Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Italian priests conduct exorcisms to break 'voodoo spells' put on Nigerian migrant girls by traffickers

Safe: Since arriving in Italy she is now in the care of charity Save The Children, and it is hoped she can go to school and get an education

A Catholic priest stands over the forlorn figure of a young Nigerian girl, murmuring prayers and sprinkling holy water as she sobs.
Favour*, a 19-year-old, is constantly scratching, her skin is red raw in places. She believes there is a nest of insects living inside her body- and that they will kill her.
The priest is attempting to break a powerful voodoo spell that binds her to her 'madam' in Trieste, near the border with Slovenia, for the next five to eight years.

Favour, one of thousands of Nigerian women trafficked to Europe to become sex slaves every year, has been told she owes her female pimp €80,000 for her journey. This will take around 4,000 clients each paying as little as €10 or €20 to pay off.
Although the chains tying her to her madam are only psychological, they are extremely powerful.
In their desperation to break the hold over the girls, many of which are sent on the migrant boats crossing the Mediterranean, the Italians have even resorted to get Catholic priests to perform exorcisms on them.

Tricked: Their new life in Europe means 10 to 12 hours a day of cars and customers, being forced to exhibit themselves in their underwear and stilettos on the side of the road. If they refuse they face a brutal punishment, with one girl being forced to drink hydrochloric acid

There are estimated to be 25,000 Nigerian girls working as prostitutes in Italy and the numbers arriving rose 300 per cent in 2014, experts say. 
Back in Nigeria a witchdoctor had performed a powerful voodoo spell to bring luck for the girl’s journey, she told Italian aid workers.
After leaving her village in the Edo State, with the promise of a job as a hairdresser in Italy, she was taken to a shrine in Benin City.
There, in a terrifying ritual she was made to undress – they cut her pubic hair and toenails and made her swear over the blood of a chicken that she would never betray her benefactor.
Like many others for whom the promised job as a hairdresser did not materialise. Favour believes nevertheless that she has to pay off the debt or face terrible repercussions.

Many of the girls have travelled with a lucky charm - a small package that has been prepared and serves as a concrete expression of the agreement.
As well as nail clippings and hair it may contain underwear with remains of menstrual blood. Other common objects are kola nuts,13 bent pieces of metal and soap to symbolise loyalty, the power of the Ogun deity (important for travel) and beauty.
According to urban legend among the women, girls who go back on their symbolic promise become mad, struck dumb or die, one, they say, was found in four pieces on the side of the road. 
One girl, Precious, told volunteers that she had a goose’s heart in her throat, which she thought would kill her.
As one former prostitute expresses it: ‘You are tied to them, you are tied to this oath, you are obliged to respect it. And there are those who, I don’t know how to explain it, those who command you because this oath exists. They must command you, control you, and you are obliged to respect it.’

Exploited: Thousands of women are being trafficked to Europe to become sex slaves, many with the help of African voodoo witchdoctors

Italian aid workers have found it is useless to tell girls like Favour that the magic, known in Nigeria as jiu-jiu, has no power.
As Francesca de Masi, a sociologist with the Be Free organisation that works with the trafficked women, explains: ‘Telling them that voodoo isn’t real is presumptuous... it doesn’t take into consideration the context they come from. 

'And it’s counterproductive. It makes them close up and become incommunicative. Whether they believe or not, there are so many reasons to be afraid. The risk that something terrible happens to their family is real.’
Counter-magic in the form of a reverse voodoo with Catholic priests performing a kind of exorcism is more convincing, according to Rosanna Paradiso, founder of the Tampep association in Turin that helps girls free themselves and return home.
‘It’s difficult because the jiujiu has such a strong grip. And the women have been told not to trust police or anyone in Europe. But we have called priests to do counter jiujiu. Occasionally it has been proven to work. I saw one girl who had taken to her bed months before, waiting to die, just got out of bed. She was cured.’
For the other estimated 25,000 Nigerian prostitutes working in Italy the complex combination of blackmail gifts, favours and threats overwhelms the desire to escape their captors. Around 40 per cent of all prostitutes in Italy are Nigerian.
Desperate: The number of women being trafficked to Europe for sex work has soared, as the ongoing chaos in Libya allows people smuggling gangs to bring migrants by boats from Africa. An estimated 25,000 Nigerian girls work as prostitutes in Italy

