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 http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/12/spain-grapples-with-human-trafficking-201312258242633394.html

Carling, J., (2005, July 1). Trafficking in Women from Nigeria to Europe. Retrieved http://migrationpolicy.org/article/trafficking-women-nigeria-europe

Eurostat (2015, May 21). Asylum statistics. http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/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 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pecking%20order

Words of Wisdom from the Nigerian Embassy  

As I sat in the lobby of the Nigerian embassy, I received some words of wisdom from Nnamdi Nze, the Senior Counsellor to the Nigerian Embassy of Spain. I’d walked into the embassy with the intention of obtaining the contact information for various Nigerian cultural organizations in Spain. I went to the front desk and saw a woman, without thinking, I opened my mouth and went on a tangent of what I was looking for.  Stupid me, was so nervous, I didn’t even think to introduce myself, forgetting something my mother always taught me to do, the first thing you need to do is introduce yourself. The woman at the desk gave me a blank stare, which shut me up really quick. “Who are you and who do you represent?” I told her and she said, “Why do you want these things?” I went into further detail, because of course you can’t just waltz up into a foreign embassy and start demanding contact information for people, that’s not how things work, no matter where you are from.

She pointed a long fingernail at the lobby to a group of men and told me “see that man in the glasses; ask him if he can help you”. I went over to the group and sat down until I could be seen. After sitting down, I began to introduce myself and was almost immediately stopped, apparently I was not speaking clearly enough, although I thought I thought otherwise. “You talk like an American” “Where are you from?” I told him and mentioned my parent’s Nigerian origins as well. He asked me if I spoke Igbo, and I replied “no, I understand some though”. He exclaimed in dismay and began to speak about how we are losing our children to Western countries. As he talked, he began to speak on the importance of knowing where one is from and embracing ones heritage. You see, as Nigerians, second generation Nigerians, living in Western countries, especially America, we have something that a lot of Americans don’t have, knowledge of where we come from. My parents know exactly where in Nigeria their parents were born, and have a home to go back to. A place where the color of their skin will never determine their social class, or bearing in society. A place where they are free to roam without a target placed on the back of their head because of a part of their identity that is unchangeable.  If my parents up and decide one day that America is not for them they can go back to Nigeria without a problem. Or if one day(hypothetically) America decides to expel people of African descent, or all who cannot trace their American ancestry to 200 years ago, my parents wouldn´t even bat an eyelash as they have homes in Nigeria to return to.

When he asked me why most people decide to stay in America, I pondered and replied, “because of the level of comfort they find”. He said to me “No, because comfort has to do with happiness and many of those who have emigrated to the United States or Europe, are not happy at all, often times, they are depressed.” He began to explain to me that just because you have light that is uninterrupted, running water and security, does not necessarily mean you are comfortable or happy. You find more comfort and happiness in having a home base and a family to go home to and knowing where you are from. He stressed to me the importance of remembering where you come from and knowing that no matter what you will always be welcome with open arms. He told me that he hopes that one day I go back to Nigeria, as I have not been back since I was 8 years of age. I hope it will be sooner rather than later.

He then proceeded to take out his phone and make calls to presidents of Nigerian organizations in Spain on my behalf and ask them to put out a call for help for me. He really reminded me once again one thing I love about Nigerians. Nigerians are loyal to their people, there is no me, and there is always we. That Nigerians will go above and beyond for their own people, they will make sure that you have whatever you need. They only ask that you remember others on your own way. We Nigerians are a generous and loving people and always think about our brother and sister, even if they are not blood. He talked to me that day as if I was his daughter and he was giving me advice to last me a lifetime. Because that is exactly what I am, I am a daughter of Nigeria, however removed, and everyone is a father, mother, uncle or aunty to me, because we are all family, we are one.

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.