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2003-10-02 10:37:00
Consulate Lagos
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 LAGOS 002045 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/02/2013

Classified By: CG Robyn Hinson-Jones for reasons 1.5 (b) and (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: POLOFF met with Gerrit Van Hemert, Deputy
Head of Mission for the Netherlands Consulate General in
Lagos on 17 September to discuss patterns of trafficking of
women for the sex trade to Europe. Van Hemert, who has
studied the subject for three years, laid out a pattern of
trafficking from Nigeria to the US via West Africa and South
America, using Miami as the port of entry. Tactics used in
the trade include various forms of visa fraud: obtaining and
traveling with multiple identities and using impostors to
travel with valid passports and visas. Collusion within the
Nigerian government is believed to reach senior levels of the
Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and traditional rulers.
Embassies in Cotonou and Lome are often seen as weak points
to obtain valid visas for the US and Europe. It is believed
that trafficked women may also be involved in the drug trade.
In a separate conversation, Father Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo
of the Catholic Secretariat confirmed most of Van Hemert's
assertions. END SUMMARY



2. (C) Van Hemert has been serving in Lagos for the past
three years and has been involved in addressing the issue of
human trafficking for the Government of the Kingdom of the
Netherlands (GOKN) in the region. He has coordinated with
Government of Nigeria (GON) officials regarding deportation
of sex slaves and has personally traveled to Lome, the port
of departure for travel to South America. In addition, he
has conducted several interviews with trafficked women,
detailing the patterns of their travel.



3. (C) Trafficked Nigerian women are in their late teens and
twenties, are single, have beauty traits valued in Europe and
the United States, and may have limited or general education.
Almost all trafficked women originate from Benin City, Edo
State or its neighboring communities, which Van Hemert
describes as the "sick, rotten apple of Nigeria." He claims
Edo State has a "cultural and economic system built on human
trafficking and prostitution" and believes that Omo n'Oba
Erediauwa, the Oba of Benin (traditional king), and his High
Priest, Chief Nosakhure Isekhure, are involved in the
trafficking syndicate. Van Hemert has interviewed
approximately 10 to 12 trafficked women per year at the Dutch
Consulate General who were applying for legal residence
permits. He stated that each were willing to discuss their
experiences in Europe and how they reached the Netherlands,
but none were willing to name individuals who either

facilitated their migration in Europe or are key members of
the syndicate in Edo State and Nigeria. Benin City is the
ancient capital of the Benin Kingdom and its traditional
monarch, the Oba of Benin, exercises great power. Although
Nigeria is largely Moslem or Christian, most still believe in
voodoo or juju. Benin City, through high priests, has made
great efforts to maintain the traditional practices and
religion of voodoo. POLOFF had the opportunity to visit a
senior high priest, Osemwegie Ebohon, and his voodoo cultural
center on 14 September. Ebohon is a frequent visitor to
Broward County, Florida. (Note: In December 1999, the Dutch
African Studies Centre published in Dutch "An Appearance of
Voodoo: Cultural Background of the Trade in Nigerian Girls
for Dutch Prostitution - An Exploration" and detailed the
connection between the sex trade and voodoo.)

4. (U) The International Organization of Migration (IOM) has
based its offices in Benin City and tracks many of the
stories of the returnees. (An IOM official in Lagos told CG
that 99% of females deported through Lagos are from Benin
City.) According to Elvira Gregoire of IOM in Benin City,
trafficked women "never disclose their sponsors' identities
for fear of putting their families at risk" and are
apprehensive to break their "oath of secrecy" that they gave
before being trafficked. ("Oaths of secrecy" are a common
practice in voodoo.) Gregoire further stated that trafficked
women are often made to pay back a debt of $20,000 - $50,000
incurred through their migration to destination countries.
Once in Europe, their "madams" seize their travel and
identity documents and place them under 24 hour surveillance
while having them practice prostitution. In addition to
debriefing repatriated trafficked women, IOM assists with
food, toiletries, family contact, and transportation back



5. (C) Trafficked women destined to Miami and the United
States go through a long transiting process. Van Hemert
claimed traffickers look for the "weak links" in
the system. Women from Edo travel to Cotonou and Lome, he
said, to apply for US and Schengen (European Union) visas.
If successful, many women return to Lagos to apply for Dutch
transit visas to travel on KLM. If unsuccessful, they travel
to the Port of Lome and are put on fishing boats to South
America. Van Hemert visited Lome to see the port himself and
was shown which boats were available for transit across the
Atlantic. He said the process was very easy and relatively
inexpensive and characterized the vessels as barely sea
worthy, surmising that many may have been lost at sea. Van
Hemert further stated that women regularly traveled with two
or three passports using different identities and sometimes
different nationalities, in particular Ivoirian. Destination
countries in South America are primarily Guyana and to a
lesser degree Suriname and Venezuela. Once in Guyana,
trafficked women either apply for US and Schengen visas,
obtain fraudulent visas, or travel via boat to Caribbean
islands with European or American protectorate status,
through which they enter the destination countries. He
specified Miami as the port of entry for the United States
from the Caribbean and South America. Based on this pattern,
Van Hemert was amazed that a "few weeks ago" the USG "took
Suriname off its trafficking list." Van Hemert stated that
the Dutch Consulate General here has seen many fraudulent
Surinamese visas from Nigerian applicants and has heard
reports of counterfeit Surinamese currency in Nigeria. He
said that he refuses all transit visa requests that contain
Surinamese and US visas.

