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Emergency Trust Fund for Africa
News article15 October 2020

BMM supports estabilishment of Kenya's referral system for victims of trafficking and fosters cross-border cooperation for better protection

Since 2016, the Better Migration Management (BMM) programme supports the Kenyan government to establish a national referral system to address the needs of victims of trafficking and vulnerable migrants.
Fifaliana Joy Pixabay

‘In Somaliland, I came across young girls who were trafficked and ended up as sex workers. Some of these girls are given away by their parents to brokers who promise them better opportunities for their daughters. But reality is different, they are kept in houses for commercial sexual exploitation or brought to foreign countries for organ harvest. This sparked my passion to raise awareness and work with other agencies and authorities to rescue such victims of trafficking,’ says Nimo Mohammed Ali. ‘Four years ago, she founded the Candle of Hope Foundation registered in Kenya and Somaliland, formed and led by women to raise awareness and to help such girls. Since then, the Foundation has cared for 42 victims of trafficking and – if in the best interest of the victim – brought them back to their families.

Since 2016, the Better Migration Management (BMM) programme supports the Kenyan government to establish a national referral system to address the needs of victims of trafficking and vulnerable migrants. This activity includes training and the set-up of a structured cooperation processes for all relevant actors as well as the improvement of services for migrants. In Kenya, more than 1,400 governmental officials, members of CSOs, social workers, and human rights advocates have been trained to identify and support victims of trafficking and vulnerable migrants and refer them to appropriate shelters and service providers. BMM also initiated and facilitates the Regional CSO Forum to Promote Safe and Fair Migration with around 40 CSOs from the Horn of Africa providing services to improve their domestic and cross-border cooperation. Furthermore, the programme mapped, vetted, and adapted some 900 governmental and non-governmental protection and assistance services for victims of trafficking and vulnerable migrants in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan.

A key role for immigration officers

Kenya faces serious challenges in terms of cross-border criminal networks that exploit human beings for profit through forced labour and sex exploitation. Hardly a day goes by without a new case arising. In 2019, the Kenyan government reported 853 victims of trafficking: 275 women, 351 girls, and 227 boys. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report 2019 of the US Department of State, this was a significant increase compared to the around 400 identified victims in 2018. ‘Some victims are even arrested by police during raids on human traffickers and suspected of being part of the crime,’ Ms Ali says. ‘Fortunately, a the mindset is changing, also because these victims are important witnesses to the conviction of the criminals.'

Already in December 2016, the Kenyan government started to set up a nationwide system to refer victims of human trafficking to appropriate services. All relevant state and non-state actors such as immigration, police, border personnel and civil society organisations were involved. ‘Before, there where instances where victims of trafficking were prosecuted for irregular immigration,’ Mr Carlos Maluta, Deputy Director of the Kenyan Immigration Services, said. ‘But a victims testimony may provide crucial intelligence and evidence to convict human traffickers. And without psychosocial support, victims may not open up about what they have experienced in the hands of traffickers.’ Mr Maluta underlined the primary responsibility of immigration officers to detect human trafficking and smuggling. ‘As first responders, we play a key role in identification and referral of victims of human trafficking.’

The set-up of the referral system included guidelines and training for all related actors. They received training on how to identify victims of trafficking and their need of assistance as well as how and where to refer them. According to Mr Maluta, the referral system is a supporting tool to ease the processes such as the provision of assistance and valid travel documents to identified victims of trafficking. It also enhances the cooperation within the Criminal Justice System and with the civil society organisations. ‘On a daily basis, as frontline officers at the border, we interact with victims of trafficking and we are involved in the prosecution of human traffickers and human smugglers,’ Mr Maluta said. ‘Once we identify a victim, we assess their well-being, for instance whether they have suffered abuse or torture, or their rights have been violated. We liaise with the Counter Trafficking In Persons Secretariat,which links us to accredited civil society organisations, which provide services such as shelters. These organisations also provide crucial information that is useful in the process of assisting the victim to obtain justice.’ Mr Maluta added. ‘Some victims may find it easier to talk to a social worker than to a police officer,’ he noted. According to him, civil society organisations help to protect victims of trafficking through additional sensitisation and empowerment measures, making them less vulnerable to being future victims of trafficking. ‘These organisations are an important factor for the referral system,’ Mr Maluta said.

The case of young Aisha

In 2019, some 600 protection and assistance services for victims of trafficking and vulnerable migrants in Kenya were included in a directory of service providers, which serves as an important source for the referral system. The Candle of Hope Foundation is part of the referral system. Its service was requested as the Kenyan police brought 13-year-old Aisha (real name withheld) to the foundation in May 2020, following referral through the service directory. Aisha’s case went far beyond national referral. ‘After the death of her mother in Uganda, her father smuggled the girl to Nairobi. Her father raped and exploited her sexually on several occasions to a point where the neighbours rescued her and took her to the police station. The father was arrested, and the girl was asked to testify against him,’ Nimo Ali remembers. ‘We gave her protection and, after her father was found guilty; we tried to find a safe shelter for her in Uganda.’

Nimo Ali called Damon Wamara, the Country Director of Dwelling Places in Uganda. She knew him from the meetings of the Regional CSO Forum for Safe and Fair Migration. Since 2017, the Forum brings together civil society organisations (CSOs) from all countries in the Horn of Africa to cooperate across borders and learn from each other. Dwelling Places began its operation in 2002 and is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of street children, abandoned babies and high-risk slum families in Uganda. ‘We follow a holistic programme to assist children and restore and rebuild children and families,’ Mr Wamara says. Nimo Ali told him about Aisha and he was happy to assist. ‘We managed that Aisha will be sent to the Ugandan organisation Rahab where she will receive psychosocial care,’ says Damon Wamara. Due to the pandemic, the return has been delayed. ‘But meanwhile we will trace her siblings whom we learnt were being exploited as domestic workers in Kampala.’ Dwelling Places will organise resettlement for Aisha who will also get vocational training from Rahab once she has returned.

‘This was a priceless experience of a cross-border referral from Kenya to Uganda,’ Damon Wamara adds. ‘We have accomplished something. We will work to fill these cross-border gaps together with other civil society organisations in other countries to provide for and rehabilitate Ugandan victims of human trafficking,’ Damon Wamara states. He looks forward to furthering collaborations with other CSOs in the region.


The BMM is financed by the European Union through the EU Trust Fund for Africa and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Its objective is to improve the safe, orderly regular management of migration within the Horn of Africa by applying a human rights-based approach.


Publication date
15 October 2020
Region and Country
Horn of AfricaKenya
Improved migration management

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