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‘They Slept With Us, Mistreated Us, Beat Us, And Shot People’, Recalls Nigerian Trafficking Survivor in a Chilling Account

The Nigerian survivor reveals chilling details in her account, saying 'too many' young migrant women and boys were shot because they resisted sexual advances of Libyan captors.

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An increasing population of Nigerians are illegally smuggled for prostitution.
'Beauty' (pseudonym), a Nigerian ex-prostitute at a social support centre for trafficked girls near Catania in Italy, Sept. 14, 2016. VOA

Martinsicuro, Abruzzo, Italy, August 9, 2017: The thick-set 23-year-old Nigerian woman exudes strength, keen to overcome what she suffered in Libya and Italy before she escaped from the shadows in Rome and jumped on a train heading for Ancona on Italy’s Adriatic coast.

Not that she knew the train’s destination before boarding — she just wanted to flee her tormentors, run from beatings and sexual abuse. But it will take longer than a three-and-half-hour railway trip to forget the torments of the past.

Anna (the name she chose to protect her identity for security reasons) is one of more than 16,000 young Nigerian women — including many underage girls — who’ve been trafficked into Italy by Nigerian crime syndicates over the past two years, joining thousands of Nigerians who now make up nearly half of the street prostitutes working in Italy.

Prostitution

Many outreach workers suspect that most of the Nigerian girls, especially the more recent arrivals — although not all — knew before leaving Nigeria that their traffickers would put them to work as prostitutes. Many may have been sex workers before in Nigeria, something charity workers say shouldn’t matter when it comes to helping the women, arguing they are all abused and in need of compassion and help.

Sex trafficking cases are on a rise in Italy.
A Nigerian woman involved in street prostitution waiting at the main street in Castel Volturno. VOA

 

Either way, the trafficked women, they say, didn’t know how grueling their work would be in Italy, how appalling their living conditions, how poorly paid they would be and how long it would take them to pay off debts to traffickers, who charge the women upwards of $41,000 (35,000 euros) for the journey.

But staff at On the Road, an Italian charity that helps women break from sex work, say they don’t believe Anna was one of those who knew what she would be doing in Italy. They say she was duped.

Eight months after her escape from her “madame” Anna described her journey north from Nigeria’s Benin City through Niger and Libya. She is now living with nearly a dozen trafficked Nigerian girls in a shelter, going to school and learning Italian.

Libyan ordeal

Anna said she was raped repeatedly for almost two months just outside the Libyan town of Bani Walid. There she witnessed young migrant women and boys shot because they resisted the sexual demands of their Libyan captors.

She said she couldn’t give a precise number of those murdered but added, sadly, “Too many, too many.”

She made the journey to Italy because her uncle told her to go. After her parents died when she was 14-years-old, she and her three siblings — a brother and two sisters — lived with their uncle.

“He was not really taking care of us in the way he should. He is a drunkard and had no job. So we could barely afford a square meal a day. He always say we should leave his house,” she explained.

She did go to high school and was learning how to sew before she set off for Italy.

“One day my uncle came and said there was a woman who had a business here in Italy that needed someone to work with her. So he said I would go with the woman and work with her in Italy. So I had no choice.”

She never met the mysterious business woman, who she was told owned a supermarket, but did meet a woman who claimed to be the woman’s sister, who told Anna she would owe more than $47,000 (40,000 euros) for the journey and would have to pay it off.

Juju oath for debt repayment

Like thousands of other Nigerian women trafficked to Italy via Libya by Nigerian crime syndicates, she was taken to a voodoo priest to swear a juju oath to repay the debt.

After what she said was a rough journey through Niger, she and a group of Nigerian migrants arrived in Libya’s southern desert town of Sabha, spent a few weeks there before going to Bani Walid.

“When we got there, they put us in a compound guarded by many armed Arabs with many kinds of guns.” She recalled the scene with a shiver. “We don’t have anything to eat. You couldn’t escape. The place was secure.”

According to Anna, the compound was full of women, at least two hundred.

“They said we are going to Tripoli and they took us to a place that wasn’t far from the place where we were before and so I said to myself, ‘Tripoli is close to Bani Walid.’”

In fact, it wasn’t Tripoli and was only 10 minutes outside Bani Walid. They arrived at night and she was kept indoors for almost two harrowing, terrifying months.

“They slept with us, mistreated us, beat us, and shot people,” she said. “They killed many people — girls and boys, who refused to sleep with them. The people who refused to do what they asked, they killed them and threw them out of the place.”

Asked if she was raped, she responded: “I slept with several men, several times.”

