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Sicilian authorities have made a series of arrests after a suspected sex trafficking ring was believed to have forced at least 15 Nigerian girls into prostitution in Italy.

Among those arrested were two Nigerian women, Rita Ihama, 38, and Monica Onaigfohe, aged 20, who police believe organised the trafficking of the women from Libya to Italy. An Italian national, Giovanni Buscemi, was also arrested on suspicion of helping facilitate the trafficking and exploitation of the girls.

Prosecutors believe the group of young women were lured from Nigeria with the promise of work in Italy. They say before they left their homes they were made to undergo traditional oath-taking ceremonies involving complicated and frightening rituals. The use of “juju” ceremonies in the trafficking of women from Nigeria to Europe are widespread and have been found to have a profound psychological impact on victims.

“Women were forced into prostitution and they were obliged to pay back the cost of their travel to Italy”

“On arrival in Italy, the women [say they] were forced into prostitution and told they must pay back the cost of their travel to Italy,” said Giovannella Scaminaci, deputy chief prosecutor in Messina, who led the operation. She said that sex trafficking operations between Nigeria, Libya and Italy are highly organised and continue despite recent attempts to stem the flow of migration from north Africa to Europe.

“There is an industry in the exploitation of girls from the age of 14 who have all become terrorised and controlled through the use of these juju ceremonies,” she says.


Read more: The Guardian