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Deepening partnerships is critical to bolstering Nigeria’s anti-trafficking, anti-smuggling efforts, says U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, Kathleen Fitzgibon

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U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, Nigeria, Kathleen Fitzgibon

By Audrey Lotechukwu

THUR 28 JAN, 2021-theGBJournal- U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, Nigeria, Kathleen Fitzgibon told participants at the Joint Stakeholders Dialogue on trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling Wednesday that deepening partnerships with a broad array of stakeholders inside and outside of government is critical to bolstering Nigeria’s anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling efforts.

She said ‘’A one-team approach to preventing trafficking and migrant smuggling, prosecuting traffickers, and providing protection to victims puts us one step closer to ending this scourge.’’

She described Human trafficking and smuggling of migrants as ”intolerable blights on any society that values freedom, individual rights, human dignity, and the rule of law.” 

Fitzgibon was invited by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and the Nigerian Immigration Service to be part of your Joint Stakeholders Dialogue.

She recalled that in November, the U.S. Mission participated in NAPTIP’s Five Year Planning Conference and was encouraged by the level of representation in the room from the various ministries, departments, and institutions who work together to counter trafficking in persons in Nigeria. And in October 2020, the White House released the first-ever comprehensive U.S. National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, showing how the U.S government is tackling the scourge through a coordinated multi-agency effort. 

‘’So, we all agree on how critical a comprehensive national policy framework is to foster a shared understanding of the problem and to provide a coordinated response among different stakeholders.  It therefore gives me great pleasure to be with you this morning as you continue the dialogue on TIP and the smuggling of migrants together,’’ she said.

‘’From 2002 to 2004, I was fortunate to be a member of the then-newly created Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the Department of State.  This multi-disciplinary office has grown exponentially, which is a sign of the importance my government places on combating modern day slavery.  I worked closely with the Government of Nigeria on legislation and the creation of NAPTIP itself.  I burst with pride at what NAPTIP has become and I believe its achievements are an important contribution to the well-being of Nigerian society.

From my own experience, I know the emotional toll working on this issue, but also the reward of knowing that your work has helped victims become survivors.  These issues are similar; both involve human beings and criminal networks, and they constitute lucrative and difficult-to-trace multi-billion-dollar businesses.  A trafficking situation may begin with smuggling so the partnership between NAPTIP and the Nigerian Immigration Service will rely heavily on a victim-centric approach to these crimes.’’

The U.S. government, she said, brings significant resources to this fight.  ‘’Our own legislation, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, based on the Palermo Protocol, is reviewed and reauthorized every two years by Congress.  This legislation created the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the annual TIP report, our policy framework, and provides funding for our programs worldwide.

In Nigeria, we have supported NAPTIP through the years.  Currently, our Bureau of Law Enforcement and Narcotics-funded program with UNODC has been extended for a third time since starting in 2018. 

This $447,000 program is improving capacity of government and civil society actors to reduce TIP, increase NAPTIP and other specialized agencies capacity, and to support NAPTIP, NPF, and NDLEA to improve partnership and coordination in the referral process for trafficked persons. 

Last year, we partnered with NAPTIP to raise awareness of trafficking among the airline industry.  Some of the upcoming U.S.-sponsored UNODC events delayed due to COVID-19 include awareness raising, identifying, and reporting trafficking situations; commissioning the Judicial Research Center at NAPTIP headquarters, which will improve NAPTIP’s prosecutorial efforts; and a retreat for NAPTIP prosecutors with judges.  In addition, USAID has received funding to strengthen civil society groups to increase their capacity, coordination, and service provision for trafficking survivors and to work with NAPTIP as well.’’

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