Displacement & MigrationFeatures

Months After She Was Trafficked To Egypt, This Young Nigerian Is Back To Square One

“I was made to believe that the grass was greener on the other side, but it wasn't for me ... I wish I could go back to the past and say no to the person who advised me to leave Nigeria.”

Funke* remembers what her life was like before she boarded a plane to Egypt. She earned a monthly average of ₦80,000 as a photographer. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to meet her needs and support her family.

According to her, she “was living decently well.”

That changed in 2022 when she saw a video on WhatsApp shared by a woman in her neighbourhood in Osun, southwestern Nigeria, urging people to ‘japa’ (migrate to other countries, usually for economic reasons). Funke was persuaded enough to reach out for guidance. The woman spoke glowingly about the job opportunities in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, and how Funke could single-handedly change her family’s fortunes. 

Even though she was comfortable, the prospect of making more money that could improve her family’s conditions appealed to her. Her parents had divorced after a troubled marriage and her father had stopped providing financial support to the family. This placed a heavy burden on her mother and forced Funke to drop out of college. When she started the photography business after taking a six-month course, a great portion of her income went into fending for her siblings.

When she agreed to ‘japa’, her agent and sponsor advised her not to tell anyone about her plans. So, she did not inform her mother and siblings until she had secured her international passport and flight ticket. 

“The area sister linked me to an agent who told me that all expenses spent on my travel would be deducted from my monthly salary within a period of 19 months, and I would still be able to make savings,” she explained.

A few days before going to Cairo in August 2023, she finally told her mother. The old woman discouraged her from leaving Nigeria, but she refused, believing her mother’s disapproval was due to her fear of the unknown. She gave out all her clothes, her camera, and other professional equipment to neighbours. She also bid her customers farewell. 

On Aug. 17, 2023, she left Osogbo for Lagos. The following day, she travelled to Kano, where she boarded her flight to Egypt. She spent nearly five hours on the plane daydreaming about all the things she would achieve in the new city.

A new dispensation

Like other victims of trafficking who spoke with HumAngle earlier this year, it was at the airport in Cairo that Funke realised she was smuggled to Egypt with a seven-week tourist visa. When her sponsor, identified as Alhaja, arrived, she took Funke home, seized her travel documents, including her passports and made her sign an agreement to work for 19 months to cover her travel expenses.

“Before leaving Nigeria, my sponsor told me I could learn catering and make-up. She also said I was going to be working as a sales assistant when I told her I had sickle cell disease. These were all the tricks used to deceive me. I was never lucky from the first job I got there. I was attached to a large family as a housemaid. My job was to keep their villas free of dust particles, cook, wash, clean and babysit,” she narrated.

“I started falling sick the following week. Even when I got my first salary worth 6,500 EGP (₦343,000), I only got 300 EGP (₦15,000) for upkeep. It was difficult for me to take care of myself, let alone reach out to my relatives at home. I could not buy clothes, a toothbrush, menstrual pads, and other ladies’ needs.  Even with my health challenges, my sponsor did not buy me drugs. She was more concerned about her refunds even when the stipend she was giving to me and others was not commensurate with Egypt’s cost of living.” 

Despite working for at least 20 hours daily without adequate pay, it was difficult for her to complain to authorities because she was in the country illegally. In fact, the Egyptian she worked for once threatened to report her to the police for protesting maltreatment.


Since her mother warned her before leaving Nigeria, Funke was sceptical about telling the old woman about her predicament. The area sister also became unreachable when she got to Cairo. Because she had no one to share her worries with, depression set in and she started bleeding heavily. Studies show that mental stress may lead to changes in menstrual cycles, which can range from skipped or irregular periods to heavy bleeding.

In March, Funke attempted suicide, but she was rescued by a colleague who was also trafficked by the same sponsor. The incident happened at the sponsor’s three-bedroom flat, which equally served as a ‘refugee camp’ for the traffic victims.

“It was my friend who later called my mother about what I was experiencing and the difficulties we were facing. The first thing my mum said on the phone was that she warned me before leaving Nigeria,” she recalled.

A week after attempting suicide, she did some internet research on her phone about how to escape from Egypt and read about the Nigerian Embassy in Cairo. 

“I ran away from work to the embassy, where I explained my challenges. They asked me to write a statement and contacted my sponsor for my travel documents, but she did not show up. I slept on one of the embassy chairs for ten days because that was the only safe space for victims of trafficking,” she said. 

“I called my mother and other friends in Nigeria to help borrow money for flight tickets and overstay fees. In all, we incurred over ₦600,000 debt so I could return to Nigeria in March.”

Back to square one – or worse

Though Funke’s mother was happy to see her daughter return to Nigeria safely, she has been distraught because the family is finding it difficult to pay back their debt. 

“My mum can no longer afford to put food on the table for my siblings. We are currently sleeping in an uncompleted building while we hide from those who loaned us money for my return to Nigeria. Life has become more miserable,” Funke said.

She is filled with regrets because of how her trip turned out. 

“I brought sorrow to the family as a result of my urge to travel abroad. I was made to believe that the grass was greener on the other side, but it wasn’t for me. Now, I no longer have customers who used to patronise me before leaving Nigeria. I wish I could go back to the past and say no to the person who advised me to leave Nigeria.”


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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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