Immigration officials have arrested 17 Nigerians attempting to cross the border into Niger on their way to Libya with no valid papers, a senior Nigerian immigration official told AFP on Tuesday.
Nigerian Immigration officers intercepted the 17 in two batches at a border crossing with Niger, said the comptroller of immigration for Katsina state, Ahmed Alhaji Alfa.
“Our investigation revealed that their mission was to cross border en route to Agadez in Niger Republic and then to Libya,” he added.
“We believe their final destination was Europe through the dangerous voyage across the [Mediterranean] sea”.
Human trafficking is a major organised crime issue in Nigeria, where victims, most of them young women and girls, are smuggled into Niger then Libya before a final destination in Europe.
Most of the victims are promised lucrative jobs but are instead forced into prostitution once in Europe.
Such victims are often made to undergo voodoo rituals forcing them to vow never to disclose their situation to the authorities.
The victims – 10 women and seven men aged between 18 and 40 – were apprehended on February 14 and 21, Alfa said.
“Only one of them was in possession of travel documents while the others had no travel documents nor any means of livelihood,” he added.
Those detained were from the southern Nigerian states of Edo and Imo and had likely been “misled” by a trafficking syndicate operating in the northern Nigerian commercial hub of Kano and towns along the borders of Nigeria and Niger, he said.
They were handed over to the Nigerian anti-human trafficking agency NAPTIP in Kano on Tuesday for further investigation and prosecution.
A hunt for the traffickers and their sponsors has also been launched.