Monrovia — FrontPageAfrica has uncovered what appears to be a major human trafficking ring under the guise of an employment agency.
FPA investigation discovered that the company, Qnet International, has been bringing children and other young adults to Liberia from neighboring countries - mainly Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Mali.
FPA was unable to independently verify if the Qnet in Liberia is associated with Chinese company, QNet Ltd., which is based in Hong Kong. The Chinese firm is a multi-level marketing company owned by the QI Group. Although the company is legal in many countries, it has faced accusations of being involved in a Ponzi scheme - a form of fraud that lures investors and pays profits to earlier investors with funds from more recent investors
In Liberia, the company will assure people who it persuades into the country that they will be provided job opportunities, scholarship, and travel opportunities while in Liberia.
While in Liberia, they are kept in respective compounds located in Paynesville, Gardnerville, and other areas in Montserrado County. At one of these compounds, 15 persons are kept in a room. They sleep on mats and must do street hawking for the company for self-sustenance.
FPA's investigation also uncovered that the company has head offices in Margibi, Grand Bassa and Nimba Counties - where several other young people also are recruited in the country.
Children and adults who are allegedly cajoled and dubbed by the company in these counties are also kept in compounds to support the company's activities.
One of the alleged victims, Chegnor Lama Turay,16 - a Sierra Leonean - told FPA that he was brought to Liberia by Qnet International to seek travelling opportunity.
"They told me that they have opportunity for me to go Dubai so I went to my uncle and my uncle took loan of US$850.00 plus feeding money - all US$1000.00," Turay said.
But Turay said when he arrived in Liberia and was received by the company's agent, his hope of travelling to Dubai was doomed. Since February 21 this year, he has been struggling in a new land to survive and has lost contact with his family.
"But the day I reached in Duala [Monrovia], the company's agent picked me up, brought me to the company's office in Paynesville and took all the money from me. After they took the money from me, they told me to go and bring two other persons, telling me, 'that's the business we are doing'."
Since then, Turay said the company has abandoned him and he has "no food, no job and no travelling opportunity".
He is stranded and has no means of returning home. His uncle, who borrowed the US$1,000 to fund his trip, is facing court action since he is unable to pay back the loan.
"We are over 15 persons that are confined to a room now because three of our friends said they were walking to go back Ivory Coast. But we learned that only two reached, the other person who was already here from mosquitos bit died on the road."
Another alleged victim of Qnet trafficking, Abraham Diallo, 17, a Guinea, said he was convinced by his friend to come to Liberia for a job opportunity.
"The person who called me told me about driving job business," explains the young Guinean. "When I came, they took US$600 from me for driving opportunity. Since then, no job, no way to go back home. Even to get food to eat is difficult."
Diallo, who claims to be a 12th grade student, was expected to sit the upcoming West African regional exams this year, but he has no means to go back.
While the alleged trafficked victims decry their ordeal, residents of communities where some of these alleged victims are kept, have been observing the situation.
Michael V. Giah, a resident of Neezoe Community - one of the communities where 27 of the young people reside - said he was shock when he saw the group of young people in the community.
Giah said their presence created fear amongst community members who then contacted the National Security Agency (NSA) to investigate the situation.
"Some security guys from the NSA saw them and interviewed as to why young people of different nationals, who cannot speak fluent Liberian English, have conglomerated," he said, adding they told the NSA agent that they were brought into the country by Qnet.
Explaining about the Qnet, Giah said: "This Qnet, I really don't want to go deep because I don't know much about them but someone told me to join them but I told them I can't join because the information appears to be fake. You don't want to give me job, but you want me to deposit US$750.00?"
Giah said the community has been silent on the matter because no one has brought the issue to the community attention.
Meanwhile, FPA has discovered that QNet agents lure people to its network by social media and telephone calls. Sources, who hinted FPA, said the scheme initiated by the company is gradually depriving young men and women of their gains over the years.
"The government really have to intervene in this situation or else pretty soon, you will see plenty 4.1.9 or B.M people all in the communities and streets lying to people and stealing from them in the name of job, scholarship or travelling opportunities," one resident said.
FPA gathered late Friday, July 17 from some of the victims that the company has begun relocating them to a remote location to avoid public notice.
The news of the alleged human trafficking comes less than a month after the United States State Department's graded Liberia at a better position in its latest Human Trafficking Report.
In late June this year, Liberia moved up to Tier 2 of the United States' human trafficking report after being on the Tier 2 Watch List for three years.
While releasing the report, the US Embassy said: "the Government of Liberia has demonstrated sufficient progress to be elevated" after evaluation by the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIPs).
"This outcome reflects the dedicated efforts of the Government of Liberia to fight human trafficking, as well as the achievements possible through U.S.-Liberia partnership," the release dated June 25 stated, adding that the two nations are "working together".
When FPA contacted, Deputy Labor Minister for Manpower, Phil Dixon said the news was "shocking" and that the National Human Trafficking Task Force has not been alerted about the situation.
Dixon promised that once the task force, which plays a more secretariat role in the response against human trafficking, will work to gather further details about the alleged ongoing trafficking.
The Liberia Immigration Services did not respond to several calls place to its office on Monday, July 20.
At the same time, a source at the Liberia Immigration Service informed FrontPageAfrica that over 50 Liberians were lured into Ivory Coast on the promise there were jobs available for them with handsome salaries. They were, however, repatriated to Liberia after falling being ransacked at the Ivory Coast-Burkina Faso border.