Nigeria is a source, transit and destination of human trafficking, and especially when it comes to sexual exploitation of women and children. On a global level, Nigeria is the largest source of trafficked human beings, where most of them are trafficked to Asia and Europe for sexual exploitation.  The people who are trafficked are often low educated and low skilled.

There are numerous reasons why Nigerians ends up in human trafficking. The main factor is the socio-economic situation in Nigeria. The situation is for many Nigerians hopeless, children are often forced to work instead of going to school due to poverty, there is severe economic hardship, with few opportunities, and millions are unemployed, there is also bad economic policies, brain drain and bad foreign exchange.  This leads people to migrate to Europe for better opportunities, or families might force one of their children to migrate or into trafficking with the belief that it will benefit the family economically.  Other reasons include, ethno-religious violence, gender-based discrimination, and polygamy – where women often lose their inheritance, property and income and are subject to discrimination, isolation and stigma.

Many Nigerians migrate to look for better opportunities and a brighter future in Europe, but it comes with an enormous cost. The most common routes to take are through Libya and then go to Italy, and then from Morocco to go to Spain. Many Nigerians are often stranded in these two transit countries, and are facing abuse and violence, and many women and girls are forced into sex trafficking. Many people are also often lured into trafficking, by people who claim to help them over to Europe, but are betraying their trust and force them into trafficking.

Nigeria has migration laws and policies, but it is difficult to have control of the boarders and who is entering the country. This is due to the pattern of migration, the porous, and poorly managed borders in the desert, and the economic partnership agreement ECOWAS (Economic Community Of West African States) opens up for free labor movement between the member states in the west, hence transnational movement of trafficked human beings in and out of Nigeria is problematic.

There is also numerous of issues related to trafficked women who return to their home community. First of all, often due to the ignorance of the people in their home community – the victims often don’t speak about what they have been experiencing.  Secondly, the returnees often feel hopeless and shameful, and have lost their dignity and self-esteem, and there is a lot of stigma around the. Homelessness is also common. Many victims might develop anti-social behavior, drug abuse or go back into prostitution.

Due to the hopeless situation in Nigeria, the youths often have resentment towards the government, and no longer believe that hard work will pay off. The youths are desperate, and are often suffering from the “get rich quick syndrome” – which leads them into fraud and criminal activities.

Native, local, doctors in Nigeria are also luring women into prostitution and trafficking, where women are subject to voodoo, and have to take an oath of secrecy. This lead them to fear for themselves and their families well-being if they don’t keep their oath, and are also not likely to cooperate with the police in the destination country to get out of sex trafficking.

Practices to prevent human trafficking

Throughout the whole conference representatives from different organizations and countries have shared their practices when it comes to preventing human trafficking.

Prevention, awareness and protection in country of origin

Prevention in the country of origin is the key to end human trafficking. Educating youths and children form an early age about human trafficking cuts the rates of trafficked human beings within the community. People should be informed about all the risks and issues of trafficking and the possibility of legal migration, work abroad and their rights.  There are many ways different organizations work on preventing human trafficking;

Most of the prevention actions are targeting children and youths. Secondary school children are often targeted for human trafficking, as traffickers take advantage of their ignorance and naivety. Therefore one organization has created an “anti-trafficking handbook” for schools, to raise awareness from and early age as well as educate girls on the “red flags”. Other organizations are trying to prevent human trafficking by involving the schools and the school community to raise awareness, and talk about human trafficking and the issues surrounding the topic in each subject in the school, as well as creating a safe place for the children and youths where they have adults they can trust. Attitudes towards gender stereotypes also need to be challenged, and changed. The school should be a place where boys and girls are seen as equal. Another common action towards the prevention of human trafficking in the country of origin is prevention and awareness campaigns, where stories of victims are told and information given.

The involvement of community leaders is also important in the prevention of human trafficking. Community leaders have a lot of power and can reach out to the whole community – as prevention of human trafficking only can be tackled through collaboration and unity – the community leaders plays an important role. The local community itself also plays an important role when it comes to reintegration of trafficked human beings – they need to be accepting and understanding so the victims can recover.

Another organization has a different approach in preventing human trafficking. As one of the main reasons for human trafficking is the huge flow of migration from Nigeria due to the socio-economic situation of the country and the high number of unemployment, this organization is focusing on creating work opportunities for youths in the country of origin. In addition to work opportunities, they are offering skill training and courses.


Protection and support in the destination country

Trafficked human beings are often invisible, with no rights in the destination countries.  The challenges they are dealing with are both legal and social as well as challenges regarding health and safety.

When it comes to the legal challenges, human trafficking victims are struggling with migration policies, asylum applications and legal residence. Many victims are staying in the destination country illegally and are lacking proper identification documents, and without legal residence these victims have no rights – among other things they cannot get a job, they cannot get education, they cannot get medical attention and they cannot get proper protection. Many organizations are helping with these legal issues, for example by helping victims obtain their original identification from their home country so they can apply for asylum or having a medical clinic for migrants/victims where there is no need to have documentation or help out with lawyers in court in the prosecution of traffickers.

When it comes to the social challenges, victims of human trafficking are struggling with integration, language, work, food, housing, discrimination, and information. There are multiple organizations around Europe that helps the victims with these issues, some have centers where the victims can stay and eat as well as get training, counseling, psychological help and information about their rights and opportunities. Other organizations are offering language or training courses or helping with housing and work, and some organizations are offering different kinds of assistance and support. There are also a few organizations that help victims of human trafficking in returning to their home country.

