Nigeria’s Benin City, goes by another name, the capital of illegal migration.
The migrants here are known as ‘hustlers’ code word for prostitutes and end up in Italy or France.
The girls, usually from poor backgrounds, have no means to travel and end up with human trafficking rings who forge documents and send them off with promises of well-paying jobs.
Once in Europe, they find themselves on the streets of Palermo or Paris, selling sex for between 5 and 10 euros a time to pay back a debt of 50,000-60,000 euros.
Divinity went to Dubai rather than Italy. She says her debt was “only” 15,000 euros.
‘’ If I want to go to Europe now, I don’t want to go there for hustle. I just want to go there to work and achieve what I want to achieve. Maybe I go there and I get married, I have children and have a normal life. Not to go there and hustle again because hustling there is not easy. It is between life and death’‘, she said.
Other girls make the treacherous journey via Libya.
About 37,500 Nigerians arrived in Italy by boat in 2016, more than from any other African country, and most of them were from Benin city.
The International Organization for Migration has recorded an explosion in the number of Nigerian women trafficked into Europe.
In 2013, there were 433 in 2014 the number shot up to nearly 5,000.
Edoja Kunum a sociologist at the University of Benin City says the girls are victims of poverty not traffickers.
‘‘I don’t regard those people as victims, they wanted to go and this without regarding risks, all morality implication, all values. They want to go because they know when they come, they have something to show: building houses, driving flashy cars. Nobody questions how they make the money.’‘
The stories of survivors and returnees does nothing to stop other girls from making the journey, even returnees try to go back.
Miracle returned from Italy two years ago and claims to have been a sex worker only for a few weeks before being rescued but her story is disputed by a nun who knows her to have been a prostitute during her entire stay in Europe.
Many girls like Miracle are back on the streets of Benin City, where poverty is rife and where parents pick up money sent by children who left to “hustle” abroad.