“What we have seen this year is a crisis, it is absolutely unprecedented and is the most significant increase in the number of Nigerian women arriving in Italy for 10 years,” said Simona Moscarelli, anti-trafficking expert at the IOM.
“Our indicators are the majority of these women are being deliberately brought in for sexual exploitation purposes. There has been a big enhancement of criminal gangs and trafficking networks engaging in the sexual exploitation of younger and younger Nigerian girls.”
Although a thriving sex trafficking industry has been operating between Nigeriaand Italy for over three decades, there has been a marked increase in the numbers of unaccompanied Nigerian women arriving in Italy on migrant boats from Libya. In 2014, about 1,500 Nigerian women arrived by sea. In 2015 this figure had increased to 5,633.
“Already we have seen nearly 4,000 women come in the first six months of this year,” said Moscarelli. “We are expecting the numbers to have increased again by the end of this year.”
She warned that the current policy of placing Nigerian women in reception centres along with thousands of other migrants was playing to the traffickers’ advantage, with women regularly going missing.
“There is little understanding of the dynamics and nature of this form of trafficking,” said Moscarelli.
“The reception centres are not good places for trafficked women. Just last week six girls went missing from a reception centre in Sicily, they were just picked up in a car and driven away.”
Nigerian women who are entering Italy among migrants on boats from Libya should be immediately identified and treated as trafficking victims. Instead of being processed in reception centres, they should be placed in specialist shelters where they can be given the advice and support needed to break the chain of sexual exploitation, she said.
“Most Nigerian women who arrive in Italy are already victims of trafficking, many have been subjected to serious sexual exploitation on their journey. Many are forced into prostitution in Libya,” said Moscarelli.
“The women we are seeing are increasingly young, many are unaccompanied minors when they arrive and the violence and exploitation they face when they are under the control of these gangs is getting worse. They are really treated like slaves.”
Salvatore Vella, the deputy chief prosecutor in Agrigento, Sicily, who led the first significant investigation of Nigerian trafficking rings in Italy in 2014, said that the reception centres are increasingly being used as pick-up points by those intending to exploit Nigerian women.
The Nigerian women are given a phone number when they leave Nigeria, which they use to inform a contact in Italy that they have arrived.
“The mobsters just come to the camp and pick [women] up,” he says. “As easy as going to a grocery store. That’s what these women are treated like, objects to trade, buy, exploit and resell and the reception centres are acting as a sort of warehouse where these girls are temporarily stocked.