Gloria left Nigeria hoping to make enough money in Europe to lift her family out of poverty. Three years later, she came home a penniless ex-prostitute.
The nightmare began when a family friend offered to help her get from Benin City to Italy.
Gloria, who declined to give her last name, says she was tricked and that she thought she would get a good job. But activists say everyone in Benin City, where trafficking women for prostitution is endemic, knows what the real job is.
Gloria was taken by a ”trolley” — a member of a people-smuggling gang — on a bus with other women to northern Nigeria. Then, they travelled for weeks in trucks along bumpy desert tracks, crossing illegally into Niger and Algeria.
”People died of thirst or hunger. One night, soldiers were chasing us. A girl in my group got shot. I saw her die,” said Gloria.
Not long after leaving the Algerian town of Tamanrassett in the heart of the Sahara, Gloria was kidnapped by Nigerian bandits. Such gangs have realised the women are valuable to the traffickers and hold them for ransom.
The kidnappers took Gloria all the way to Tangiers, on the Moroccan coast, where she waited two years in a squalid flat. With no money of her own, she was dependent on her captors and had no choice but to cook and shop for them, biding her time.
At last a ransom was paid and a crossing arranged. Gloria and over 100 other illegal migrants boarded a rickety boat bound for Spain. After the engine broke down, they were intercepted by the Spanish coastguard and taken to a Red Cross camp.
After her release, Gloria met up again with the traffickers and after a two-month wait in Madrid she boarded another clandestine boat somewhere on the Spanish coast, bound for central Italy.
Finally, in a small town near Pescara, she was handed to her madam, an ex-prostitute from Benin City.
The madam imposed a debt of $35 000 for ”helping” Gloria come to Italy.
The debt had to be repaid in full before Gloria could keep any of her earnings.
For eight months, she worked on the streets from evening until dawn, servicing between five and 10 customers a night. She had managed to pay back $25 000 when she was arrested and deported back to Nigeria.
”I came back with nothing. I even lost my clothes and shoes that I had there. Those years were wasted. When I think about it I feel very desperate,” said Gloria, who still dresses in the style she adopted in Italy: miniskirt, tight black top and dangly earrings.
Now 25, she is studying catering in Benin City and is engaged. But she still cries when she tells her story. – Reuters