As the sun set, so did Amen’s chances of survival. It was not just her body that was crippled but her will to live. Abandoned in a Moroccan valley with only the clothes on her back and a small blanket, death’s cruel grip tightened. She had no idea where she was, could not speak the native language and had no one to call on for help. Amen was about to become another statistic of the thousands of human trafficking victims who succumbed to hell’s evil beckoning. Lying lifeless, she forlornly cast her thoughts back to how it all began – her mum.
Brought up in a family of nine in Edo State, Nigeria, the Iriah family’s middle name was poverty. Things deteriorated all the more when her dad died in her infancy. Barely able to eat, let alone have any education, surviving to see the next day was all that Amen lived for. Aged 19, her mum returned home one day with a weighty proposal. “She insisted that I travel abroad for the sake of the family,” Amen explained, adding that a certain man was prepared to ‘help’. At that point, Amen had never left her state, talk less the country!
Thinking she had struck gold, Amen agreed to meet with the man, although the venue of the meeting was an unusual one – the house of a spiritualist. Stripped naked, Amen swore an oath that day, her pubic hair and finger nails forcibly taken as a token of her ‘loyalty’ to those behind her impending journey. She set out at night with several other young ladies, expecting to be taken to an airport. Her destination however was Benin Republic where she was smuggled across the border without any passport or official documents. From Cotonou, Amen journeyed to Burkina Faso, each new territory she entered accompanied by the promise that her flight to Spain where she would start ‘a new life’ was at hand.
Each movement of her increasingly intrepid journey took place at night, her days spent silently shut indoors as her ‘guides’ insisted their ‘guests’ should not be seen in public. After several weeks in Burkina Faso, Amen travelled to Mali. At the edge of the Sahara Desert, reality began to dawn. There was no plane that would carry her and there was no going back. She was about to traverse the world’s largest, most dangerous wilderness. Packed ‘like a sardine’ inside a vehicle, the scorching sun became a relentless companion and each single drop of water a savored delicacy.
“I will never forget what I experienced in that desert,” Amen soberly reminisced. The skeletal remains of past pilgrims lay strewn across the sand, some of her fellow travelers succumbing to the sun’s piercing, unrelenting glare. Many had attempted the journey; only few made it across. After the vehicle developed a fault, the remainder of her desert journey took place on foot. Escaping attempted rape and a violent sandstorm were just some of the horrific experiences she encountered.
Arriving finally in Mali, Amen entered a ‘camp’ where thousands of trafficked individuals, whose origins spanned the entire African continent, converged. Days became weeks. Weeks became months. Months became years. The journey continued, Amen finally arriving in the Northern African nation of Algeria. Entering an even bigger ‘camp’, Amen kept holding onto a phantom of hope that her final destination was nigh. The conditions in the encampment were hellish to say the least. With hundreds of human beings cramped into a confined space such that even to lie down and sleep was impossible, sickness was both rife and rampant. The emotional and physical stress of the journey, coupled with the unhygienic living conditions, soon took their toll as Amen fell sick, her body becoming stiff. On the day a vehicle was to take her to Morocco, police raided the warehouse, capturing hundreds of illegal immigrants.
Amen managed to escape but her ailment was worsening by the day. Crippled to the point where she could walk no more, Amen was left to die in a valley by her fellow escapees. Her body was frail and spirit broken. However, as night arrived and her eyes closed, expected never to reopen, a gnarled hand suddenly touched her gaunt face. Amen had been found by an elderly Arabian shepherd. Their language, origin and faith differed but compassion spoke louder. Calling an ambulance, the Good Samaritan took the young Nigerian to a hospital where she spent three months recovering. Thinking a turn in her fortunes had finally come, Amen was again plummeted into despair as from hospital, she was sent to prison. There she met a Nigerian man who promised to help her on one illicit condition – that they sleep together. Deported to the Algerian border, Amen began the journey again, this time illegally entering Morocco through a different route. Pregnant for her new ‘helper’, Amen was finally just a stone’s throw away from her destination. However, the closer she came, the more distant Spain appeared.
On the day Amen was to take a ‘boat’ across the border, police raided the house she was living in with her new ‘lover’, arresting her again. Eventually securing release, a new strategy was suggested. Amen was given a life-jacket and taken to the Straits of Gibraltar, the shortest possible distance between Morocco and Spain. She was just eight miles away from ‘a new life’. However, on the day a heavily pregnant Amen was to swim across, she gave in to fear. Her two best friends had attempted the same journey weeks earlier; they never made it. In addition, literally hundreds of friends and colleagues she met in Morocco had come to a watery end as their makeshift boats capsized due to overloading and adverse weather.
Securing fake documents, Amen tried to get a ferry across the border, a Moroccan man agreeing to act as her father. Their ruse was soon discovered however as a routine security check while trying to enter the huge boat exposed the scheme. This time, Amen was sent to a government camp for captured illegal immigrants. After a sickening four year journey, she was deported to Nigeria with nothing but the clothes on her back and an eight month pregnancy.
Amen came to The SCOAN last week and was delivered through the ministration of the Morning Water, finally released from the pain of her horrific past. She returned to the church with her nine year old girl – who had never seen her father – and her mother who sent her into slavery in the first place. Amen’s mum begged for forgiveness, admitting that she sold her daughter into prostitution abroad, thinking it would brighten the family fortunes. Free at last, Amen’s experience provides a poignant lesson: “It’s not where you are but who you are that matters.”
Watch Amen’s touching story here –
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