The ‘Slaves’ of Toronto

Tom Godfrey, Sun Media (Markham, Ontario), March 5, 2008

Women from African countries are being smuggled into Canada as part of a “modern-day slavery” that forces them to work as prostitutes, domestics or nannies, a Toronto lawyer charges.

Amina Sherazee says she knows of more than a dozen women from African countries—Nigeria, Cameroon, Namibia, Djibuoti and Ivory Coast—who were snatched by smugglers and trafficked through two or three countries before ending up here.

Sherazee represents two west African women who have filed refugee claims to remain in Canada.

“This is the equivalent to modern-day slavery,” she said yesterday. “I think this has to be a crime against humanity.”

She said the women, who are vulnerable in the first place, are forcibly taken from their homelands, issued phony travel documents and spirited to safe houses in Europe, the U.S. or Canada, where they are forced into sex or servitude.

Sherazee said her clients did not want to reveal their identities out of concern for their safety and that of their families at home.

‘HUGE STIGMA’

She said one abducted woman is a university graduate. “Some of these women are intelligent and well-educated,” she said. “There is a huge stigma attached to these women.”

Sherazee said one woman was taken to a European country and forced to work as a prostitute before managing to flee. She said some end up contracting AIDS working as hookers.

Loly Rico of Toronto’s FCJ Refugee Centre said African women are among others from the Caribbean and Latin America being helped by her group.

“We have a number of African women who are refugees,” Rico said yesterday. “We have cases where the women were trafficked in their country.”

Her group works to help victimized women resettle in Canada.

Federal immigration spokesmman Karen Shadd-Evelyn said victims are not required to testify against their traffickers to obtain status in Canada.

“Trafficking victims are eligible to receive a temporary resident permit that allows them to stay in Canada for up to 180 days,” she said yesterday, adding they can also apply for a work permit and get health-care benefits.

“These measures are designed to help victims of trafficking escape the influence of their traffickers and begin to recover from their ordeal.”

Peel Regional Police morality officers said yesterday they hadn’t come across any sex-trade workers from Africa in their investigations.

Andrea Bertone, director of HumanTrafficking.org in Washington, said he wasn’t surprised by the smuggling of women from Africa.

COUNTRY OF DESTINATION

“This kind of case is common for people coming from developing countries to developed countries—Canada, the United States and other countries in western Europe,” Bertone said yesterday. “(Victims often) come to the country of destination and the situation is completely different from what they were told they were going to be doing.”

In 2004, the RCMP estimated 600 to 800 people are trafficked into Canada annually. But most experts agree no one knows for sure how big the problem is.

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