Teta and Salima (both not real names), residents of Kimironko and Nyamirambo, respectively, in the City of Kigali, once boarded a plane, separately, for their very first time to different foreign lands smiling and with hope this would be a life-changing journey.
What started with a smile and laughter, however, ended up a journey to hell…a life of begging to be dead rather than facing unbearable suffering.
The two women had one thing in common; they were lured into this bondage of death by their so called long-time friends under the guise of getting them well-paying jobs abroad.
On June 28, 2011, Teta boarded a China-bound plane from Entebbe Airport in Uganda for a so called lucrative job, as her ‘friend’ she identified as Judith Uwicyeza, had assured her.
“She knew I was jobless and needed a job badly to take care of my five children as a single mother. Even when I tried to tell her that it would be impossible to afford an air ticket and other expenses involved, she assured me she would take care of that and that I can refund later,” says a 43-year-old Teta.
Although she received friendly reception from Judith and her colleagues including other Rwandan and Ugandan girls in China, things changed two hours later.
“She took me to a hotel where she told me she had paid for my stay for two days. This sounded weird. When I asked the kind of job she had for me, she told me to get ready in two hours to start.”
“She came back later with her colleagues almost naked and told me to wear skimpy clothes. I thought, maybe, this was the dress code in the developed world. But as we walked down the streets, men kept coming asking me how much I was worth for an hour or the whole night and I kept brushing them off. Even Judith found me in my room and almost slapped me accusing me of throwing away opportunities whenever men approached.”
Two days later, it was a cat and mouse between Judith and Teta as the former confiscated the latter’s passport and demanded to be refunded $4,000 (about Rwf2.8 million) she had spent on her.
That was the beginning of the worst that awaited Teta.
She was kicked out of the hotel, had no money and had no one to rescue her. She ended up on the street.
“Luckily while, on street, I met a Rwandan whom I told my ordeal and he advised me to go to another city called Yiwu (18 hours drive) and look for a woman called Jeanne, another Rwandan, who would help me.”
But Jeanne, the would-be savior turned out to be another predator with links to the Judith group that was by now hunting her.
The only thing she managed to get from Jeanne was to help her secure the passport from Judith.
“Jeanne insisted that other girls were living a better life on earnings from prostitution and that I was no different from them.”
With no money to buy food or rent a house, Teta had no other alternative but to give in to commercial sex for survival.
“I spent a year as a sexual slave to a Nigerian drug dealer. Among the terms to remain under his rented roof was also to vend and deliver cocaine to his customers and look for new ones. This was a risky act owing to the fact that China has no mercy for drug dealers. Once you are caught the penalty is a death sentence.”
Considering that Teta’s whole idea was to raise money to foot her air ticket back home to reunite with her children, she decided to run away from the Nigerian oppressor.
“I stole $300 (about Rwf200,000) from him and left Yiwu to Shanghai (about 24-hour-drive) where I also met a Russian old woman, whom I narrated my ordeal to and she took me in as a maid.
She said she was compelled to remain indoors after learning that the Judith group was hunting for her and had hired some Nigerian men to kill her. She was sheltered by the Russian woman for about two years.
It is during this time that she met one Sharon Karenzi, another Rwandan, who claimed she had parted ways with Judith and that she was pregnant and had nowhere to go.
“She was a young girl in her early 20s that I later came to learn that she had lied to her family that she was studying in China. I convinced my host (Russian woman) to let her stay so that I take care of her. Although she was pregnant, it didn’t stop her from prostitution. She was a drug addict too.”
But Karenzi would later betray her to the extent that she survived a death penalty in China by the skin of her teeth.
“It all started when we returned home from the hospital. I had taken her child for immunisation and when I returned home, a few minutes later, Police came and arrested me. When we reached at the station they charged me with drug dealing. I was terrified. I knew what awaited me…drug dealing attracts death sentence in China.”
Fortunately, although she once sold cocaine, Teta never for once tasted it. So medical results returned negative. She, however, had to endure more jail time as investigations continued.
“I later came to learn from another Rwandan girl called Ange, who was also in the Judith group, that Karenzi, who was working on behalf of Judith, was behind all this and had filed a case that I was a drug dealer who wanted to kill her child. I was heartbroken considering all I had done for her.”
It was after the Chinese police failed to get evidence that they decided to deport her in September last year.
According to Teta, she met more than ten Rwandan girls in the cities of Yiwu and Guangzhou, whom she said were trafficked there under similar circumstances.