One of the main issues when it comes to victims of human trafficking is their fear and lack of trust in the police and social services, and fears the repercussions on themselves or their family if they go to the police, as well as they often don’t see themselves as victims.  Due to this, many organizations are focusing on training specialists, social workers, police, and others who work with victims to deal with these issues.

There are also schools that acknowledge the different problems of human trafficking and trying to tackle it by raising awareness and informing the youths, in order to make them aware, active and engaged. In schools, many relationships are created and knowledge and ideas exchanged, and schools have many tools that should be utilized – demonstration is for example one useful tool to raise awareness and inform about sexual exploitation and modern slavery.

Furthermore, the collaboration of different organizations and networks that protect victims of human rights are of high importance and is making a big difference.


Research findings

The conference was based on a extensive project, where research in different countries was the main part. Researchers from the respective countries Italy, Austria, Germany, Malta and Spain presented the following findings:

The Arab spring, the economic crisis in Nigeria and Boko Haram, are all factors for an increased migrant flow from Nigeria and hence more human trafficking. Migrants meet people who say they will help them – but they are cheating and lying. Both men and women are being lured/forced into human trafficking in Libya – which is a transit country for Nigerians migrating to Europe. Criminal organizations will take advantage of any situation.

Before people organized fake documents and sent them with flights to Europe, but now people are not taking this route – instead people are smuggled without documents.  In Italy trafficked human beings can apply for asylum, but this can take up to 3 years, and in the meantime, without resident permit, the victims of human trafficking have few rights, and are often exploited. However, many of these people will eventually get national protection – but it’s difficult if they don’t have documentation.

There is not many Nigerian victims in the Austrian asylum system: 4% of 42,000 in 2016, where 2% were granted asylum. It is the police and the social sector that identify victims of human trafficking. However Nigerian victims do not often cooperate with the police and often don’t see themselves as victims. Therefore NGOs and the frontline identify many more victims than the police. Some trends found in the research were that women often are exploiters or traffickers, so called “madams”, and that women dominate the trafficking industry and that trafficked Nigerian minors are told to be of age.

Germany is a destination for human trafficking, and there are a huge number of non-identified trafficked human beings. Identification is important in order to start giving them a new life and protection.  Therefore they see that social training for identifying and dealing with human trafficking is needed, for police and other social/public institutions. The victims usually arrive from Italy or Spain, and it is usually social workers that identify victims.

Malta is a source, transit and destination for human trafficking, but there have been a positive development on this issue in the past years. In the legal framework, human trafficking is criminalized. And the legislation on gender-based violence and domestic violence aims to protect the victims. However, brothels in Malta are usually disguised as beauty or massage saloons, and previously such saloons needed a license to operate, but not anymore which makes it difficult to investigate.

Some of the trends that were found was that the majority victims of sexual exploitation in Malta are from Asia and Romania.  Recruitment into human trafficking happens in many forms: by madams, through the “boyfriend” method, by traffickers and by spiritual contracts/oaths/voodoo. The researcher have also encountered multiple issues, first of all, there is issues with data, its difficult to get sufficient data materials, secondly trafficked human beings disappear from the systems, there is a under-reporting of cases, there is no adequate knowledge about human trafficking and its lack of coordination among stakeholders.

The routes Nigerians take to get to Europe is usually through either Libya or Morocco. The trip to get to these countries often takes 1,5 years. Nigerians going to Spain are going through Morocco, and here they are often abused and subject to violence. This travel process is often traumatic. The trends of victims of human trafficking in Spain is that the victims are often young, and unaccompanied, they have low education and they are alone, pregnant or with child/children.

It is NGOs, doctors, social workers and police that detect trafficked human beings, and the identification of victims is done by the police together with the support from social mediators.  Police in cooperation with NGOs does the criminal investigation and the protection and integration of victims is done by NGOs and the state. However, it is difficult to identify and protect victims. This is because of different approaches in detecting and identifying victims, and the Spanish systems are weak – insufficient skills among workers, lack of general and specific knowledge and lack of facilities to address human trafficking.

The research also identified a repetitive spiral of trafficking, where the victim is rescued, but is lacking social and financial security, which leads to low self-esteem and can result in the victim is returning to prostitution, as it is a familiar environment.

Recommendations for fighting human trafficking in the future

Most of the organizations mentioned an extensive need for more collaboration, and broader networks of organizations – not collaboration only between organizations and specialists, but also with governments, municipalities, states and institutions, as well as collaboration across continents – organizations in Europe should work closely with local organizations and communities in Nigeria and other “source” countries.

There is also a need to develop better preventive and protective strategies aimed at youths, and teach them prevention skills early on.  There is a need for awareness campaigns and seminars to become more effective and widespread as well as developing a good anti-trafficking strategy.  Prevention campaigns targeting boys and men are also recommended in order to teach them that sexual exploitation is inhumane and to decrease the demand of sex trafficking.

Many organizations also called for the different governments to take more actions. They should condemn violence, adopt more strict laws, penalties and sanctions and ensure prober policies and legislations regarding human trafficking.

There was a common understanding among the partners of the conference that there is also a need for more professional training for frontline, specialists and NGOs, social workers, police and for anyone dealing directly with human trafficking. In addition, there is a great need for more personalized support and security for the victims.

Lastly, many of the organizations represented in the conference stated that there is a need for increased funding and support for organizations that work against human trafficking, especially specialized NGOs.  There is also a need to identify specific indicators aimed at detecting/identifying victims of human trafficking, as well as there is a need to carrying out more research.


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