Police across Europe and in New York arrested 20 people suspected of smuggling young girls out of Nigeria and forcing them to work as prostitutes after intimidating them in voodoo rituals, Dutch prosecutors said Wednesday.
Thirteen of the suspects were arrested in a series of coordinated raids in cities across the Netherlands, the national prosecutor’s office said in a statement. Police also found 10 illegal immigrants, who were turned over to the immigration service.
Acting on requests from Dutch authorities, police in New York; Madrid, Spain; Antwerp, Belgium; and the central British city of Coventry also arrested five Nigerian suspects. A sixth Nigerian was arrested last week in Dublin, Ireland.
Prosecutors believe the gang had been smuggling underage Nigerian girls into the Netherlands for years using fake travel documents before shipping them to other parts of Europe to work as prostitutes.
“The youngsters were also under pressure by voodoo,” the statement said. “In Nigeria, they were forced to swear an oath to a voodoo priest to pay back a so-called debt. This had to be done with the proceeds of prostitution.”
For a year, Dutch authorities had been investigating the disappearance of young Nigerians from asylum seeker centers. Since January 2006, about 140 underage Nigerians have disappeared from the centers, which are not tightly guarded. Several girls have been found working as prostitutes in France, Italy and Spain, prosecutors said.
About 50,000 Nigerian girls are under various forms of sexual exploitation including forced prostitution in different parts of Europe.
The disclosure was made by the director of the Centre for Special Projects, Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Engr Boma Princewill at an occasion marking the World Tourism Day in Port Harcourt.
In his paper titled, ” Tourism opens door for women: Global perspective of the current situation and prospects for the future in Rivers State”, Princewill further revealed that some of those girls were uncovered during the Athens Olympic Games in Greece 2004, where they came to ply their trade.
His words; “Latest reports have it that there are an estimated 50,000 girls being sexually exploited around Europe, from Edo region in Nigeria, a place which regularly provided people for global slave labour networks”
He continued, “it is further reported that, Nigerian girls appeared on the streets of Athens during the Olympics. They have never left, but continue to make a living on the streets of Athens”.
Engr Princewil argued that the tourism potentials of the country could be harnessed, such that, women could be discouraged from leaving the shores of the country to find greener pastures outside.
He recommended that the state should devote 20 percent of the financial resources to tourism-oriented development.
The Niger Delta master plan “should be detailed with overall tourism-oriented development plan for Rivers State at least, if not for the Niger Delta as a whole”, he added.