“They are now spoilt girls and drug addicts who have lost the way. They have also become enemies to each other, only plotting to kill each other. I pray that one day the Lord sees their suffering and comes to their rescue. Police or our embassy should do something because if they are not killed they will commit suicide because life is unbearable.”
After being lured by a Rwandan she only identified as Hussein, who disguised as a student in Oman, and one Issah, Salima travelled to Uganda on June 27 last year, where she was apparently supposed to secure a visa and meet her would-be employer in Dubai, who was at the time in Uganda.
“Hussein, whom I later came to learn that he was at the time living in Tanzania, claimed he had a company that gets people jobs abroad. He introduced me to Issah, who in-turn introduced me to another man identified as Ahmed Makumbi in Uganda.”
After about two months in Kampala, Salima finally boarded a plane with her boss she identified as Jawadu Muhamed, to the ‘Promised Land’.
“Our understanding was that the job was in Dubai and that I would be paid $600 (about Rwf 413,000) monthly. Astonishingly, I came to learn after two weeks that I was in Beirut, Lebanon.
“On top of that, when I reached there, my boss’ wife told me that I will be earning only $200 (about Rwf138,000) monthly. When I told them that I was not ready to work for that money and that I wanted to go back home, they threatened me and informed me that I will have to first refund all the money they spent on me.”
Nature of work
Salima would go to bed at 2am and wake up at 5am to prepare children for school before doing other chores for all the 11 family members; mop all the 11 bedrooms, and wash utensils and clothes.
She was also required to go to the houses of two of their daughters, who were married, to do the same domestic chores and at their grandmother’s.
“I was also required to be at any of these four homes, if they had visitors, which was a common phenomenon, to cook for them and do other domestic chores. The work was too much. The only reward would be torture, including being beaten by anyone, including their 15-year- old daughter.”
At one time, Salima fell sick to the extent that she couldn’t wake up, but this didn’t stop her boss’ wife from beating her up to wake up and work.
She recalls a neighbour’s maid, who was a Bangladeshi, who decided to commit suicide by falling from a fourth floor to save herself from a year-long suffering.
The unlikely savior
Salima tricked her boss that she needed a phone, which he luckily bought for her. It is at this moment that she would at night send messages to her husband back in Nyamirambo, at night.
“My husband contacted Rwanda National Police and one night, he sent me contacts which he said were for a Police officer called Afande Tony (ACP Tony Kuramba, Commissioner for Interpol at RNP) who asked for details of where I was.”
She managed to establish that her enslaver was to return to Uganda, information she passed on to ACP Kuramba.
Interpol Kigali informed Interpol Kampala and he was arrested on arrival at Entebbe International Airport. He was forced to contact his family back in Lebanon to send Salima.
“I felt like I was dreaming when Afande Tony called and told me that everything had been sorted, sent me a copy of my itinerary which indicated that I would be on a Kampala-bound plane the next day.”
She arrived in Rwanda on January 25.
The two women believe Rwandan girls are being tricked and lured into slavery under the guise of getting them good jobs, a promise she says is a hoax.
Salima says she saved five other Rwandan girls while in Lebanon.
“They were still in Rwanda and we also used to chat at night, so I told them about my suffering and informed them that they were headed for hell.”
Victims of human trafficking are said to be ending up in sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery as well as organ removal and sale.
Globally, 27 million people are said to be in modern-day slavery while about 800, 000 people are trafficked across international borders annually.
About one million children are exploited by the commercial sex industry every year, 80 per cent of them being women and girls while 70 per cent of female victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation.
According to ACP Kuramba, such vital information from victims informs the next course of action in the ongoing campaigns against modern-day slavery and locating where other victims could be.
“Until 2008, the threat of human trafficking in Rwanda had not been realised. The threat is real, however, small the numbers. The gravity of the scourge and its dehumanising effects cannot be underestimated,” ACP Kuramba said.
“Last year, we recorded 19 cases of human trafficking involving 25 victims, including foreigners intercepted in Rwanda en route to either Europe or Asia. Twenty-three of the victims were female. About 26 suspected traffickers were also apprehended in partnership with other regional police forces,” he added.
Since 2009, RNP has handled over 36 cases involving 153 victims, including 51 Bangladeshis, intercepted in Kigali while on transit to Mozambique (in 2009); 90 per cent of the victims are also female with 82 per cent of them aged between 18 and 35, according to Police statistics.