Strict Borders Make Vulnerable Women

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“It is important to keep in mind that trafficking can happen to anyone, anywhere.”

The Home Office stated in November 2016 that: “The trafficked women from Nigeria end up being healthy and are held in high regard upon their return from Europe.”

Their statement is problematic for a number of reasons, but potentially the most startling is that we can see how hostile the UK is to victims claiming asylum and unworried about their deportation because they return ‘in high regard’. We should be more supportive, accepting, and open to asylum seekers, as they all have reasons they came here for a better future.

Human trafficking is not a recent trend, it has been happening for decades. However, in today’s globalised world there are an estimated 20.9 million victims of trafficking, with the majority being women. While women can be trafficked from anywhere to any country, in Europe most of the victims are from countries in Eastern and Central Europe such as Hungary and Poland, while victims taken outside of Europe concentrate from Nigeria, China, Morocco.

Often, human trafficking is linked to migrant movements and the governmental policies that try to regulate them. As migration increases, especially as it has done to Europe over the last few years – quickly and without general regulation policies– the instances of trafficking increase as migrants become increasingly desperate to cross borders. As David A. Feingold said in 2009,“Trafficking is often migration gone terribly wrong”. When people are not given the opportunity to legally enter the country of destination, desperate people might turn to other possibilities in order to escape unimaginable situations of hardship in their home country. Studies have shown that as borders become stricter, smuggling increases, as people use third parties to get out of the country, and to get into others. The strict laws imposed to reduce migration into the country actually render these people vulnerable exploitation as they are reluctant to go to the police for fear of being deported.

If we want to look at a specific country regarding human trafficking in Europe, Nigeria is a very interesting case. Devastatingly, the UN said that 80% of all Nigerian women who arrived in Italy by boat in 2016 will be trafficked into prostitution. When women arrive in Italy they go through migration receptions, which are used as holding pens for women who are collected and then trafficked across Europe. However, this relationship between Nigeria and Italy has been operating for decades. In 2014, about 1,500 Nigerian women arrived, in 2015 around 5,633, and only in the first six months of 2016 about 3,600. With the increasing numbers of victims, the trafficking network itself in growing as well.

Many women are brought in specially for sexual exploitation purposes, but there are also hundreds who are coming for a better life. The journey itself is very complicated, firstly, because women are often victims of physical abuse, trafficking, and sexual exploitation on the road. Moreover, as it is very expensive, women and up owing money around £40,000 which they are expected to pay back. They are told if they won’t pay, terrible thing will happen to their families, therefore they are forced into prostitution across Europe. However, money is not the only way gangs recruit women, they also use false promises of legitimate employment, and traditional ceremonies to have psychological control over them.

There is a large diaspora of 200,000 legal residents of Nigerians in Europe. Obviously, this number excludes all the women who are being illegally trafficked on the continent. While many legal residents live in the UK, Germany, and Spain, the ultimate trafficking destination is Italy. There are around 10,000 Nigerian sex workers in the country now. While the first Nigerian women working in Italy as sex workers around the 1970s chose to do so, after strengthening the borders and making it difficult to arrive this have changed. As women arrived by having huge debts, and they needed to get rid of that quickly, trafficking for prostitution seemed like a prospect. Young women were usually promised a good job, and then ended up being trafficked for sexual exploitation. Nowadays, Nigerian sex work usually work on the street, and receive low-wage for their work.

Arguably, one way to start reducing trafficking would be to have more open borders of countries, so people could move more freely. Immigration should be viewed positively with more support services for those needed. Additionally, it would also be important that besides preventing trafficking, we should also aim to help those who had suffered trafficking beforehand. There should be more support services for the victims and a promise that they won’t be deported in exchange for going to the police.

It is important to keep in mind that trafficking can happen to anyone, anywhere. While I was focusing on Europe, because female victims here are particularly vulnerable to strict border control and regulations, human trafficking is a global phenomenon, in which the majority of the women can become victims.

This article was written by The Circle Volunteer Csenge Gábeli. Csenge is a university student, a volunteer, and a feminist. She is originally from Hungary, but has started my university in London, which she loves. She is interested in communities, women’s empowerment, LGBTQ+ rights, and children’s rights. 

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