How Oba Of Benin's Curse Curbed Human Trafficking--Maniscalco

Oba of Benin, Ewuare II. Image: Pinterest

Margherita Maniscalco is the project manager of an Italian based non governmental organisation, International Cooperation South-South (CISS). In this interview with PATRICK OCHOGA, she speaks on the human trafficking crisis and the impact of the Oba of Benin’s intervention.

The human trafficking challenge in Europe is huge. What motivated your organisation to get involved in tackling the menace?

First of all, the International South-South cooperation, (CISS) as a non governmental organisation, actually started to be active in the 1980’s. It was created by a group of volunteers who are deeply concerned about the issues surrounding human trafficking especially in south of the world, be it in Latin America, Middle East and Africa. As an organisation we are passionate about dealing with social and economic issues and we seek to assist all humans.

Talking about human trafficking, there is no point pretending that Italy is not affected as a country. We perfectly understand why Africa migrants leave their country in droves in search of greener pastures. We live in a globalised world where you have access to what is happening to others, so we understand their need to have a better life in Europe.

However, many years ago, we started working to promote the rights of migrants and to be very honest we have significant problems in Europe in terms of respecting the rights of migrants. But as an NGO, we have maintained our independence and joined forces with other stakeholders to deal with these issues affecting migrants. We have had reasons to go on strike against policies that are inimical to the rights of migrants.

For example, in the City of Palermo, the Mayor has approved a document that protects the universal rights of migrants and free movement because we believe that as human beings we have equal rights to move freely. Even if you are in Italy or Nigeria we all have equal rights to visit. However, at the moment, they deny these rights because there is more possibility of me coming to you in Nigeria than you coming to Italy. It is worthy to state that we are working seriously on how we can open the migration policy of Europe towards promoting a sustainable migration path and also recognising the value and need of migration.

It is even more difficult especially from African countries; therefore, CISS and other organisations in Italy are supporting change in European policies. But at the moment, we are yet to see that change. We are doing everything possible to see the change; we have to support access to legal migration.

We will like to know exactly what the Italian authority is doing in terms of prosecuting trafficking cartels?

Human trafficking is a very traumatic phenomenon. From the Italian perspective it is even terrible. It is a sin against humanity. Trafficking in humans from Edo State to Italy started over 20 years ago. There is no doubt that we have some flaws tackling the menace here in Italy. However, it is gladdening to know that in Nigeria there is a movement against human trafficking.

Today, the Italian government is committed and doing something about it however to achieve the desire results cannot be automatic, it takes gradual process. In the last years, Italy has become the hub to enter Europe; we have huge numbers of Nigerians being exploited in Italy. From 2014 till date International Organisation on Migration and Italian government statistics even shows that the numbers has increased tremendously. But in terms of figures of arrival of Nigerians, it has reduced; few years ago we recorded high numbers of Nigerian seeking asylums. One of our major concerns today is human trafficking. Nigeria women are still being exploited, suffering in prostitution, because they don’t have ways of getting out of it.

I think at this moment, the Italian institutions have started to produce good impact and we have seen more prosecution of traffickers in Italy. We also noticed that from the Nigerian perspective there seem to be reduction in the roles of ‘madams’, the debt trafficked girls used to pay has reduced drastically, those who some years ago paid £80,000 now pays £30,000, we noticed that the madams are not the main exploiters, I think it is really important for us to understand the new exploitation chain and deal with it.

How effective was the curse placed by the Oba of Benin in fighting human trafficking?

There is no doubt, the pronouncement by the Oba of Benin has had significant impact and it was very visible. Every woman from Nigeria especially from Edo State was aware about it and the information circulated very fast with good impact. For us, there are women who are still into prostitution and they are vulnerable. For, the fact they don’t pay any debt to their madams any more doesn’t mean the end of it. Women still suffer a lot of violence, exploitation and in some cases death. It is even shocking to note that family members still put their daughters under pressure to prostitute and that has not really changed.

We need to support these girls because they are in difficult situation that need to be helped. Like I said earlier, in Europe, the curse has really facilitated the fight against human trafficking a lot but not automatically because we also have to bear in mind the demand and supply factor.

ven if you break the chain that made the girls to be exploited traffickers still find other easy ways to exploit the girls and Italian clients will still demand women from Nigeria. So, I think in any case we still have the push and pull factors working in this direction.

What is the condition of rescued migrants in camps and resettlement centres?

Generally, I think it’s a bit difficult to answer because the Italian government is changing policies on how migrants are treated. I can tell you before what was happening many years ago especially during the government of Salvini and today. Many years ago, we have this policy of receiving them in what we called safe harbour and for this reason a lot of migrants prefer to land in Sicily because it is the closest to the Mediterranean. The municipality do cater for and integrate the migrants into the European society but with the Salvini’s administration we experienced a worse policy as far as migrants are concerned so the civil society had to protest against it which contributed to unpopularity of the then government because of the campaign of hate against migrants.

What is your take on campaign in certain quarters for prostitution to be legalised?

It is really difficult to say. But from CISS as an organisation, we don’t have clear vision on it, we believe that every human being has self-determination, human right and freedom to do what he or she wants to do. But at policy level, we have seen that in countries where prostitution is legalised, we still have issues of human trafficking and I think any policy in place must also consider the issues of sexual exploitation.