The figure has soared as the ongoing chaos in Libya allows trafficking gangs bringing migrants by boats from Africa free reign. 
In 2014 the International Organisation for Migration reported the number of Nigerian girls arriving in Italy had increased by 300 per cent.
Some are pitifully young. Lisa, 17, was rescued by the British warship HMS Bulwark last month. 
She was one of several lone Nigerian girls who had not paid money for their journey to Italy and did not know they were in Italy, suggesting they were trafficked.
She said she left after her father got sick and died. ‘I couldn't go to school because I didn't have the money. Somebody that lived nearby said she knew a way for me to go to school. 
'This is the only thing I want. So I went with her and I got on a bus to Libya. When I arrived I was locked in a house with four other people. One day there was a raid by the police and everyone ran out. 
'It was the middle of the night and I found myself being put onto the boat. I didn't pay any money to get the boat. It was a rubber boat and there was nobody driving it. We drifted for two days with no food or water, then we were rescued.’
Now in the care of Save the Children, it is hoped that she can got to school and avoid the miserable fate of many of her compatriots.

In Turin, which has Italy’s biggest Nigerian population, Paradiso says many women are forced to streetwalk from 10pm to 5am before returning to their homes where they pay rent of €300 a month to live in terrible conditions.
She has seen many cases of girls beaten, tortured with cigarettes or hot irons. Other have told how they forced to drink the water in which the other girls have washed their vaginas as a form of humiliation.
The traffickers first target the girls back in Nigeria, identifying those families where there is not enough to go around, offering them opportunities as a hairdressers or waitresses. Sometimes, the madams themselves fly over to ‘talent scout’ the prettiest.
The International Organisation for Migration say to an increasing extent, the woman or her family must also commit themselves through a written contract using the family home as security for the debt.
If they survive the harrowing journey to Libya through the desert the women are usually sent to a brothel where the realisation that they are not going to Europe to live a more comfortable life first dawns on them.
One told aid workers: ‘I was there (Libya) for four months having to go to bed with an average of five men a day... The tariffs were fixed - one and a half dinar for with condom, two for without. We could not refuse to have unprotected sex. If we did we would be kicked or violently with chains and other objects. 

Trapped: After a boat journey to Italy the women are 'easy prey', because they don't know anyone and they are not able to work legally

'Violence was the norm. Even though I had now understood their terrible intentions it would have been impossible to go back.’ The only possibility was to go on, she said.
Another girl told how she resorted to using wool from inside her mattresses in a bid not to become pregnant.
She said: ‘The madam would open the door, the client would chose a girl to have sex with and she would lock the door with a key. Whoever was not chosen would stay in the room anyway. I was in a room with just one other girl. 
'Even though I was using the wool from the mattress as a contraceptive, putting it inside me, I got pregnant’. She was then given ‘medicine’ to cause an abortion, she said.
After a boat journey to Italy the women are easy prey, Paradiso explains. 'They know no one and the asylum system means that they cannot work legally - it creates the means for exploitation'.
Trapped: After a boat journey to Italy the women are 'easy prey', because they know no one and they are not able to work legally

Their new life in Europe means 10-12 hours a day of cars and customers, being forced to exhibit themselves in their underwear and stilettos on the side of the road.
Those that refuse are punished brutally. One girl called Tessie was left deformed after being forced to drink hydrochloric acid, according to reports.
Rape and robbery are seen as an occupational hazard. Although some charities are working with girls to help them return home many feel it is impossible.
As one girl Isoke explained to Be Free, girls that return from Italy are stigmatised. ‘The woman must have money or be rejected by everyone because they all now that she is a prostitute -even if they pretend they don’t’, she said.
While some are marginalised and forced to submit to purification rituals, there are further dangers.
‘Many girls are not only rejected by their families but they also disappear. Some say they are killed. Others say they are threatened and forced to return to Europe.’
*Names have been changed 


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