MOSCOW – About 60 Nigerian men who say they entered Russia on the pretext of being World Cup fans camped outside their country's embassy in Moscow on Friday asking for help.
Sofiya Dukhovnaya, an activist with the anti-human trafficking group Alternativa, told The Associated Press the men arrived in Russia using a legal loophole posing as World Cup fans.
An agency in Nigeria sold them World Cup fan identification cards that allowed them to enter Russia without a visa and promised them work. But it was clear that the men were not in Russia for the soccer because they didn't know which matches their national team was playing or even how many players were on the team, according to Dukhovnaya.
Once in Russia, the men realized they had been lied to. There were no jobs lined up for them, their return tickets turned out to be fake and they very quickly ran out of money and couldn't afford food and shelter.
"They were hoping to find work and improve their lives," Dukhovnaya said.
Alternativa said the Nigerian Embassy promised help, but did little for the men. The group tried feeding some of the men and putting them up in hostels, but as more and more came, Alternativa ran out of resources and could not support them all. Besides the 60 men who showed up near the embassy in Moscow on Friday, rights activists believe there are dozens more in and around Moscow.
Nigerian Ambassador Steve Davies Ugbah addressed the men on Friday and promised to provide them with food and shelter while he looks for a way to get them home.
The Nigerian Embassy did not respond to a request for further comment.
Alternativa said Nigerian men are not the only ones who have been trafficked into Russia for the World Cup. She said her group was able to identify several women brought here for sexual exploitation.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said Thursday that foreign nationals who for some reason don't have the money to buy return tickets need to turn to their embassies for help.
"Practices of human trafficking are in opposition to FIFA's own values," FIFA said Friday. "The competence to address issues related to human trafficking, like any other criminal activity, is with the relevant national and international authorities (policy, judicial and governmental), and FIFA welcomes the steps that are taken in that respect."
FIFA referred a question about the loopholes in its Fan ID system to the Russian Communications Ministry, which did not immediately respond to emailed questions.
The Fan ID system was designed to offer visa-free travel to ticket holders, but fans quickly found the same ticket number could be used to apply for multiple IDs and even numbers from expired tickets could be used. In some cases, people appear to have used their Fan IDs to enter Russia as a stepping stone in attempts to migrate to European Union countries.
Organizers of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar said Monday they were considering copying the Fan ID system for their event as a security measure.
More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup