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Cablegate: Nigeria: A Look at the Edo State Tip Problem

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 ABUJA 001327

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


DEPT FOR G/TIP, INL, DRL AND AF/RA


DOL FOR ILAB


E.O. 19358: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KCRM KWMN NI IT
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: A LOOK AT THE EDO STATE TIP PROBLEM

Sensitive but Unclassified -- Protect Accordingly.


1.(SBU) Summary: A visit to Edo State, the core of
the trafficking-in-persons (TIP) problem in Nigeria,
revealed the dimensions of the steep challenge facing
law enforcement agencies and social service providers.
Criminality is widespread in Edo and much of the
economy is fueled by remittances and other money
generated by commercial sex trafficking. Attempting
to make a dent in this problem are a few local NGOs,
including one started by the State Governor's wife.
Post will submit separately (to USAID/WID) a proposal
for prevention and protection projects in the state.
End Summary.


2.(U) RNLEO, USAID's Democracy and Governance Officer,
and INL FSN visited Benin City, Edo State, April 18-19
for discussions with state government officials and
local NGOs about the commercial sex trafficking
problem from this state to Europe. This trip
coincided with the visit to Lagos and Edo State of
Italian police, immigration and Ministry of Justice
officials from Turin and the head of Italy's anti-
trafficking NGO "TAMPEP."


Recent History
--------------


3.(U) Edo State emerged as the source of African
prostitutes in Italy in the mid- to late-1980's.
Thousands of young girls and women from Edo State now
walk the streets and work the brothels of cities like
Turin, Milan and Genoa. Edo residents are unable to
explain fully the genesis of this phenomenon, but the
trafficking linkage to Italy is now firm and
pronounced. The Nigerian government (GON) estimates
that 17,000 Nigerian girls, most from Edo State, work
in Italy under coercive circumstances as prostitutes.


4.(U) In late 2001, the Italian government negotiated
a repatriation agreement with the GON, allowing for
the efficient repatriation of large numbers of
Nigerian women and girls (and a few men) found in
Italy without valid immigration documents. Most of
these girls and women arefrom Edo State. The
agreement has dramatically increased the number of
charter flights returning the trafficking victims to
Nigeria. Since the beginning of the year, almost 400
TIP victims have been flown back to Nigeria, compared
with a total of about 500 repatriated in all of 2001.


5.(U) According to the Italian officials visiting
Benin City, the Italian government also adopted a TIP
law in 1998 allowing for trafficking victims to remain
in Italy and eventually obtain citizenship if they
"denounce" their traffickers or brothel operators,
i.e. cooperate with police in investigating and
prosecuting the syndicates behind the trade in women
for sex.


Edo's Criminal Economy
----------------------


6.(SBU) State officials and NGO workers assert the
trafficking business is king in Edo State. When asked
to what extent the trafficking business affects the
state's GDP, one official scoffed, "It IS the state's
GDP!" Many claim there is hardly a family in Benin
City without a relative who is or has been involved in
the sex trade in Italy. According to one contact, the
Western Union office in Benin City is flooded daily
with transfers of hard currency remittances from
Italy. (Comment: This tracks with detailed
information recently shown to RNLEO by the Italian
ambassador to Nigeria depicting huge money flows from
Italy to banks and Western Union in Benin City. End
Comment.)


7.(SBU) No one can adequately explain the Edo
trafficking phenomenon; why and how one state of
Nigeria has become the dominant source of sex
trafficking from Nigeria to Italy and other countries
in Europe is not completely understood. Nevertheless,
this trend has become self-sustaining as former
trafficking victims recruit others to take their place
or their perceived success in earning hard currency,
coupled with economic deprivation at home, drives
others to follow. Mrs. Iki Igbinedion, the Governor's
wife, claims the indigenous Bini culture has been
corrupted; the export of sex workers is not only
tolerated but flaunted in some instances. Too many
parents are proud to display the items purchased with
the remittances earned by daughters in bonded sexual
work in Europe. Some husbands even send their wives
to work in the brothels of Europe in order to increase
the household income. This stands in contrast with
traditional Bini values that abhor prostitution, she
asserts.


The Code of Silence
-------------------


8.(SBU) According to the police and local NGOs,
traffickers obtain the silence of girls who sign up
for what they think will be great economic
opportunities through the use of rituals based on
local traditional religions. Submitting to these
rituals performed by "traditional" priests, the girls
takes oaths not to betray their "sponsors"
(traffickers) or the brothel operators for whom they
will work in Italy. The explicit threat of breaking
these oaths is punishment of the parents or relatives
of the girls.


9.(SBU) These oaths, coupled with a country-wide
mistrust of the police and other government
authorities, form the greatest obstacle to fighting
the TIP trade effectively. Despite the new offer of
immigration amnesty to TIP victims who denounce their
traffickers and madams, Italian police find few
Nigerian girls and women willing to testify against
these criminals. Similarly, police in Nigeria
interviewing returned victims find little success in
building criminal cases, though corruption and a lack
of commitment also are factors in the lack of law
enforcement efforts against the well-entrenched trade.


10.(SBU) NGOs also face this obstacle. According to
NGO workers in Benin City, few returned victims are
willing to speak out about their ordeals or provide
valuable first-hand testimony to awareness campaigns.
Convincing impoverished girls and their families that
the stories about easy money in Europe are false has
been very difficult. As a means to stop this illicit
trade, NGOs have launched campaigns using several
methods, including scare tactics, highlighting the
dangers of HIV/AIDS, violence of brothel operators
and clients, and the risk of being arrested and
deported without having earned any real money.


11.(SBU) Most disheartening, note local observers, is
the desire of many returned victims to trek back to
Europe to resume their work as sex workers. Some
believe this is a result of the promises made to
families to earn good money, the oaths taken during
traditional religious rituals, and ultimately the
desire to "succeed" as they perceive many before them
having done. The lack of economic opportunities in
Edo State is another "push" factor that adds to the
perception that commercial sex work is one of the
limited available options for making money. Anti-TIP
efforts by local NGOs and the Governor's wife have
been met by loud local opposition. Many see these
efforts as threatening the economic prosperity of
families in the community.


Shelter Lacking
---------------


12.(SBU) Local contacts highlighted the problem of
coping with increasing numbers of trafficking victims
repatriated from Italy. Most girls arrive in Lagos,
are screened quickly by Police or Immigration, and
released soon thereafter because of the extremely
limited shelter space at Police and Immigration
compounds in Lagos. The Governor's wife was recently
asked by Police in Lagos to receive and care for 150
repatriated TIP victims from Edo state but she could
not provide them with accommodations so they, like
others arriving en masse, were released. Many end
making the trip back to Italy or other destinations in
Europe.


13.(SBU) A visit to the Skills Acquisition Center of
Idia Renaissance found a well-equipped complex capable
of training up to 250 girls in four skill groups --
computers, fashion design, hair styling, and home
economics. This vocational training center set up by
the Governor's wife offers girls six months of free
training and targets both returned trafficking victims
and girls-at-risk. The center, however, does not have
accommodations for overnight lodging of trafficking
victims. Two buildings recently donated to Idia
Renaissance are ideal for conversion to hostels for
trafficking survivors and capable of housing
comfortably 60 girls. Mrs. Igbinedion will provide
Post with a proposal for assistance in refurbishing
these buildings. Aside from immediate shelter needs,
Embassy officers noted a lack of adequate counseling
for returned trafficking victims.


Trafficking or Illegal Immigration?
-----------------------------------


14.(SBU) Most local contacts estimate that 70 percent
of the girls and women trafficked from Edo State are
aware they will be working as prostitutes in Europe
and give their consent. This characterization tracks
with Embassy Officers' many conversations with police
and TIP victims. This apparent initial consent of the
majority of girls leaving Nigeria for European
brothels leads some to classify this trade as simple
illegal migration and the girls and women involved as
co-conspirators in this crime. Weighing the coercive
and the consensual aspects of this large-scale
movement of females from Nigeria is more complicated
than assessing the sex trafficking that occurs in
other parts of the world (where the lack of consent is
clear-cut). The trade from Nigeria is engineered by
organized crime and does indeed involve a degree of
violence and coercion in both Nigeria and Europe.


15.(SBU) Discussion with the Turin officials
reinforced the trafficking aspect of this migration.
They describe the violent and coercive circumstance
under which the trafficked girls work in Italy. Their
travel documents -- even if forged -- are taken away,
as well as their most basic freedoms. NGOs have also
documented the use of force in transporting the girls
along the routes from Nigeria to Europe, oftentimes
with forged documents via neighboring ECOWAS
countries. While traffickers could once use direct
flights from Lagos to Europe, more vigilant
immigration screening has preempted these air routes
and traffickers are forced to smuggle their human
cargo through West and Central Africa, across the
Sahara Desert, and finally across the Mediterranean
Sea.


Police vs. Immigration
----------------------


16.(SBU) Mission Officers were surprised to learn that
both the Nigerian Immigration Service and the state
Police Command have set up anti-trafficking units in
Edo State. The immigration unit has been operational
for two months but the police unit was only
established in April. Both are benefiting from
equipment donated by the Italian government for anti-
trafficking purposes. Neither unit, however,
confirmed the level of cooperation that will needed to
tackle the state's trafficking problem.


