Nigerian women are being trafficked to Italy hoping for a better life – but often end up working the streets as prostitutes.
Their plight has been highlighted by Paris-based photographer Elena Perlino, originally from Italy, who began to notice the presence of young African women working on the streets during her commutes from Turin.
She said: ‘I decided to start from this surreal vision to tell a story. I have been working on the topic for several years, focusing mainly on the Italian connection.’
Traffickers demand on average more than 50,000 euros (US $60,000) for travel expenses and accommodation, with the women having to work as prostitutes until their debts are paid off. As Claudio Magnabosco, former official of the European Parliament, explained: ‘The women are still coming: they are younger than ever and arrive here with massive debts to pay off.
‘They are forced into prostitution and are now increasingly reinventing themselves as madams or working for the traffickers, also trafficking men, children for adoptions and organs and drug dealing. ‘These are the activities of the powerful Nigerian mafia, which is also involved in arms dealing. What has changed is that the madams are now less violent towards the girls, having understood that if they mistreat them the girls run away: the girls forced into the sex industry now get to keep a little of the money they earn and this makes their lives a little bit more tolerable. ‘As they cannot find a real way out, they get used to life as prostitutes and prostitution becomes their only source of income.’
Eighty per cent of women trafficked to Italy come from Benin City, Edo State, in south Nigeria.
The photographer explained: ‘My work attempts to show a complex phenomenon that crosses Italy from North to South.
‘This involves many cities including Turin, Milan, Genoa, Rome, Naples and Palermo and thousands of Nigerian and Italian people.’
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime declared Nigeria among the top eight countries with the highest human trafficking rates in the world. See more photos below…