For young, vibrant and vulnerable Nigerian ladies, who are oblivious of what awaits them in Italy as ‘prostitutes’, they are most likely to pay as much as 25,000 to 100,000 euros ($28,000 to $112,000) to those who ‘trafficked’ them, Saturday Telegraph has learnt. According to Italian charities, many victims are told that prostitution is the only way to repay hefty debts, which they are oblivious about until they are trafficked to Italy by their generous paymasters.
With the numbers of Nigerians rising in Sicily, prostitution is said to be a thriving business as campaigners argue – since nobody knows exactly how many women end up plying their trade on the streets, according to an online news portal, Reuters.
Investigations also revealed that over 12,000 Nigerian women have reached Italy through the Mediterranean Sea from Libya over the past two years. For the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), almost 80 per cent of the young women are victims of trafficking as aid workers say the new arrivals (young girls) are also stretching the workload of the IOM, the United Nations (U.N), refugee agency (UNHCR) and local charities.
The number of Nigerian women arriving in Italy is accelerating – complicating the task of law enforcement agencies determined to keep tabs on the location of pimps or their female brokers known as “madams.” In view of this, a legal advisor with the IOM in Catania, Margherita Limoni, said the situation: “Is reaching a stage where it is out of control.”
Recalling her experience and how she found herself in the business of prostitution, a victim by the pseudonym Beauty (not real name), said she arrived in Sicily, after crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa last year.
She explained that it took her only hours to telephone the man who trafficked her – or risk the lethal repercussions for loved ones back home before she realised what she had involved herself into. Before her journey through Niger to Libya, a spiritual priest practicing a form of black magic known in Nigeria as “juju” had forced her to swear an oath of obedience to her trafficker.
The threat of a “curse” if she broke her oath and the possibility of violence by her traffickers at home in Benin City, a southern Nigerian hub for human trafficking, were enough to trap her into sex slavery. Fiddling her black-andblond braids while recalling the events of last summer, Beauty (19), said: “If I had reported him to the police, my family would have been in great danger. At the (migrant) camp a man came to pick me up in a car. I got into the car and I was taken away.”
Beauty, who declined to reveal her full name, further revealed that fear has remained the only stigma threatening the serenity of her life. As it was gathered by Saturday Telegraph, reports showed that fear plays a major role between the trafficker and the trafficked.
Investigation revealed that victims go through some juju rituals, with pubic hair, fingernails and blood collected from the victim as she is made to swear never to report her situation to the authorities, rights groups say.
In some cases, fearing the juju “spell” may be turned on them and they may die, Nigerian parents insist their daughters obey their traffickers, testimony from Italian court documents shows. Beauty only learned later that she had been trafficked – and that the man who had brought her to Europe, a friend of her father’s, now demanded she pay back 25,000 euros ($28,000) by working as a prostitute. Beauty, who told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the security of the safe house where she now lives, said: “My pimp was a nice man.
I think he was a good man.” But as she provided sex services for dozens of Italian clients in a town in southern Italy, a tyranny of abuse unfolded as, “The man pimped me. His girlfriend beat me.” Although minors are offered state protection, Beauty was not eligible for this as she was already 18, she said.
After running away from her pimp late last year, she fled to the local office of the Penelope Association, which found her a place in sheltered accommodation late last year. Beauty is one of 45 people the charity aims to support this year by finding them a place to live and employment in restaurants, well away from the preying eyes of traffickers, Cannavo said. Commenting further, the head of the charity’s Catania branch, Oriana Cannavo, said: “The women need help to reintegrate in society.”
Cannavo said the offer of support remains a delicate one because the girls are already in the psychological clutches of their traffickers. Statistics released by the IOM revealed that the number of Nigerian women arriving in Italy has almost doubled in the past year, surpassing 6,300 in the first eight months of this year, which is up from 3,400 for the same period last year. It was also revealed that unaccompanied children from Nigeria – some as young as 10 or 11 – have also flocked to Italy.
The IOM data further showed that around 1,700 Nigerian girls have arrived Italy in the first eight months of this year, while 1,000 came during the whole of 2015. Further investigations revealed that seven of Beauty’s friends slipped back into prostitution out of fear of their pimps, or loyalty.