The number of Nigerian women traveling by boat to Italy almost doubled last year, with the vast majority of new arrivals being victims of sex trafficking and exploitation, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
The IOM believes approximately 80% of the 11,009 Nigerian women registered at landing points in Sicily in 2016 were trafficked and will go on to live a life of forced prostitution in Italy and other countries in Europe.
The figure is almost double that of 2015 when 5,600 women were registered by the IOM, and an almost eightfold increase from 2014, when 1,450 Nigerian women were registered at landing points in Sicily.
On Sunday, 26 Nigerian women and girls were found dead, recovered from two shipwrecks – 23 from one and three from the other. Fifty-three other people are believed to be missing. The bodies were recovered and brought to the southern Italian port of Salerno by Spanish ship, Cantabria, which works as part of the EU’s Sophia anti-trafficking operation.
Two men have now been arrested and charged in Italy as investigators look into the deaths of the 26 Nigerian women and girls – who are suspected to have been murdered while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. The victims, some as young as 14, are suspected to have been abused and killed.
The arrested men have been named as Libyan Al Mabrouk Wisam Harar and Egyptian Mohamed Ali Al Bouzid, both believed to have captained one of the boats. They were identified by survivors who were among the 375 brought to Salerno by Cantabria, and are accused of organizing and trafficking at least 150 people on the two sunken boats.
Most of the survivors of the wreck were from Nigeria and other sub-Saharan countries including Ghana, Sudan and Senegal. They were among over 2,560 migrants saved over four days.
Right now, prosecutors have not made a direct link between the two men and the women’s deaths, but autopsies on the bodies should be completed over the next week.