It was already late in the afternoon when Rashid (not his real name), a bus conductor, spotted a distressed-looking young girl standing alone at the bus station on Mombasa Island where all the buses plying the Lunga Lunga to Mombasa route terminate. At first, he did not give it much thought and proceeded with his journey to transport his passengers from the island to Mombasa town. But when Rashid came back, he was startled to find that the girl was still at the very spot where he had left her. It was getting late.
Carefully, the bus conductor initiated a conversation with her. It turned out the 13-year-old girl from Lunga Lunga had been promised a job in Mombasa, but her would-be employer had not shown up. Rashid assumed the ‘job offer’ was part of a human trafficking scheme and that the girl was going to be exploited. He called Trace Kenya. An organisation active in combating human trafficking and assisting victims.
"Last year we started to sensitise actors from the public transport sector," says Glory Munoru, programme officer at Trace Kenya. The initiative was based on the findings of a report about Kenya’s human trafficking routes. It was supported by the Better Migration Management Programme, funded by the European Union and Germany. The report revealed that human traffickers often ask their victims to use public transport. "It makes it easier for traffickers to pick up their victims at places they are not familiar with, where there are no familiar faces," explains Glory. The measures were implemented together with the Candle of Hope Foundation in Nairobi and Mombasa.
"We used to book passengers regardless of their documentation, not knowing that we were facilitating human trafficking," says Jamal Mohammed, operations manager at Dayah Bus Company. Dayah has operated the Nairobi-Kakuma route for 15 years now. They also did not know where to take stranded passengers. "This sensitisation training was especially useful to those of us who ferry people to the refugee camps like Kakuma. We were not aware that human traffickers often lure refugees with false promises," he adds. "Our drivers are now better informed about what to do to help possible victims of human trafficking."
In addition to the training, the organisations run an awareness campaign for passengers. "We posted messages about a helpline on head-rests in buses, at bus stations, booking offices, and on passenger tickets and receipts," reports Ramogi Osewe, programme manager at Candle of Hope Foundation.
Since the sensitisation training and awareness campaign began, the number of people calling for more information, as well as the number of victims of trafficking referred, has tripled. ‘We used to receive about two calls in a week, now we receive about seven,’ Ramogi says. ‘We have also had a lot of cases reported by bus conductors and drivers,’ adds Glory. ‘When they identify a possible victim of trafficking, they engage them in conversation and call us if their suspicion is confirmed. We then take over and put the victims in touch with local authorities, safe spaces or law enforcement actors.’
The campaign has been a success and is therefore going be expanded. As a next step, Trace Kenya and Candle of Hope Foundation will broadcast radio spots in the buses in Swahili and other local languages such as Somali and Giriama.
The Better Migration Management (BMM) Programme funded by the European Union and Germany aims at enabling national authorities and institutions to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration, and to effectively address and reduce human trafficking in the Horn of Africa region. The programme also improves assistance to and protection of victims of trafficking and vulnerable migrants. BMM supported Trace Kenya and the Candle of Hope Foundation in providing sensitisation training for 96 actors from the public transport sector, producing the information material and running the awareness campaigns.