A Nigerian Sex trafficking survivor shares chilling details of the trade.
A Nigerian sex worker mid conversation with a possible client on Via Bonifica, in Marche province of Italy. Authorities say one in every two sex workers on the roads of Italy are Nigerian. VOA

A smuggling chain

Let week, Amnesty International warned that “facilitating the interception and return of refugees and migrants to Libya results in their arbitrary detention in centers where they are at almost certain risk of being tortured, raped and even killed.”

Last year, Human Rights Watch interviewed 47 newly arrived migrants in Sicily who described severe abuses in Libya by government officials, smugglers and members of militias and criminal gangs.

With more women arriving, Anna’s captors moved her and her group along the smuggling chain. The smugglers’ inflatable boat, which Africans nickname balloon boats, capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. Several migrants drowned before an Italian coast guard rescued the survivors, including Anna.

In Italy, she was moved from a reception center in Calabria to another in Torino, where she contacted the business woman’s sister In Nigeria and was told a man would come and collect her.

The man, a Nigerian, took her to a house in Rome, where a woman beat her when she refused to prostitute herself. She was warned of the voodoo consequences of breaking her oath to repay the debt. “Juju works,” she said. “It is our tradition.”

For a month she did as she was told, sleeping with men in a house overseen by an older Nigerian woman, who would receive the money from Anna’s clients. But even juju couldn’t keep her doing the work. At Ancona railway station, an Italian man spotted her, and drove her to the Catholic charity Caritas, which passed her to On the Road.

“What has happened, has happened,” she said. Now she wants to get on with her life. She said the traffickers are “giving my family problems, my siblings” and are threatening them.

“I can’t go back to Nigeria,” she said. “I hope I have a good life in my future.” (VOA)

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Myanmar Woman May Khine Oo Shares Her Story of Human Trafficking to Prevent other Women from falling into the same trap

The United Nations has described Myanmar as a source country for human trafficking

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Human trafficking in Myanmar
May Khine Oo, 30, stands in front of her family's grocery store in Mon state, Myanmar, July 20, 2017. VOA
  • May Khine Oo was trafficked to China, where she was forced to get married twice
  • She wishes to share her story of human trafficking in a hope to protect other women
  • The International Rescue Committee charity gives her a small daily stipend for living expenses, and a village clinic is providing free checkups for her pregnancy.

Myanmar, August 24, 2017: The nightmare for May Khine Oo started on a trip home to Myanmar but lasted almost 13 years.

After visiting her grandmother in southern Mon state in the country’s southeast, May Khine Oo, 17 at the time, boarded a train for the state capital, Mawlamyine, to return to her parents in Mudon township.

On the train she met a couple who offered her a job, which she refused. She did, however, accept their offer of water, and next thing she knew she had fallen asleep and missed her stop, with no money to get back.

The couple suggested they could find her work to raise the funds needed to pay for a new ticket.

“I decided to accept their job for travel expenses to return home,” May Khine Oo told Myanmar Now, an independent website supported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that she now thinks the water had been drugged.

The couple took her to a local restaurant where she worked for three months, but instead of taking her back to her parents as promised, they then took her to a broker and she was sent to China.

May Khine Oo said over the next 13 years she was forced to marry twice. She had two children with her first husband and was pregnant from her second marriage when she fled after contacting a student group through the Chinese messaging service WeChat.

“I tried to flee many times, for many years,” she said. “But the foreignness of the communities made it difficult to do so and I was also afraid that my situation would get much worse elsewhere.”

While May Khine Oo’s ordeal is not uncommon, what is unusual is her determination to go public with her story to stop other young girls from falling into the same trap.

Forced to marry

The United Nations has described Myanmar as a source country for human trafficking. Police statistics show that 3,489 victims were rescued from 2006 to 2016, most of whom had been trafficked into marriages.

Also read: Pope Francis: Human trafficking is a Modern Form of Slavery and a True Crime Against Humanity

Prostitution accounted for the second-highest number of cases, followed by forced labor.

Police records show the top destination for trafficking victims from Myanmar is China, although the trade also exists in other countries in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand and Malaysia, and within Myanmar itself.

Myanmar was upgraded in June in the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report to its Tier 2 watch list, which indicated that the country was making significant efforts to comply with U.S. standards to combat human trafficking.

Human rights groups, however, called the move premature, saying not enough was being done to stop this illegal trade.

Human trafficking story of Myanmar woman
May Khine Oo, 30, is pictured in front of her family’s grocery store in Mon state, Myanmar, July 20, 2017. VOA

“Preventive measures against trafficking in persons must be carried out systematically,” he said. “This crime is also happening in this country. But only serious cases are known to the public.”

