Fighting together human trafficking

A testimony of Pino Locati, M.Afr.

First, the preliminary question: do you consider that fighting human trafficking is part of our charism and our mission? In the history of our missionary institutes, who and what remind you of it and motivate you for it?

Certainly, fighting to defend men, women and children who are abused by all kinds of slavery (migrants, rural labor, underpaid work, sexual slavery, organ trafficking) is not only part and parcel of our charism and missionary identity as Missionaries of Africa or Missionary Sisters of O.L. of Africa, but it should also be the commitment of every Christian who wants to be a disciple of Christ, to be at the service of the abandoned and wounded humanity in the broad sense of the word. Already the prophets (Amos), Jesus, Bartolomé de Las Casas, our founder Cardinal Lavigerie, the Second Vatican Council, the last Popes, our plenary chapters remind us of the dignity of the human person (our General Chapters remind us of this, time and time again, since at least the 1980s). Even more today, with Pope Francis, the Church is called to join the “peripheries of the world”!

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I move on to the second question: since the beginning of October 2016 I have been listening to sub-Saharan migrants from West Africa (Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Ghana, Gambia, Togo, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Niger, Ivory Coast), from the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Erithrea, Somalia), from Asia (Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bangladesh, India) who have just landed in Sicily and are being sent to the cities of Northern Italy. I meet them every week in the reception centers (or CAS: extraordinary reception center). I listen to the accounts of their journey through the deserts of Niger and Libya and in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, to their pain and suffering, to the tortures they suffered in Libya in detention centers, hunger, thirst, the lack of toilets and showers… I see and take pictures of their bodies injured by Libyan jailers with iron pipes, sticks, knives, punches and slaps and for women, of course, victims of rape. However, I would like mainly to draw your attention to the issue of trafficking of Nigerian women.

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Six months ago, a group of a dozen volunteers was formed with the GEDAMA Foundation in Bergamo. Three times a week, we go out in small teams of 3 or 4 volunteers to visit Nigerian girls on the road (a hundred girls along a 30 km road from Pontirolo to Calcinate near Bergamo and we visit them in two different sectors once on Thursday afternoons, twice on Friday and Saturday nights).

First some data to situate the problem:

  1. Since 1990, 60,000 Nigerian girls have landed in Italy, 25 per cent of them being under 18 years of age (which makes 15,000 girls, but the minors have been on the increase these last two years).
  2. There are 10,000 “madams” (or women or mothers or “magnaccia-mafiosa” women – women who exploit the activity of prostitutes): if each madam has two or three daughters or more, this means that the number of Nigerian girls in Italy is still today tens of thousands (at one place, I know a madam who has 6 or sometimes 7 girls!). Sixty percent of the magnaccia are Nigerian women who play a decisive role in the trafficking of girls for prostitution.
  3. The traffic of Nigerian girls brings to their Magnaccia (or Nigerian mafiosi) the sum of € 1,100,000,000 (one billion one hundred million euros) per year. Nearly all of this money is sent to Benin City to continue financing the buildings (sexual slavery = money = buildings in Benin City, capital of the state of Edo). In fact, in Italy there are only small magnaccia, the real magnaccia are in the ministries, in the police and administration of the Edo-State and Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.
  4. Since 1990, the entire Italian network of protection, with 250 nuns from 85 Congregations and a few dozen priests and hundreds of lay volunteers, has been able to remove more than 6,000 Nigerian girls and others from the streets and place them in protection houses in view of their integration into Italian society or in view of their repatriation. However, whenever we “liberate” a girl, there are ten others who arrive (perhaps less now because of the agreements between Italy and Libya which today encloses almost 80,000 sub-Saharans in catastrophic conditions in their centers detention or “lager”).
  5. I note that the national network of Italian associations against trafficking in women wants to free girls (more than 120,000 today on roads or in “brothels” – in private houses (motels, hotels, boats, apartments) – or tackle customers (reducing the demand to reduce the offer, today statistics show about 9 million sexual passes per month for customers of all ages in Italy.) It is true that the customers, using girls enslaved by prostitution, legalize a system of social slavery in Italy; they are also the first to finance the Nigerian magnaccia and finally, since the girls had never agreed to be sex slaves, the customers become ipso facto rapists! But in fact I am convinced that our service to sexually exploited human beings should first tackle the magnaccia themselves by denouncing them in their own country Nigeria. But this is an impossible fight if the political world refuses to get involved and to force order in corrupted Nigeria and Italy!
  6. This is what I do when the Word of God in the liturgy of the day or Sunday offers me that opportunity in the parishes: I denounce the trafficking of women and I inform people who are absolutely misinformed about the slave trade in Nigerian girls (even priests admit that they do not know much, since in parishes it is a taboo to speak of forced prostitution; in fact, it is easier to talk about God in heaven than to speak of the “existential peripheries” of man and woman on earth). In addition, I speak of it in prayer groups, in the vicinity of Treviglio, and in High School to teenagers over 17 years who watch very attentively the documentary film presented and listen, speechless, to the comments I make. I plan to carry on that information in other schools in the province of Bergamo.
  7. We must not only address the symptoms of trafficking in women (girls on the streets and their customers), but we must tackle the causes, that is, the magnaccia’s (or Nigerian mafiosi) and also act for a transformation of the culture and the behavior of the Italians with regard to all these Nigerian and other girls .

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Conclusion : three questions

  1. How to explain the silence of certain diocesan clergymen on trafficking in women in Italy ?
  2. In Italy there are several hundred African priests in the dioceses ad tempus or for several years. How can one explain that the vast majority of them do not approach their African brothers and sisters in distress?
  3. In Italy, the tens of thousands of African women (Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Morocco, Ghana, Somalia) who are enslaved, together with the migrants, constitute two great “peripheries of the world”: where are the African missionaries of today (men and women) to take care, at the grassroot level, of their enslaved sisters (in Italy but also in Germany, Sweden, Spain and France)?

Pino Locati, M.Afr.

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