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#################### Geoff Seidner
Wednesday, 19 October 2016
page 8 ...THE AUSTRALIAN....OCT 17, 2016 EX THE TIMES Europe migrant crisis: we are delivering refugee women to pimps
“O hear us when we cry to thee, For those in peril on the sea.” I was reminded of the words of the naval hymn while reading last week about the heroic work of Cristina Cattaneo, an Italian pathologist who has been conducting post-mortems on the 900 or so migrants who drowned last year in the Mediterranean after colliding with a rescue boat.
It is her job to identify their remains as best she can using DNA testing or, where possible, by superimposing their skulls on smiling Facebook pictures showing the deceased full of hope. She and her colleagues still have 160 body bags to open, most of them of young men. It is a horrifying task.
This tragedy, the worst migrant shipwreck in history, took place early in the last year when the boats crossing the Med were heaving with men. Rescue workers found bodies packed five to a metre with a dozen more stuffed below in the bilge, much as human cargo was packed on to ships during the 18th-century transatlantic slave trade.
Today we’re seeing thousands of women joining the migrant trail. While the boats are still crammed with men, more and more young women are on board, huddled and segregated to one side. At first I didn’t know what to make of these images. Now I do. What we’re witnessing is the rise of a vast new slave trade in women.
In most cases the sole purpose of the women’s journey is to work as prostitutes in Europe. These women, mostly from Nigeria, are not only servicing local customers in Europe, but more particularly the vast numbers of lone men who have been arriving by the boatload ahead of them. As ever, poverty is the push factor; the pull factor is the sex trade, which is growing exponentially to cater for the demands of so many men.
The risks these women are taking are immense. Earlier this month a Medicins Sans Frontieres boat called Dignity 1, acting in concert with the Irish navy, rescued 70 young women, many of them Nigerian, from a sea blazing with burning fuel. Others, with names such as Fate and Joy, didn’t make it.
It wasn’t the “angry tumult” of the sea, as the hymn puts it, which was responsible for their deaths. The rubber dinghy carrying them had been deliberately slashed by the people traffickers.
Those on board had been told the rescue ships were all part and parcel of the “smuggling service” — and that’s true. We are absolutely integral to a vast trade in misery that extends from the heart of Africa into Europe.
The sea voyage is only one part of the women’s ordeal, which often begins with rapes and beatings to soften them up for the life ahead.
The journey to the coast can itself take up to two years as they are terrorised in transit camps across the Sahara. This more than anything explains why there are so many pregnant women and babies on the boats — and why those who are rescued often bear scars on their arms and legs.
As soon as the women land in Europe they disappear from the refugee camps and begin plying their trade. Because their customers are so poor, their earnings are pitiful, even by the standards of the sex industry. Yet they are expected to pay back not only the $1100 or so for the dangerous boat ride but also the “cost” of the entire journey from home, often put at $50,000 or more. They can never escape the traffickers.
Blessing Ighodaro, revealed how she was told by her handlers on arrival in Italy that “I should put on some sexy clothes. I go out there, look for money. You know you have to ... The first day, I have €120 ($174). Is that how I am going to pay €35,000?”
It is all an unrelenting, non-stop horror show. Yet with every sea rescue we are colluding in this evil trade. The International Organisation for Migration estimates that 80 per cent of Nigerian women crossing the Med are being coerced into prostitution.
They’re not coming from their war-torn northeast, where Boko Haram inspires terror, but from the southern state of Edo and its capital, Benin City, where sex trafficking is a way of life.
Last week Kevin Hyland, the anti-slavery commissioner appointed by British Prime Minister Theresa May, released his first annual report. In it he cites a Nigerian study that reveals 98 per cent of victims rescued from sex trafficking are from this benighted corner of the country. Last year, according to his report, 5633 Nigerian women and girls arrived by sea — a fourfold increase on the previous year. The numbers have risen further this year.
Some women think they will be working in Europe as hairdressers, nannies or cleaners, but most of them know what the job involves — they just hope they will be able to break free eventually and earn a little money for their families.
The really difficult question is whether we, together with other European navies, should prevent the boats from leaving northern Africa. Reluctantly, I’m coming around to this view. We mustn’t stop rescuing those in danger of drowning but we are not obliged to be the servants of pimps and sex traders.
If the boats are prevented from arriving, there is no incentive to set off on the terrible journey. It’s tough love — but let’s not fool ourselves that we are “saving” women by lifting them out of the water.