and has no other education. She also can not speak any foreign languages.
She started working the day she arrived in Lebanon, and she refers to those who purchased her work contract as her slave masters.
In its annual report on human trafficking, the US government this year upgraded The Gambia to Tier 2, from Tier 3.
It notes that although the country has been working to combat trafficking, the government has not convicted a single trafficker for the third consecutive year, victim services remained inadequate, and some law enforcement officers allegedly requested bribes to register trafficking complaints.
Mariama says she was at the mercy of the woman who purchased her from the trafficker, and that she was denied access to any form of communication.
She says upon arrival, she decided to hide her Gambian cell phone so that she could use it to communicate with her family back home. But she says the cell phone was later seized from by her owner’s husband. She was told she was not supposed to use the phone, and that she was supposed to work all day long, without any outside communication. She pleaded with her slave master but was only allowed to use the phone once a week. She says she later was permanently denied access to her cell phone.
Mariama also says she wouldn’t be allowed to eat for days and was often given leftovers to eat, and often had only water to drink, without any food. She once worked for eight months without pay.
Mariama worked in four different homes. She says Gambian women are being sold to Lebanese families for $2,000 dollars for a two-year forced labor contract. She says some of the women suffer beatings or other cruel treatment.
She says she later ran away from a family that had purchased her. She couldn’t put up with the forced labor and the lack of food to eat. She was sheltered by an Ethiopian, who later helped to her to reach the Gambian community in Lebanon.
Mariama has rented an apartment with five other escaped women. She now earns a living by hair braiding. She says life is hard in Lebanon and they struggle to pay their bills. She appeals to The Gambian government to help repatriate them.
Fatou Jagne was trafficked from The Gambia to Kuwait. She now runs an organization called Network of Girls Against Human Trafficking.
“As I am talking to you, I don’t even know what to do now because I am receiving calls every day from these young people, not only in The Gambia, they are different African countries, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, asking for help, asking for me to come out and talk to their government, talk to their people, so that they can help them to repatriate them to come back to Africa, because they are really suffering. They are killing them, they are abusing them, they are raping them, they are torturing them,” she said.
Fatou returned to The Gambia in 2017. She told Freedom Newspaper she never knew that she was sold as a slave until the man who bought her told her, and said she had no rights.
“The Arab man came in front and said, you Fatou, you just have to keep quiet because let me tell you something, here the citizen is always right, I asked them this question, why I am here for, they were not answering my question, but at the end, they happen to answer my question. You don’t know why you are here for? You are here to work as a slave. You are a slave now, this was their response and they would keep telling me, that here the Citizen is always right, either you cause the problem or they cause the problem for you, they are always right. We don’t care about human rights,” she said.
Fatou is pushing The Gambian government to help evacuate the trafficked Gambian women in the Arab world, but says so far, nothing has been done.