#BLM Free Black People in Libya

Inside the Modern Slave Trade Trapping African Migrants | Time

Finally arriving in southern Italy on a smuggler’s boat, she called the aunt’s friend, who said the job was still waiting. She even offered a place to stay. But when Gladys arrived in Turin, the woman’s warm phone demeanor disappeared. Gladys owed $22,530 for the trip, she was told, and would have to work it off walking the streets as a prostitute. “I went to her house for help, thinking I would find comfort in a fellow Nigerian,” says Gladys bitterly. “Instead, she wanted to use me.” Gladys had no money, no papers and no place to stay. She says she had no choice but to do what the woman demanded.


Migrant workers receive educational pamphlets about their rights in Italy, Jan. 24, 2019. Lynsey Addario for TIME
Across Italy, Nigerian women are slowly displacing the Eastern Europeans who once dominated the illicit sex industry. Most, like Gladys, are from Nigeria’s impoverished rural southwest, where a generation of young people are seeking their fortunes abroad. Recruiters, often in the guise of concerned family friends, lure young women—and convince their parents—with promises of money to be made in Europe’s hair salons, hotels and boutiques.

Once in Europe, the women are told that they owe anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 to cover the cost of their journey. They are threatened with abuse, deportation or harm to their families back home if they don’t pay. Once the debts are paid off, after three to five years of several $25 tricks a day, the trafficked women usually stay on in Europe to earn money on their own and perhaps return home with enough funds to buy a house, start a business or support their family. Often, says Okah-Donli of the Nigerian antitrafficking organization, the returnees become madams themselves, flaunting their wealth to lure new victims to Europe and perpetuating the cycle. That’s what Gladys thinks happened to her aunt’s friend in Turin.

Despite the threats from her madam, Gladys escaped as soon as she was able to skim a few hundred dollars from her daily earnings. But freedom was no better. Alone and terrified of being deported, Gladys reluctantly returned to what she knew best. Several months ago, she heard about a program in the northern Italian city of Asti that helps trafficking victims with job training, counseling and housing. But resources are few, and the organization, Progetto Integrazione Accoglienza Migranti (PIAM), has space for only 250 women. Gladys spent several months on a waiting list before the program could offer her shelter and counseling.

The need for more services is immense, says founder Princess Inyang Okokon, who was trafficked to Turin from Nigeria in 1999. Okokon estimates that there are 700 to 1,000 sex trafficking victims who need help in the Asti region alone. “Everyone talks about the problems of trafficking, but there is no discussion on what happens after a girl is trafficked,” says Okokon.


Nigerians walk through the market in Lagos, Nigeria, March 20, 2018 Lynsey Addario for TIME
It’s not surprising that many trafficked women return to prostitution, she says. Jobs are limited in Italy, even for the women who have learned Italian or who have the right to stay. And few want to return to Nigeria, laden with debt and the stigma of what they have done. “It isn’t a simple issue of them being economic migrants—no, they were trafficked here, so they can’t just be sent back,” Okokon says.

Some escape this cycle of modern slavery, but it’s a fraught and complex process. After his final escape from his Libyan captors, Iabarot managed to scrape together enough money to purchase a place on a smuggler’s boat. Within hours of departing, he was rounded up by the Libyan coast guard and sent back to a detention camp. Terrified of facing another round of torture and forced labor, Iabarot volunteered to return to Nigeria through an IOM repatriation program. A week later, on March 22, 2018, he and 148 other Nigerians landed in Lagos on a chartered plane. It was no small irony that Iabarot and his fellow Nigerians, many of them rescued from cases of indentured servitude, forced labor and outright slave auctions, were processed through the cargo terminal.

So far, more than 10,000 Nigerians have returned home through the aid agency’s repatriation program. Each returnee is given a phone, a meal and the equivalent of $112 to get home. Once they are settled, they can apply for work training and small-business grants, but for most, homecoming is a bittersweet experience. “A lot of them took loans to pay the smugglers, or their families sold everything they had. So when they come back empty-handed like this, it’s a challenge,” says IOM’s migration program manager in Lagos, Abrham Tamrat. Many end up trying to go back to Europe.


Gladys, far left, a Nigerian woman trafficked into prostitution, with other victims of trafficking in a women’s shelter near Asti, Italy Lynsey Addario for TIME
Yet putting a stop to this sector of modern slavery starts by stopping irregular migration, says Kara, the slavery economist. A 2016 IOM report found that 7 out of 10 migrants crossing from North Africa to Europe had experienced exploitation of some kind or another, including kidnapping for ransom, forced labor, illegal detention and sexual violence. As conditions in Libya deteriorate, the situation is likely to get even worse. In Europe, anti-migrant sentiment is driving those without papers deeper underground, where they are more vulnerable to exploitation.

By 2050, 40% of the world’s poorest people will be living in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, according to the 2018 Gates Foundation Goalkeepers report. If the right investments aren’t made now, says Okokon, of the Italian anti-trafficking organization PIAM, even more people will risk the journey abroad. “If you really want to stop sex trafficking, give young Nigerians a reason to stay home. Invest in our youth. Give them jobs. If Nigeria is good for them, they won’t risk their lives coming to Europe.” At the same time, she adds, it’s essential to open up more venues for legal migration. It is nearly impossible for young Africans with little means to come to Europe, yet there is clearly a demand for their labor. “Europe needs farmers, domestic workers, people to harvest. Africa has that.” Soumahoro, the union representative in Italy, puts it more bluntly: “Humans are being sold because the embassies of Europe won’t give visas to Africans.”

As long as the opportunities for men and women like Iabarot are limited in their home countries, they will continue risking everything to find something else in Europe. Iabarot says he wouldn’t go through Libya again, but he would consider leaving again by a different route. “I had to leave because there was nothing for me here. There still isn’t,” he says. “So what should I do?”

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