The new wave of migration to Europe has produced many serious social challenges, amongst them, human trafficking, prostitution, drug violence, modern day slavery. Trying to escape the intimidating political challenges in their various countries, coupled with the quest to survive the crushing economic situation in their countries, many Africans are stubbornly heading to the West at all odds. Despite all the dangers and hurdles facing them before they reach their final destination – for those who are lucky to make it – many Africans migrants are determined more than ever, to make the dangerous, hazardous journey to Europe.
More often than not, the journey lasts even for a year before they reach their final destination. To sponsor the trip, the migrants often sell their family properties to raise the money, half of which the traffickers, who promise their victims manna, collect. Many African migrants, mostly from Eritrea, Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal etc, walk through the deadly desert for weeks, before they undertake a dangerous boat trip from Libya to Italy. On arrival in Europe, the migrants are placed in reception centres. From the record available to Kata Kata, many of the Nigerian female migrants placed along with thousands of other migrants in the various centres – especially in Italy – often disappear. This is the beginning of the catastrophic stage in the hands of traffickers, who have perfected their heinous plans to virtually turn the female migrants into potential prostitutes and money machines for the heartless pimps. The traffickers start subjecting the women to immeasurable inhuman treatment.
According to the record from the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM), more than 4,000 Nigerian women arrived by boat in Italy in the first six months of the year 2017. In the year 2014, approximately 1,500 Nigerian women arrived by sea. This figure increased sharply to 5,633 in 2015. From this high figure, more than 80% of the women are forced into prostitution by highly sophisticated human trafficking network. The traffickers always collect the passports and other identities of the women. In most cases, the women are terrorized, traumatized and intimidated into paying a monthly amount to their traffickers, who, in some cases, organise men clients for them. Those are the “lucky” victims. Others unlucky female migrants, who do not have “reasonable” traffickers who arrange for male clients for them, are left to their fate, but they are, nevertheless, forced to pay monthly returns to their bosses – some of them women.
Welcome to the unscrupulous world of African female human traffickers. For sure, sex trafficking industry operating between Nigeria and Italy has been there for over three decades, however, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of unaccompanied female Nigerians arriving in Italy of recent. This new wave of prostitution is made possible by the criminal gangs and trafficking networks, who have recently found a perfect way to sexually exploit these young Nigerian women. In most cases, these women are forced to swear an oath of secrecy and allegiance. The victims are warned that revealing the identity of the trafficking syndicates, will kill them. But that is not all, they are intimidated to strongly believe the revelation will equally harm the family members of the victims at home. The result: the young women, who are promised a better life in Europe before their arrival, are not only forced into prostitution, they are virtually turned into slavery – economically, sexually, psychologically and otherwise. They live in perpetual fear – fear of not fulfilling the monthly target from their bosses, fear of dying or harming themselves and family members if they break the oath they swore, fear of being caught by the European law enforcement agents. The psychological torture continues.
The problem is definitely more enormous that we believe. These women are indeed in a precarious situation, which requires a very urgent solution. First of all, female migrants – especially, Nigerian women – who are entering Italy on boats from Libya must be immediately identified and separated from other migrants. Because the reception centres are often used by the human traffickers as pick-up points, to avoid the migrants falling into the hands of the traffickers, therefore, these women should be placed in specialist shelters rather than in reception centres. Furthermore, the women must receive from the authorities, much-needed advice, including information over sexual exploitation and the danger of human trafficking. In some cases, the criminal gangs wait until their victims are granted their residence permits or refugee status document before they pick them up for their illicit trade.
It must be mentioned that most of the women who are victims of human trafficking ended up in the situation due to – in some cases – circumstances beyond their control. In most cases, they wanted to come to Europe to seek a greener pasture. In the case of many Nigerian women, most of them have acquired debts of over 50,000 euros as a result of their trip to Europe. The traffickers promise the women good jobs and a better life in Europe. Believing their traffickers, these women undertake hazardous steps to fulfil their dream. Before their arrival in Europe, most of the women went through serious sexual exploitation on their way to the “promised land.” Worse still, they are forced by their criminal bosses to swear an oath with voodoos not to identify their exploiters. These Nigerian women are made to believe that they would die or their family members at home put in danger if they break the oath or fail to honour their debts. Sadly, the traffickers capitalise on their vulnerability and therefore, psychologically, control of their victims.
Having fallen victims to the human traffickers in Europe, most of the women are faced with insurmountable challenges and an incredible brink future. Faced with huge amount of debts with no work, pressure to pay the criminally minded traffickers, fear of harming themselves and family members in Africa, if they fail to honour their oath, shame of going back to Africa as a “failure,” fear of being caught by or reported to the law enforcement agents, most of the women have only limited options. They succumb to the exploitation of the Shylock traffickers and are then forced into prostitution on streets and brothels across Europe. The circus circle of the African prostitution in Europe continues.
While we blame human traffickers for this ugly situation, various African governments must share much of the blame as well. African leaders have a huge responsibility to bring this dangerous trade to a stop. Apart from providing jobs and other economic opportunities for their citizens, African law enforcement agents must take necessary steps to bring the clandestine trade to an end. Unless the illegitimate trafficking gang is penetrated and seriously and quickly dismantled, the lives of potential young African women will continue to be turned into slavery and their future destroyed by human traffickers. At the end of the day, African economies are, in fact, being subjected to serious decline due to the shameful and exploitative, illegal prostitution. Isn’t time for all of us – especially African governments – to come together and solve this cankerworm sucking our societies?