By HARRIET FISHER
Now Daily Investigation
To her in-laws in Zimbabwe, Edith is working as a secretary in UK. She has been gone since 2011 and has only managed to return home once, citing the tough visa conditions for official refugees in Britain.
She went to UK under an arranged ‘marriage’ to a Nigerian man. The ‘marriage’ has come to haunt her, like the thousands of other women lured from Zimbabwe through this human trafficking scam.
Officially, the British system is full proof and sex slavery of this magnitude cannot happen. But as our investigation found and an official United States government report corroborated, there is a virtual bazaar of Zimbabwean women in the UK, involving criminals, churches, educational institutions and some very respectable members of society.
While home affairs minister Ignatius Chombo was telling parliament last week that the government was cracking down on criminals luring locals into slavery abroad through false offers of educational opportunities and jobs abroad, investigations revealed that thousands of Zimbabwean women are trapped in conditions of virtual sex slavery have been sold to be ‘wives’ of people they hardly knew. One cocky website offered, ‘Zimbabwe Brides for Sale’.
The deal was arranged for Edith by a bogus firm of immigration lawyers involving her sister, who had been staying in the UK with her husband for several years and paid $2 000 for it to go through. Getting the Nigerian man to understand her story was easy but afterwards she realised her own sister had sold her to a ring of notoriously brutal west African human traffickers and smugglers who would make her life difficult to the point of contemplating suicide.
“I told the man that I had just broken up with my husband and I was having problems looking after my child. He was quite understanding at first and promised to take care of me if I joined him in London. He said my child would follow,” said Edith in an interview at a small London apartment she is now renting after leaving the gangsters in a daring escape aided by a religious charity.
The syndicate that lured Edith to London has plush offices at the upmarket Karigamombe Centre. When we visited them, the Zimbabwean man manning the reception and speaking with a theatrical south London accent insisted that they assisted people with pending immigration issues and those who had been deported illegally or were facing removal from UK. He showed me a list of respectable attorneys and European immigration agents available to help those in imminent danger of being sent home. For a monthly fee of $100, anyone could become a member of the scheme, said the man inviting me to join. The benefit, he said, was that members could also borrow from the fund amounts of up to $10 000 at a time.
It was apparent to me that an illegal money-lending scheme was in operation here. But it was not until I talked to Edith that I got to know that at least six women are sent to the UK from this every week under various disguises. The women are sent to UK on educational ‘scholarships’, to attend religious and cultural festivals or to visit spouses and relatives. The majority never return to Zimbabwe, having become entangled in an intricate web of international modern day slavery otherwise known as human trafficking.
Edith however said the operation was much more sophisticated than it appeared and equated a dating club with the added benefits of relocation to the UK as an incentive. After paying the $100 deposit, she was introduced to Hakeem, a 63 year old Nigerian Muslim who claimed to be in Harare to find the woman of his dreams.
“Hakeem told me that he wanted to find a bride in Harare because he believed that Zimbabwean women were honest, hardworking and witty. I was taken by that. We married after two weeks, I got a name change and a new passport almost immediately. Everything was being handled by Hakeem and his friends, who appeared to be very well-connected to people in the Zimbabwe government because they had a lot of money,” Edith said.
When she got to London, everything changed. Hakeem disappeared for weeks and the life of bliss she had been promised managing his ‘business empire’ never materialised.
“I had no money, so I went to Hakeem’s friends. I was asked to work in a restaurant but they said I was too short to work at the bar. I became a waitress and a dancer. Sometimes I was told to work in a swimsuit and attend to the sexual needs of the customers, to ‘keep them happy’. When Hakeem found this out he beat me so hard I lost my front teeth. He said I had disgraced him, so he threw me onto the street with nothing,” Edith said.
She moved in with a British man who saw her crying on the street. However, he also took advantage of her desperation and made her pregnant. She now has a daughter with him.
© Now Daily 2017. All Rights Reserved.