Nigeria’s agency for combating human trafficking is repatriating and re-settling women who have been subjected to forced labor and prostitution after being smuggled into Europe on false promises of working at well-paying jobs. Thousands of Nigerian women have been trafficked in recent years, though some were lucky enough to be able to return to their country.
For 35-year-old Beatrice, it was an offer she couldn’t resist. A job, the traffickers told her in 2013, on a large Italian farm.
She took the bait, thinking she could help pull her father and mother out of poverty by working abroad.
Instead, after being smuggled into Italy under extremely dire traveling conditions, she was forced into prostitution to earn money for her traffickers.
“A friend of mine introduced me, he said, ‘look at this place, you’re going to work there on the farm.’ He did not tell me I’m going to do prostitution, so I said it’s very nice let me try. At the end of the day we passed through Libya, took a ship, a lot of people died,” Beatrice said.
Beatrice was there for four years. She’s from Nigeria’s southern State of Edo, known to contribute the highest number of trafficked women from Nigeria.
More than 11,000 of them are estimated to be working as sex slaves in Italy alone.
Beatrice says her suffering was unbearable.
“If you don’t come back with money, they’ll beat you up, do different things. They give you fresh pepper, you know how it is if it got to your eyes. They’ll tell you to put it in your vagina. Even if you’re menstruating you’ll still go out to work,” Beatrice said.
The United Nations says women represent more than half of the thousands smuggled from Africa into Europe every year.
But Nigerian men also are victims of human trafficking and forced labor.
Forty-five-year-old Chukwuemeka Asiegbu spent six years in Libya and narrowly escaped alive. Upon his return to Nigeria, he started an advocacy group for the rights of trafficked victims.
“As a human trafficker you are meeting needs … your own needs. Is it detrimental to others? And actually we find out that human trafficking is quite detrimental, it’s an epidemic, it’s a disaster because you are meeting needs at the expense of the lives of others,” Asiegbu said.
Nigeria’s anti-human trafficking agency, NAPTIP was set up in 2003 to address the problem.
Over the years, it has made some progress repatriating and resettling victims back home, says Arinze Orakwe, a director at NAPTIP.
“It’s a crime that brought so much shame to Nigeria. It’s a crime that we’re not proud of, the record and status … which government felt it’s important and critical that we have to do something about it,” Orakwe said.
With the help of NAPTIP, victims like Beatrice are starting again after being trained in various vocations. Beatrice now runs her own food cafe back home.