Myanmar’s government passed a landmark Anti-Trafficking Law in 2005, which laid out hefty sentences for offenders. Cases that proceed to court are rare but have happened.

Myo Aung, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population, said one challenge is providing a strong alternative to the lucrative offers made by brokers.

“Potential victims do not heed education programs about trafficking,” he said. “Instead, they believe the enticements of illegal traffickers. As a result they cannot find help after becoming victims.”

Cautionary tale

On the local level, the fight is often about raising awareness.

Police Major Khin Maung Latt of Yangon’s Pazundaung township recommends a more aggressive approach to the information battle.

He said his officers cooperate with nongovernmental organizations to disseminate pamphlets, using a “door-to-door system.”

“It is more effective than formal educative talks,” he said, adding that residents should inform police if they are approached by brokers. “It is a preventive measure against liars. Prevention is better than the cure.”

Also read: Nepali Woman scales Mt Everest with the message to fight against human trafficking

After her case was reported, May Khine Oo was found by Chinese authorities and handed over to the Myanmar Police Force’s Anti-Trafficking unit in Ruili in China’s Yunnan province.

She moved back to her parents in Mudon, leaving her two children in China, and started to rebuild her life, receiving a grant from the Social Welfare Department to set up a grocery store.

The International Rescue Committee charity gives her a small daily stipend for living expenses, and a village clinic is providing free checkups for her pregnancy.

She has also filed a complaint with the police in the hope that they can find the couple who duped her on the train, and is spreading her own story locally as a cautionary tale.

“I would like to suggest to all parents not to allow their children to travel without close adult family members,” she said. “Using my experience as an example, I tell the girls not to blindly trust others.” (VOA)

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Rebecca Portnoff: A Doctoral Candidate from US Fights Human Trafficking Using Algorithms

Rebecca Portnoff has developed two algorithms aimed to fight human trafficking

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Ethnic Uighur Muslim boy stands inside a police van in Khlong Hoi Khong of southern Songkhla province, Thailand. He was in a group of 200 people rescued from a human trafficking camp
Ethnic Uighur Muslim boy stands inside a police van in Khlong Hoi Khong of southern Songkhla province, Thailand. He was in a group of 200 people rescued from a human trafficking camp. VOA
  • The new research uses an algorithm that analyzes writing styles to identify authors and could be applied to online trafficking ads
  • A second algorithm can use time stamps to trace ad payments to accounts known as wallets at Bitcoin

A U.S. researcher Rebecca Portnoff says that she has developed automated ways to identify links between online sex trafficking ads and the digital currency Bitcoin, techniques that may help locate children being sold for sex.

Law enforcement and anti-trafficking groups could use the methods to investigate Backpage.com, an online classified advertising site where sex ads can be found, according to a statement by the University of California Berkeley, where the research was based.

About 1.5 million people in the United States are victims of human trafficking, mostly for sexual exploitation, according to anti-trafficking groups.

Most sex trafficking victims are children, and most are advertised or sold online, according to a U.S. Senate subcommittee report released this year.

Algorithms do the digging

The new research uses an algorithm that analyzes writing styles to identify authors and could be applied to online trafficking ads, Rebecca Portnoff, its lead author, said Thursday.

A second algorithm can use time stamps to trace ad payments to accounts, known as wallets, at Bitcoin, a web-based digital currency that allows money to move quickly and anonymously.

Comparing time stamps of ad purchases on Bitcoin and time stamps and information on Backpage ads could help identify who is paying for them, said Rebecca Portnoff, a UC Berkeley doctoral candidate in computer science who developed the techniques as part of her dissertation.

“Where previously you might have five different phone numbers that you had no idea were connected when you can see that they all came from the same wallets, that the same person paid for them, that’s a concrete sign that these five phone numbers are all related to each other,” Rebecca Portnoff said.

Rebecca Portnoff added, “I knew this was an issue that law enforcement was especially interested in.”

ALSO READ: Human Trafficking is one of the most derogatory Criminal Activities, should be Nipped in the Bud

Boost for law enforcement

Having automated style and time stamp analyses to identify sex ads by authors and Bitcoin owners is significant, said Damon McCoy, a New York University Tandon School of Engineering assistant professor of computer science and engineering and a co-author of the research.

“Any technique that can surface commonalities between ads and potentially shed light on the owners is a big boost for those working to curb exploitation,” McCoy said in a statement.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has said more than 70 percent of the reports it gets of trafficked children involve Backpage, based in Dallas, Texas.