17.(SBU) During a frank discussion with Mrs.
Igbinedion and her NGO's staff, one worker stated that
corrupt Immigration officials have been known to
facilitate trafficking, though Immigration officials
present claimed they are now screening young female
passport applicants to see if they have valid
justification to travel to Europe. One local
Immigration anti-TIP official, however, showed his
true colors when, after the visit to the Idia
Renaissance vocational training center, he solicited
money from EMBOFFs to buy beer.


Italians Take Hits
------------------


18.(SBU) A formal April 18 meeting of the US and
Italian visitors with the Governor's wife and the
committee of local leaders steering her anti-TIP NGO
became lively as some Nigerian participants attempted
to pin responsibility for the trafficking problem on
the Italian demand for African prostitutes. This
criticism was particularly motivated by a statement
from one of the Italian visitors that prostitution in
Italy is tolerated and customers are seldom arrested
or prosecuted, though prostitution is technically
illegal. A related complaint was the perceived
consequences of deporting girls to the shame awaiting
them in Nigeria (for having failed to earn money for
their families) after having been subjected to extreme
hardships in Italy. The head of Italian NGO "TANPEP"
responded by highlighting the immigration amnesty
available to TIP victims willing to cooperate in
police investigations and the "Turnaround" project of
her NGO in sheltering, training and rehabilitating
Nigerian trafficking victims in Italy.


Law Enforcement Cooperation Needed
----------------------------------


19.(SBU) Seeking to balance the Nigerian-Italian
debate (that Mission officers observed as bystanders)
one of the Turin police investigators noted the lack
of law enforcement cooperation between Italy and
Nigeria. He stated that Italian efforts to investigate
trafficking crimes in Turin frequently produce details
on traffickers in Lagos and Edo State but Italian
authorities are powerless to act on this information.
He called for a channel of communication to pass
actionable information on these trafficking crimes.


20.(SBU) In a side meeting, the Italian police
officials stated they only have been able to exchange
business cards with relevant Nigerian police and
immigration officials, but still hoped to open up an
effective channel to exchange criminal evidence on
trafficking. One Italian police investigator expressed
concerned to RNLEO over the Nigerian perception that
Italian police do not arrest or prosecute traffickers
in Italy but only focus on arresting and deporting
Nigerian commercial sex workers. He claimed that he
and his colleagues arrest, on average, one Nigerian
trafficker or brothel operator a week. This action is
perhaps not recognized in Nigeria because the arrested
Nigerian traffickers often have legitimate Italian
residency or citizenship and therefore are not
deported, but incarcerated in Italy. RNLEO suggested
that the Italian government, through its diplomatic
mission in Nigeria, publicize these enforcement
actions in Nigeria.


Comment
-------


21.(SBU) Edo state is the center of a lucrative and
well-entrenched criminal trade that probably has the
support of many local officials and local law
enforcement officers. This is underscored by the fact
that a former Police commissioner of the state was
arrested in Conakry last year and extradited to stand
trial in Lagos for trafficking. Making progress
against this criminal trade in Edo State will require
a much stronger, multi-faceted strategy: greater
public outreach efforts, more resources to care for
and rehabilitate trafficking victims, and much
stronger law enforcement operations against the
trafficking syndicates.


22.(SBU) The upsurge in Italian repatriations of
Nigerian TIP victims has highlighted the immediate
need for short- and long-term shelters for these girls
and women. While many Edo State observers call for
Italy to cease or reduce the level of deportations,
the immediate establishment of care facilities in Edo
State to provide housing for the returnees while they
are trained in marketable vocations is a dire need.
There is also a need to set up HIV/AIDS screening
facilities for repatriated girls/women. The
International Organization for Migration (IOM) at
TANPEP's "Turnaround Project" have expressed interest
in carrying out coordinated repatriation and care
activities in Italy and Nigeria. Post's TIP committee
will submit separately a funding proposal addressing
Edo State's acute shelter and vocational training
needs for TIP victims.


23.(SBU) The increased deportations of TIP victims are
clearly not popular in Edo State, but ultimately they
may serve as a deterrent to future trafficking of
prospective victims. It also hits the traffickers
where it hurts -- cutting into their initial
investments in smuggling these girls to Europe. But
to be effective, this strategy of increased
deportations must be matched by increased joint
Italian-Nigerian prosecution of traffickers and better
care for the victims returned to Nigeria.


JETER

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