Mafia Wars

Another great episode of Al-Jazeera’s People and Power on human trafficking from Nigeria into Italy and the subsequent Mafia wars between Italian mafia and Nigerian criminal organizations:

As this Guardian article notes, it is a familiar story:

“Illegal immigrants first came to Castel Volturno from Nigeria in the 1980s to work on the tomato farms in the countryside but when those farms went out of business there was no work, legal or otherwise. Some of them soon realised there was a different kind of money to be made – through the importing and selling of both drugs and humans in a district characterised by extreme poverty and high levels of violent crime. Since Castel Volturno sits in the heartland of the Camorra, a criminal network based in Naples, this could not be done without the consent of its local wing, the Casalesi clan.

But as Nigerian gangsters extended their reach in a town that is now home to one of Europe’s largest concentrations of illegal immigrants, the Casalesi reasserted its authority. In 2008 it killed six African men in a drive-by shooting – the horror of the incident and the riots that followed is captured in Là-bas, a film set to premiere at the Venice film festival. That same year, the campaign against the gangs – involving the police, the government and the local community – brought the singer Miriam Makeba to perform at a festival aimed at defying the Camorra and promoting tolerance, but Mama Africa, as she was known, had a heart attack and died backstage.


One officer, whose anonymity must be protected, says: “Prostitution is tolerated by the Italian mafia as there will always be people who can earn money through their presence. Nigerians pay [the mafia] and are allowed to continue with their illegal activities. But when this peace is broken there will be war.”

Women working on the Via Domitiana speak of shattered dreams, of €60,000 debts – a sum they had no concept of before they arrived in Italy – and of a deep, terrifying fear of breaking the juju ceremonies that bind them to their traffickers.

Isoke Aikpitanyi is a former prostitute who was lured to Italy with the promise of a hairdressing job. The salon did not exist and instead she became, she says, “a modern slave” trapped in the town’s dark underbelly. Standing on the road, she sold herself because her madam would “kill me because I have [earned] nothing”. She did so for a pittance. “Some have pity on you and give you 20 to 50 euros. But normally they give you 10.” Aikpitanyi escaped but others have not been so lucky.”

And with the extra twist of religion, it is even more appalling:

“Isoke Aikpitanyi, a former victim of trafficking and now the main reference point for Nigerian women in Italy, knows how this business is managed in Caserta’s area. As she walks in Castel Volturno’s historic centre, she explains: “Today in Italy there are almost 10,000 madams, each one in control of an average of two or three girls.”

Madams are the key, she explains. They are the main actors in this exploitation. They force girls into prostitution and ask for money to repay the debt. They work with “brothers”, men who are in charge of physically trafficking the “babies”, as girls forced into prostitution are called.

But Nigerian human trafficking is often associated with drug smuggling and a distorted use of religious tradition.

The women and girls are often forced to undergo a Juju oath-swearing ritual that commits them to repaying the money they owe to their smugglers on pain of death or insanity.

“The Juju, the voodoo rite, it’s not a bad practice. It was used to bring justice, but they ruined everything,” says Isoke with anger. “They don’t care how they make their money as far as they make it. They use Juju to enslave.”

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