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Stories of Nigerian trafficking to Italy

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Nigeria figures among the eight countries in the world with the highest rate in human trafficking. Italy is one of the most common destinations for many Nigerian women who, upon arrival, end up in prostitution networks. They usually work in the streets, in the outskirts of major Italian cities, and are often forced to follow their madam’s brutal rules of high debts, unsustainable shifts on the streets and the lack of freedom.

In the last twenty years, the number of undocumented young Nigerian women trafficked to Italy has increased enormously. As a consequence, in 1998, Italy passed a law (Article 18) granting “victims of human trafficking” temporary residence permits to escape from situations of violence and abuse. There were two conditions: the applicant had to agree to pursue criminal action against her exploiter, and to participate in a state funded rehabilitation program.

Our work bears witness to the multiple reasons behind women’s migration, such as the lack of opportunities in Nigeria, desire for a new life, betrayal, and the urgency to support family members back home. By documenting the stories of women from Benin City, in the Edo State of Nigeria – from where around 80% of trafficked women come – we attempt to show the complexities of their experiences.

We have been working on these issues since the early 2000s, Elena as a photographer, and Cristiana as an anthropologist. Over the years, we have been documenting several Nigerian women’s experiences both visually and in narrative, and we would now like to bring these two dimensions of our work together in a book. To do so, we would love to shoot new photographs, and conduct more interviews on women’ life stories.

The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) has agreed to distribute the published book in 180 countries.


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