Trafficking of Women from Nigeria to Europe

There’s human trafficking and human smuggling. While smuggling is usually consensual, trafficking is not. Smuggling can be defined as a situation in which a migrant purchases services that get them around the immigration restrictions to enter into a country. Trafficking usually involves deception or exploitation of the victim, often in the form of forced labor or prostitution (Carling 2005).

An estimated $26.5 billion is spent on prostitution in Spain alone, giving the second highest prostitution expenditure in the world, coming second to Japan. Spain also has the second-highest number of victims of human trafficking in the European Union, coming only after Italy (Benitez 2013).  Women come from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa to be sex workers, but the one of the largest groups of prostitutes comes from Nigeria, where there is widespread trafficking of women and children in the country as well as out (Carling 2005).

Nigeria is a country that has unfortunately been exploited and colonizers leaving in the wake of their destruction, high levels of peacetime violence, corruption and organized crime, pushing many of its citizens to seek asylum in Europe. In 2014, Nigerians were the eighth largest group of asylum seekers in Europe, with 19,970 asylum seekers but very few were granted protection (Eurostat 2015).

Unfortunately, discrimination against, and oppression of women in Nigerian culture along with exotification of black women in the sex industry has lead to high levels of trafficking of Nigerian women for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The majority of women trafficked from Nigeria, come from Edo State, in areas with high levels of poverty. Statistics show that one in three young women receive offers to be taken to Europe (Carling 2005). These offers come in the promise of good jobs but often, once the women reach their destination they are forced into prostitution to pay for the debt they incurred to make the journey. Victims of this form of human trafficking are sponsored by madams to make the journey, which can cost up to $14,000 but their debts are often triple that.

The women don’t have an exact idea of what they will do for work once they get to their destination, or just how much debt they will incur. But the prospect of getting out of Nigeria and being able to help one’s family rise from poverty is enough temptation to motivate women to take the risk and make the journey under these circumstances.

Juju rituals, which is a form of voodoo, often playing a role in victim’s obligation to complete their contract. The women make a pact with their sponsor, promising to repay their debt. The pacts are blessed and sealed by a traditional priest of the indigenous religions. Sometimes families are brought into the agreement, and their houses and property are used as insurance to assure that the victim will repay their debt, or their family will suffer the consequences. Other times a part of the pact involves elements of magic, where hair, or bodily substances will be blessed by the indigenous priest to support the execution of the pact. The victims hold the pact to high regard and promise to fulfill it due to fear of the consequences of not repaying their debt. They can be threatened by the juju with the possibility of falling ill, going mad or harm befalling their family if they do not complete their end of the bargain.

The women reach Europe and are often contracted into prostitution for one to three years to repay their debts, as lack of education and a skill set leaves them unable to find legal work. Often times at the end of their contract, they continue to work in the prostitution business, as they do not have the skills or documentation to pursue an education or a career. Some women choose to work for madams, or become madams themselves, perpetuating a cycle of a woman exploiting her own gender out of what she feels is necessity.

Benitez, I., (2013, December 26) Spain Grapples with Human Trafficking. Retrieved from

Carling, J., (2005, July 1). Trafficking in Women from Nigeria to Europe. Retrieved

Eurostat (2015, May 21). Asylum statistics.


The Pecking Order in Spain, According to African Migrants

Pecking order is the colloquial term for a hierarchal system of social organization (Merriam-Webster).

As I sat in warehouse substituting for a worship center I spoke to a Nigerian literary scholar turned pastor about the hierarchy of race in Madrid and what it meant for those who come from Africa in search of work.

Pastor Richard* allowed me to speak to women from his congregation before talking to me himself about his own experience. I spoke to four women, all who were in their early to late thirties and all of who were unemployed. I asked them about their experience. What they found difficult, adversities they had face, how they overcame these adversities and what kept them going.

The common issue that I came away with from all four women was that of unemployment. However, considering that unemployment is not uncommon in Spain, so you might ask, what makes their cases any different?

One story that I heard in particular demarcated the difference between the stories of these women and others who found it difficult to secure work in Spain.

One of the women, name Angela shared a story which struck me as sad.

She came to Spain six years ago. Angela was not formally educated, she had never attended school passed secondary school in Nigeria and had no degree. However, she had a desire to learn and an even greater wish to survive. While in Nigeria she learned how to sew and could repair clothing. When she arrived in Spain, she used this skill set to sustain herself. She would repair clothing for members of the Nigerian community in exchange for money, and through this she was able to provide for herself and send a little money each month back home to her family. Like anyone with ambition she wanted more though. She looked for work and was able to find an apprenticeship with a local clothing boutique. She learned and worked for 2 years and it was promised that at the end of the two years, she would receive a contract for full time work.

The end of her apprenticeship came after two years and Angela expected to be rewarded for her dedication with permanent work, however this was not the case. While everyone else was kept, she was let go without pay or contract. The only difference between her and her coworkers was the fact that she was African, and everyone else was Spanish. Without an explanation or any compensation. Angela was left jobless and penniless, and very much where she started.

