A Colombian professional soccer player was reunited with his wife and children in Bogota on Tuesday for the first time in nine months, following his departure from Europe after five years of labor exploitation at the hands of Bosnian soccer clubs.
Phil Jackson Ibarguen, who spent the last five years in Bosnia being tricked and lied to by various soccer club managers who failed to make payments on signed contracts, has been declared a victim of human trafficking, according to the Colombian Ministry of Labor.
Ibarguen, who played with the Colombian national team during the 2004 Toulouse Tournament in France, returned to Colombia at the beginning of the year to improve his economic situation and reunite with his Colombian family.
The striker was originally attracted to Europe by club managers who promised a few dollars up front and an opportunity to play in a first division league.
According to the Minister of Labor’s human trafficking condemnation, Ibarguen only received four months worth of salary payments despite his signing a contract lasting a year and a half.
After a time he was moved to another city where the situation was reportedly worse. “I did not receive even enough payment to cover basic housing expenses,” said Ibarguen.
From 2008 to 2013, Ibarguen played for various club teams, none of which reportedly met the terms of his salary, according to the Ministry of Labor report.
At one point he was refused an opportunity offered in Croatia when his team managers took his passport for over a year and charged exorbitant transportation costs.
“They knew I didn’t speak the language, and they took advantage to make me sign false papers,” said Ibarguen. “They stopped me from working with any of the clubs that were interested in me.”
When Ibarguen first arrived in Colombia with the help of his friends at the beginning of the year, he did not have the money to send for his wife and children, who were still in Bosnia. Since that point he has been working on bringing them to the country. This past Tuesday he and his family was reunited.
Ministry of Labor official Lina Arbelaez said Ibarguen’s case constitutes human trafficking because the clubs prevented him from moving freely. “Ibarguen’s rights to movement and self-determination were violated, therefore affecting his dignity and making him into a victim of human trafficking.”