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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 March 2007, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Football trafficker cons Ivorians
Imogen Foulkes
BBC Geneva Correspondent

Didier Drogba
Many Ivorian boys dream of becoming the new Didier Drogba
Thirty-four boys have been returned home to Ivory Coast after being duped by a bogus football agent.

The boys had been promised contracts with European football clubs, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says.

Their parents had paid hundreds of dollars for their travel but they did not get to Europe.

Instead the boys were taken to neighbouring Mali where they were held against their will.


The boys were all passionate footballers, members of a club in one of the poorest districts of Abidjan.

This dream of going to Europe as a footballer is a very big one in West Africa - footballing is a real passion
Jemini Pandya, IOM

There, they were approached by a man who said he was an agent.

Each boy's parents paid between $200 and $600 to the agent and then didn't see their sons for three months.

They were being held in an abandoned house in Mali where they were given little food.

IOM spokeswoman Jemini Pandya says this kind of scam which exploits the hopes and dreams of young people is becoming more common.

She said: "This dream of going to Europe as a footballer is a very big one in West Africa - footballing is a real passion.

"If anyone comes up and says that they think that they'll be able to get talented young footballers into these teams they will take a chance and go for it and that's clearly what's happened."


The bogus agent was finally arrested by Malian police after some of the boys escaped.

What his real plans were for these teenagers remains something of a mystery.

He told the police he wanted to take advantage of their activities and ominously, when the boys arrived at the house, 12 other teenagers were already there.

The IOM is warning amateur football clubs across Africa to beware of unfamiliar agents making big promises.

Ms Pandya said: "All these instances of late that we are reporting whether for trafficking or smuggling, don't tend to be one-offs. It's usually just the tip of an iceberg."

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