Backpage did not respond to a request for comment.

The findings will be published by the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining, UC Berkeley said.

It said the work was funded by the Amazon Web Services Cloud Credits for Research Program, the technology, and security firm Giant Oak, Google, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. (VOA)

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Marriage Proposals from China turn into Street Prostitution Nightmares for Lao High School Girls

Chinese involvement in sex trafficking is a new wrinkle for Laos, as Thailand has been the most common destination for young women or girls forced into prostitution

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Map of Laos RFA

China, May 29, 2017: Lao high school girls are being lured into China with promises of rich husbands only to find they have been sold to a brothel or forced into street prostitution, RFA’s Lao Service has learned.

Chinese involvement in sex trafficking is a new wrinkle for Laos, as Thailand has been the most common destination for young women or girls forced into prostitution.

“This is a new trend,” said an official with an anti-trafficking nongovernmental organization (NGO), who requested anonymity because members of the group are not allowed to talk to the media.

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“Girls are lured to China to get married,” the official said.  “It’s a form of human trafficking.”

The victims are not just confined to northern Laos, where the land-locked nation borders China.

“They come from all over the country, the South, the center and Vientiane,” the official said. “The government is now very worried about this.”

Chinese men typically come to villages looking for poor high school girls who think that all Chinese are rich. They believe they are going to China or another part of Laos where they will get married, but more often than not they are forced into prostitution.

“These are grade 11-12 students whose families are poor,” a Xieng Ngeun resident told RFA. “They drop out of school to get married to Chinese men.”

In Xayaburi province’s Pak Lai district, one girl sent a message to her parents two months ago saying she was forced to provide sex service at a brothel. When she resisted, she was detained and physically attacked, a Pak Lai resident told RFA.

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The Lao people who spoke to RFA did so on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation in a country where media is tightly controlled.

The Pak Lai district girl, who had finished high school, met a Chinese man who had come to her village, the resident said. The man told her he loved her and then made arrangements with a middle man, the resident added.

‘He sold her to a brothel’

Not long after they were engaged, the man took her to China where she disappeared, except for an occasional online message.

“She was detained for three or four days. Her husband was not truthful,” the Pak Lai resident told RFA. “He sold her to a brothel.”

It’s a story that’s repeated again and again inside Laos, but it is next to impossible to determine with any accuracy how many times it happens.

“It’s unknown,” the NGO official said. “We don’t have any information about the number because there has been no survey on this.”

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While human trafficking, particularly for sex, is an illegal activity, making it difficult to track, the uptick in sex trafficking to China has been recognized by the U.S. State Department.

“A small, possibly increasing, number of women and girls from Laos are sold as brides in China and subjected to sex trafficking,” the State Department said in its 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report.

The State Department kept Laos on its Tier 2 Watch List, but the country barely escaped being named a Tier 3 country—the department’s lowest ranking.

“The government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Laos is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a third consecutive year,” the report said.

“Per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, Laos was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards,” the State Department wrote.

Laos’ efforts to combat sex trafficking have not translated into a way out for impoverished Lao teenage girls.

Never brides, but unwed mothers

“Many people in the villages believe Chinese men are rich,” one villager told RFA.

In her village at least eight girls have gone to China. One girl who left for China three months ago has never contacted her worried parents.

“Many, many Chinese men come to our village looking for brides,” the villager said. “Some of the girls come back to the village, and a few of them come with one or two babies, but without their Chinese husbands.”

Laos and China signed an anti-human trafficking cooperation memorandum of understanding in 2014, and the countries have drafted an action plan to combat human trafficking, but local officials have done little to help and may in fact be part of the problem.

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“In the past police officers would come to our village ask us if our daughters have been lured to China, but now there is no police presence,” the villager told RFA.

According to the State Department’s report, government officials sometimes stand in the way.

“Civil society organizations with trafficking expertise report a lack of transparency from the government. At times, authorities may have impeded the work of NGOs by requiring prior government approval of all anti-trafficking activities,” the State Department found.

“Some local officials may contribute to trafficking by accepting payments to facilitate the immigration or transportation of girls to Thailand,” it added.

While the State Department singled out Thailand, it is likely that local Lao officials are also doing the same with regard to China.

Bribes, kickbacks, document forgery, and fraud have become a part of life in Laos, which Transparency International ranks as the 139th most corrupt out of 168 nations.

Although the girls who left Laos were looking for love, or at least a husband, the girls who have returned to their country say have had enough of China.

“These girls say they don’t want to go back to China,” said the villager.(RFA)