She attributed this to discrimination in the work force in Spain. According to Angela and others the social hierarchy in terms of job discrimination goes as follows:

Spanish nationals are the first to be hired when a job is available, second would be Eastern and Western Europeans, third Latin American immigrants and at the bottom of the pyramid are black people, specifically black Africans.

I definitely noticed that in various stores that I visited in Spain, there were rarely any African employees working in grocery stores or clothing stores. I knew of one Malian women who was working for a Spanish company, El Cortes Ingles. But she was working behind the scenes in the kitchen as an assistant.

It might be ironic or intentional that the hierarchy coordinates with the spectrum of skin tones, from lighter to darker. But it is no doubt that black bodies are just not visible as a part of Spanish society. Even in my research it was difficult to find literature relating to the black African population of Spain, as there is very little information available on the topic. There is obviously a disinterest and unwillingness to acknowledge this part of the Spanish community, for what reason, I can not imagine other than it may be believed that they are insignificant.

I do not want to speculate or draw conclusions as to why there is discrimination against Africans in Spanish society, but it is quite obvious that it is present.

Merriam-Webster. Pecking Order definition

Are you sure you´re American? : Day Trip to Ceuta

My roommate and I decided to take a day trip to Ceuta during our stay in Morocco.

Ceuta is a Spanish exclave located about an hour and a half drive from Tangier. As an exclave, it is governed by Spain despite it’s location in Morocco and in order to cross the border you need an official European or American passport or a visa. Ceuta is one of the two Spanish ports in Morocco, the other being Melilla. Keep this in mind as a tell the story of our little trip.

We took a grand taxi for 700 Dirham (70 dollars) round trip from the Gare de Routier in Tangier, after a heated argument with two taxi drivers on prices, we were given a “deal”. As we approached Ceuta, we saw groups of men standing on the side of the winding road in the Moroccan heat, attempting to hitch hike. The melanin of their skin, glistening under the unrelenting sun, they must have all been exhausted and dehydrated but they were persistent in their quest to flag down cars. All of these men were clearly of African descent, and by African, I mean sub-Saharan Africa, as it was obvious they were not Moroccan by the color of their skin, which was akin to a deep chocolate.

After my talk with Joseph, I learned that many of those who try to cross the border fence at Ceuta, hide in the forest by night to escape the persecution of the Moroccan police, as those who were found out were often brutally beaten and taken into custody, left at the mercy of the Moroccan justice system, or lack of one. They only came out during the daytime to look for sustenance. So my guess was that these men were attempting to catch the attention a kind traveller who could spare them food, money or a a ride to look for both.

When we arrived at Ceuta, I noticed a few things, many of those who were waiting to cross the border patrol were either Spanish citizens, Americans, or Moroccans with a visa.  Also, I noticed that many of those who were Moroccan and waiting to be given permission by the border patrol were either old women dragging behind them seemingly empty grocery carriers, or young men with backpacks.

As we approached the border patrol ourselves, I took note of one last thing. I was definitely the only POC (person of color), there, and by POC, I mean black person. Given the circumstances of where we were, I braced myself for any possible reactions from those waiting to stamp my passport, as it was not uncommon for Sub-Saharan Africans to attempt to illegally pass the border with a fake passport, and considering my name and heritage I was prepared for anything. You would think that in the age we live in, I would be able to travel without doubt of where I was from and who I was, but we do not live in a post-racial society, and just because I was traveling with another Caucasian person, meant absolutely nothing.

I stepped up to the window and handed the border patrol my American passport. Before even looking at the passport, the guard gave me a funny look, one of curiosity. He opened my passport and once reading my name began to look between the small booklet and myself as if gearing up to interrogate me. He said something to his companion in Arabic, then began to ask me questions. “Where are you from?” he asked. I replied, “from the United States”. He then asked me, “no where are you really from?”. I looked him dead in the eye and said, “Excuse me sir, my passport says that I was born in Miami, Florida, I was born in the United States of America, I am American”. All qualms of being polite were gone at this point, I was livid, and people were beginning to stare. The guard continued to look at my suspiciously and speak to his colleague in Arabic, at this point I was about to lose my patience and had to actively stop myself from snapping at the guard, as not only was it humiliating to be stopped because my name was not your typical American name, but it was racist and unjust. Finally, after some moments of speculation, the guard stamped my passport and allowed me through.

Once we had passed the first set of border patrol guards, we had to walk through a security system much like that you would find in an airport. I wasn’t sure whether I would be interrogated again or left alone to pass. As we were passing through the security system, we were stopped by another guard. This one opened my passport looked at it, then looked at me, I prepared to be berated yet again with another set of questions about my identity and citizenship. However, this time the guard was interested in my hair. I had Senegalese twists in my hair which I’d paid to have done before I left Madrid. The guard asked me,”where did you do your hair?” I told him in Madrid in a Senegalese salon. I prepared to be questioned, but he simply said, “I like it, it’s beautiful.” and kept it moving. The incident left me angry and stunned to say the least, but I was not surprised. In the United States, this would have been considered racist and I probably could have reported him to his supervisor or such. But this was not the United States and me filing a complaint would only be laughed at, and dismissed. Considering that what Ceuta is known for, it would only be “reasonable” to question any person of color who tries to cross, as who known who I could have been.

