Vile trade Mystery of missing women preyed on by human traffickers
THEY are two of the ‘lost’ girls who are suspected of falling into the hands of traffickers.
Fourteen-year-old Zhara Ibdi and 16-year-old Nadra Ali fled their war-torn country of Somalia seven years apart, seeking the sanctuary of a better life in Northern Ireland.
But within weeks of arriving separately in Belfast, they disappeared without a trace.
Zhara and Nadra are the suspected victims of a dangerous trade which deals in humans, forced labour and the sexual exploitation of children, women and men.
These teenage girls are believed to have fallen into the hands of human traffickers.
Unlike other children from around the world whose disappearances are the subject of high-profile police appeals and headline news, their appeals quietly sit on the PSNI’s missing persons list.
They have no family to search and no-one to shout to keep up the fight to find them; a silence that only works in favour of those suspected of targeting them.
Zhara went missing from a north Belfast asylum seeker facility on June 22, 2005, three months after arriving in Northern Ireland from her home town of Mogadishu. She was considered a ‘separated’ child after fleeing Somalia without her family.
Seven years later, Nadra arrived in Belfast from her home in Afoye, also with no known family.
She had been placed in foster care before disappearing without a trace on January 14, 2012.
The teenager had only been in Northern Ireland for 18 days.
Both were most likely trafficked to Ireland in a similar way to that of the 39 Vietamese migrants who perished in a refrigerated lorry container in Essex last October.
One of the last known sightings of one of the girls happened on the day she went missing.
“I last saw Nadra in the mosque in Belfast, she came there and I saw her outside, she seemed happy,” said Suleiman Abdullahi, co-founder of Horn of Africa Peoples Aid Northern Ireland (HAPANI), a Northern Ireland charity that works with migrants.
“The story that was always conveyed to me that she did not leave of her free will, someone must have taken her.
“The other girl [Zhara] had disappeared some years before, she was staying in an institution for asylum seekers in north Belfast.
“It is a scary story, and I think they have been forgotten. The police are maintaining there is a line of inquiry.
“But because there is no family or next of kin looking for either of them, we hear very little.”
Suleiman, who he himself fled the Somalian war that has raged for 30 years, works with asylum seekers and migrants who have come to Northern Ireland for a better life.
He believes both girls fell into the hands of a trafficking gang.
“When I first spoke about their case, my concern was that there could be traffickers in the country and those international gangs might have sold those girls to prostitution.
“That is still my belief until someone can show me the evidence that these girls have been found or are alive.”
The charity director added: “There is resources and institutions looking for other people, similar cases throughout Europe, one recently in Germany, but because these girls are asylum seekers it seems like there is no one looking for them.
“It is so sad. It is a weakness of the system, the institutions always target the wrong people, and the real criminals walk freely.
“Those criminals know the weakness of those people who have no protection, so they use everything they can to scare them, even to say they know the people trafficking them.
“Most of the asylum seekers I work with they are victims of trafficking and they have experienced the horrors of it all like being kidnapped.
“The young people, unaccompanied minors, have mostly all been victims of human trafficking.
“More needs to be done to prevent the crime, to protect people who are being targeted and also to provide resources to stop criminals who are operating freely and bring them to justice.”
Earlier this month, the PSNI revealed that more than 100 people, including children, were identified as potential victims of human trafficking in the last year.
The figure was described as a “substantial increase” from 46 when compared to the same reporting period last year.
But while 111 were identified, the PSNI said the true number of victims could be even higher as the crime often goes unreported and undetected.
Due to the level of fear, coercion and brutality involved in the devastating human trade, the real number of victims may never be known, according to a leading anti-trafficking organisation.
Invisible Traffick, based outside Belfast, is made up of a dedicated team of volunteers whose aim is to see the abolishment of modern-day slavery within communities across Ireland.
It raises awareness of the local and international impact of the evil trade, including the education of children.
Due to the danger posed by the criminals involved in this multi-billion-pound worldwide trade, its director Gayle said even her staff even have to be security conscious. For that reason, she has asked that we do not use her last name.
“Human trafficking is happening right on our doorsteps, in towns and villages across the north and south of Ireland,” the director told the Sunday World this week.
“A person can be used over and over and over again, and you are talking about a lot of money.
“If you are talking about £100 for sexual activity for half an hour, if you multiply that by the boys and girls who are working 14, 15 or 16 hours a day, one person is making a lot of money for those trafficking them. It is rape for profit.
“We are an island that is very easily accessible – traffickers can bring people from across Europe, put them in a boat or a container, ship them across to the south where there’s no border, right into the north and again back over to England.
“And that can happen on a rotational basis where people are trafficked right round and round even our British Isles which means a lot of money is being made.
“Because of Covid, it is now done underground. There’s money to be made because people are losing their jobs so we need to pass drugs, things like that. So, they are also targeting young children to carry packages, for maybe a McDonalds or a new pair of trainers.
“And if you come from a family who doesn’t have very much, and wee Jimmy has to eat and he’s starving and someone says, look would you take that package for me, just around the corner there and I’ll get you a McDonalds.
“Traffickers actually look for vulnerable people, so if they can get someone who wants to come to the UK from Europe and seek their fortune, which is what they think, they can coerce and exploit them.
“But also, people who are local are vulnerable as well. People who are in the wrong crowd, girls who are out late at night on their own.
“One example I can give you is, and I have to be careful what I say, there was an area where a girl had become separated from her friends. She had no money for a taxi home, so she started to walk up, rang her mum to come and collect her.
“When she was walking up a person came up, bumped into her, she dropped her phone. He lifted it and away she ran.
“She had no phone, she started to cry, she was 17 years of age. She kept walking when a car pulled up and the asked if she was alright.
“She said I’ve no money, no lift home and I’ve just lost my phone. She was told to jump in and she could use his phone.
“So, panicked, she jumped in, closed the door. The guy in the back said, I’ve got your phone.
“They took her around to a house and she was gang raped. So that poor girl now has been left broken, the trauma of all that, and that’s what we are trying to teach our young people, do not leave yourself open.”
Part of Invisible Traffick’s work is running educational workshops in schools and residential care homes.
“We are in that prevention stage, we go to schools in Northern Ireland, we go into residential care homes with ‘The Journey’ programme, the junior education programme.
“We teach children about modern-day slavery in a child-sensitive way. We use the story of a wee boy who is learning about children using the coca pods and climbing trees in the Ivory Coast and how they are using machetes and other equipment that they shouldn’t be using as children.
“So that wee boy is learning all about that and he is writing to his MP to say, look that’s not right. We are just about to launch another amazing book called Brave, which is about a girl called Bella, which is based on a true story.
“Bella was rescued and the only friend she had in the world was this little teddy bear called Brave who she told all her stories to.
“This is the education we are teaching our kids to be mindful of each other. If wee Johnny is not interacting, if he’s withdrawn, if he’s down, why? To get them to ask if they are okay and talk to people who they can trust.
“Some people may think a six or seven-year-old is too young to learn about this. It’s not, six or seven-year-olds are subject to so much now, online exploitation with them now having to do work online and all this digital stuff and parents need to be aware that if their child is online for hours and hours, just nip in, what are you doing? Who are you talking to?
“Because there are predators who go online and assume to be someone who they are not.”
Anyone who may know of the whereabouts of any missing person, or who may have any information which could assist police with their inquiries, is asked to contact police on 101.
If someone would prefer to provide information without giving their details, they can contact the charity Crimestoppers and speak to them anonymously on 0800 555 111.