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The sex trafficking trail from Nigeria to Europe

Sandra knew there was always a chance that her clients would kill her.
For three years, she was forced to work as a prostitute on the streets of Moscow, repaying a $45,000 debt to the trafficker who brought her from Nigeria.
“There were five of them,” she recalls of one occasion. “They were brutal, they beat me up, they brought out a knife and tried to stab me.”
Instead, they pushed her out of the two-story window for not submitting.
Often times, there were more men — 10, 15, 20 per call.
“They might even kill you if you try to defend yourself,” she says. “That’s the reason why it is very horrible. And in that process most Nigerian girls lose their life, because not every girl can withstand the pressure of 10 men.”
Sandra, not her real name, is one of tens of thousands of Nigerian women who have been trafficked into Europe for sexual exploitation. And many of those women come from a single city.
For decades, Benin City, the capital of Edo State in southern Nigeria, has been tied to trafficking to Europe. Here, a potent mix of poverty and spiritualism drives thousands of young women to make the dangerous journey.
Along its often unpaved, mud-ridden streets there are houses with wide gates and high walls. These belong to the families with a relation who has “made it,” says Roland Nwoha, a local NGO worker who has devoted his career to stopping the trade. “Almost every family has a contact in Europe.”
Organizations like Nwoha’s help educate people about the risks. But he says these few stories of success continue to be a powerful motivator in a city where so many live in desperate conditions.

Trapped by fear

Sandra says she was convinced to go by a man she met at church, who said he was an assistant pastor.
She says he told her he had a vision from God that she traveled overseas, that his sister in Russia could get a job in a hair salon. For added insurance, the man had given the items she left behind to a traditional priest.
“We always have had this belief that your future lies in the hand of God,” says Nwoha. “Religious leaders, both the traditional and the Christian, are capitalizing on this.”
Like so many, Sandra feared the juju — traditional witchcraft — as much as she trusted her friend.
Her trafficker took much more than just her passport. “My pants, my bra, the hair from my head, the armpit and my private parts,” she says.
The items were for a juju oath, so powerful, a local priest said, that no one dares break it.
The average debt for girls trafficked from Nigeria is around $25,000, but it can be as much as $60,000. None of them have any idea that they will owe these extortionate amounts. The debt, and the fear of juju, keeps them trapped.
Like so many, Sandra feared the juju — traditional witchcraft — as much as she trusted her friend.
Her trafficker took much more than just her passport. “My pants, my bra, the hair from my head, the armpit and my private parts,” she says.
The items were for a juju oath, so powerful, a local priest said, that no one dares break it.

Sea of misery

Sandra’s journey took her through Lagos and then an onward flight to Europe.
But increasingly the trafficking trade is flowing through the lawlessness of Libya and across the Mediterranean where, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), over the past three years there has been a 600 percent rise in the number of potential sex trafficking victims arriving into Italy
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About Frank Momoh

Frank is a writer and a commentator. He can be easily reached at visit@visitnigeria.com.ng

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