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

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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