The rest of our trip in Ceuta passed without incident. We noticed that Ceuta is much like a small Madrid which had been uprooted and planted on the coast of northern Africa. A totally different world from the Islamic, Arabic Tangier or Marrakech. Many of those who were walking the streets were obviously culturally Spanish. We noticed women dressed in Western fashion, from shorts to skirts to bikinis on the beach, a far cry from the conservative style of dress of many Moroccan women. Something that you would never see anywhere else in Morocco except maybe the other exclave of Melilla. The language spoken here was Spanish, I was finally once again able to use my language skills. We also noticed that Ceuta, much like the rest of Spain, had adopted the Spanish tradition of the siesta and not opening stores on a Sunday. As it was a Sunday, many stores were not open, and around 3:00pm the few stores that happened to be opened for the day closed down shop to enjoy lunch and lounge the afternoon away. We were able to find one Spanish clothing store which was open during the siesta time but other than that, nothing else.

As we left, I once again saw old women leaving with their grocery carriers, no longer empty but laden with goods. I asked Sadaf about this later on and she told me that apparently because Ceuta was a Spanish port, it was easy and cheaper to receive European goods through the city. Many Moroccan gangsters made their money by employing old women and young men to use their visas to go across to Ceuta and come back with Spanish goods ranging from alcohol to washing machines, as long as they could carry it, they were allowed to bring it across.

Ceuta was an interesting experience, although it was off to a rough start, it was a breathe of fresh air for me. I once again felt free and able to express myself, free from the leering eyes of Moroccan men and the cultural norms and regulations which surround women in so many Moroccan cities.

From the Perspective of a Nigerian Immigrant

I see them everywhere, although they are invisible to most. Dark skins, darker eyes, tired but determined. Trying to hustle for a couple of euros on the street corner, during the rush hour in the metro, in the parks. All they want is to find a way to earn a couple of coins to feed their children. To save and scrunge until they have enough to send home so that Mama and Papa can live comfortably. Nevermind the fact that they are living on one meal a day, struggle to buy themselves a loaf of bread worth 35 centavos to eat, and are living in the streets. They do what they can to take care of their own because to them success is everything and as the only ones in their families fortunate enough to have made it to “The land of promise”, they must do what they can.

The words of a Nigerian man who I came to know during my time here, “To us Nigerians, family is everything”. He told me of how he had been in Spain for 9 years and before that, he was living in Italy where he had secured papers. He luckyily, managed to secure papers here in Spain as well. During his first two years in Spain, to make ends meet, he stood on street corners and sold newspapers. His kind face and charismatic presence touched the heart of those who he greeted on the street, so much so that he managed to be given a few euros here and there, which he saved. He saved and saved until he managed to gain enough capital to open his own Internet café and Western Union center.

The dream of the Nigerian man is not to work under or for another person but to be his own boss and to have something of his own. I know this to be true as it was the dream of my own father, who aspired to open his own pharmacy and the dream of many other Nigerians I knew in the United States. This man was successul for a few years until the economic crisis hit. With the crisis and the  presence of mobile internet, he could not maintain his business any longer, as there was hardly any need for an Internet cafe and his computers were his main source of income. He was forced to shut his doors. He returned once again to the street corner, selling newspapers and depending on the kindness of others.

Talking to him I learned more of the plight of many immigrants, especially Nigerians. We, because I too am one, leave Nigeria with every intention of coming back once our goal has been fufilled. That goal in question, is to make it, by any means necessary. To secure ourselves and our families financially, and once we have fufilled this goal, we know that we will return back to Nigeria, for these Western nations hold nothing for us but grief and a lifetime of suffering. For Nigerians, Nigeria is the best place in the world, if you have money. Racism is not a thing, if you are not a political figure who do you have to fear, and once you build something with your own hands it is yours. The food is the best in the world for us, no preservatives, everything natural from the earth. Foreclosure does not exist, mortgages are a thing from a distant land. Once you have secured enough financial capital, you can live comfortably for the rest of your life. With this in mind, Nigerians come to Europe to make money, send it back to someone they trust until they can pull their own families out of the cycle of suffering and poverty that they were born into.

Usually it is the eldest who holds this burden, my mother did, my father did as well. Growing up all resources were poored into them with the knowledge that they had to succeed so that oneday they could take over for their parents and continue to support their younger ones. I too face this burden, as my mother tells me everyday, so much rides on me and my success so that my younger ones can have the same opportunity to go to college and be afforded the same opportunites that I did. We don´t come to suck up resources, we come to work just as hard if not harder than everyone else, so that we too can have something to call our own one day.