Fraudsters have tricked scores of Nigerians by selling them football World Cup fan passes to travel to Russia, leaving many stranded and penniless, victims and anti-trafficking campaigners say.
Some Nigerians told AFP they used the official Fan IDs to come to Russia with the promise of finding work or even playing professional football themselves.
Others said they came to watch World Cup matches but got stranded when their return plane tickets were cancelled by bogus travel agencies that booked them.
Ismail Olamilekan, 21 and his brother Sodiq, 25, said they paid $700 each to a man in Lagos for their Fan IDs.
“The man told us that with the Fan ID we could get a job and stay here,” Ismail told AFP at a hostel on the outskirts of Moscow.
“But when we got here we discovered that it was a fraud, that he had just collected the money and lied to us.”
The plastic-coated passes issued by the Russian government enable foreign fans to enter the country without a visa during the World Cup but they expire before the end of July.
They are issued free to fans who have bought tickets for World Cup matches but some agents sold them to Nigerians who wanted to come to Russia to work.
It was not clear how the bogus agents obtained the Fan IDs that they sold.
A FIFA spokesperson stressed that the Fan IDs system was implemented by the Russian communications ministry.
FIFA “continues to make efforts to identify and curb unauthorised ticket sales”, he added.
The Olamilekan brothers spent about a thousand dollars each for their plane fare to Moscow, on top of what they paid separately to the agent.
“In Nigeria I play football. He told me that if I started working I can also start a football career in Russia,” Ismail Olamilekan said.
A fellow Muslim was allowing the brothers to sleep in his hostel until their return flight on July 22.
Other Nigerians however found themselves stranded in Russia after fraudulent “agents” who booked return flights for them then cancelled the bookings to get a refund.
A group of about a dozen Nigerians waiting at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport on Tuesday told AFP they had been sleeping there for days.
Some of them said they paid more than a million naira each to an agent for a package including flights, match tickets and a fan ID.