6. (C) The European trafficking pattern is very organized
and is operated much like an underground railroad by Nigerian
women who are married to European men and serve as guides and
madams. Most trafficked women enter Europe via Barcelona,
Spain which is known by Van Hemert to be a "weak link."
According to Van Hemert, a Spanish madam meets the trafficked
women at the Barcelona airport and provides them food and
housing and a plane ticket onward to Brussels. Once in
Brussels, the women are met by a Dutch madam and taken to the
Netherlands. Some women stay in Amsterdam to work, but others
are taken to Arnhem, Netherlands on the German border and
work at a specific bar there as prostitutes. Their passports
are surrendered and the women then transit to Italy, the
ultimate destination country, where the demand is greatest.




7. (C) Van Hemert reported that starting in June 2003, the
Netherlands has chartered two flights back to Lagos
containing 47 and 53 trafficked women respectively. He
explained that previously, GOKN and the Nigerian Immigration
Service (NIS) had a good working relationship. On several
occasions, GOKN has paid for NIS officials to travel to the
Netherlands and help identify trafficked Nigerian women for
deportation. He characterized the current relationship as
strained, however. Dutch confidence has been lost in NIS as
they believe that air tickets meant for other West Africans
mistakenly deported to Nigeria have been confiscated by NIS
officials and used for their own purposes. As a result, GOKN
now provides cars for deportees to return to their countries
of origin from Nigeria. In addition, NIS has demanded that
more officials visit the Netherlands to view their operations
and receive $500 per diem while visiting. NIS has also made
numerous visa requests for private individuals going on
tourism. Van Hemert also has a strained personal
relationship with Dr. Baba Jide Brown, Assistant Comptroller
General of Immigration and head of the division that covers
Lagos. He finds it interesting that Dr. Brown has been in
his position for 20 years despite Nigeria's tumultuous
political history and succession of democratic and military
governments. He also views the U.S.-educated Dr. Brown as
arrogant and questions how he is able to afford his
lifestyle. As a result of this strained relationship, a
chartered flight of trafficked women from Amsterdam scheduled
for 22 September was canceled by NIS.

8. (C) Van Hemert reported that he has interviewed several
women who initially claimed that they had lost their Schengen
Visa or Dutch Residency Permit. Upon further interview, the
women, who were apparently legitimate travelers, revealed
that as they were about to board their flights for the
Netherlands, a NIS official requested to meet with them in an
office. Once in the office, the womens' passports are taken
and the women claim to have been detained at the airport for
two and three days. Van Hemert stated that he believes "look
alikes" then take the passports and travel with them. He
also believes that these passports are circulated and are
used by many women. Van Hemert also asserted that trafficked
women are likely used in the drug trade as well during their
travels throughout the trafficking routes. Of the 12
Nigerian lawyers and investigators on staff at the Dutch
Consulate General, none will go to the airport to investigate
these allegations for fear of reprisals or assassinations.



9. (C) Badejo confirmed the prevalence of trafficking women
to Europe and the US from
Edo State and called the state the "capitol of traffickers."
He further confirmed the collusion of government officials
and traditional rulers with traffickers and stated that
voodoo, coercion, and threat of violence are used to quiet
the trafficked. The Secretariat has programs in Benin City
that offers rehabilitation services and counseling for
trafficked women. Nigerian nuns and priests are also located
in Europe, providing similar services. In 2002, a Nigerian
nun working with trafficked women was murdered in Italy.
Badejo stated that many nuns and priests working there
receive numerous threats from traffickers and unknown
persons. Badejo was not aware of South America as a
transiting point for trafficking, but stated that traffickers
work through agents in Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, and Ghana. In
these countries, he said there are camps where women are
"instructed in their duties," informed of the costs of their
travel, take voodoo oaths of secrecy, and sign agreements to
repay their expenses. Most women, Badejo stated, are aware
that they are going to be prostitutes. He said trafficking
for prostitution is inculcated into the culture and that many
women practice the trade to send money back to their
families. Societal pressure is intense on young women in Edo
and Badejo characterized fathers as telling their daughters
"you are no use to me here. Go to Europe and bring home
money so that I can enjoy my old age."

10. (C) COMMENT: The trafficking of women is an important
component of international organized crime in Nigeria. The
effects are particularly acute in Europe and GOKN and the
Government of Italy have amended their immigration laws to
facilitate deportation of illegal immigrants in response to
this and other problems. Although Europe is the number one
destination of trafficked women, it is believed that the
trend in the United States may be growing. The extent of the
trade to the US is currently unknown, but the product of
stricter enforcement of immigration laws by USG since
September 11, 2001 may yield more information in the near
future. If Nigerians take great lengths to traffic women to
Europe via South America, they are also likely to traffic
women to the United States and it may be a matter of time
before effects of the trade are seen.

11. (C) It is difficult to document how the trafficking
syndicate is organized. Nigerian society is marked by
corruption at every level and it is not surprising that it
may include senior NIS officials and traditional rulers. The
lack of cooperation from trafficked women in identifying
members of the syndicate, the appropriate fear of possible
reprisals and assassinations, and the nature of Nigerian
bureaucracy make confirming this information extremely
difficult. However, Van Hemert is well versed on the issue
and his three years of experience lends his assertions
credibility. Affected posts should be mindful of the
phenomenon of trafficked Nigerian women and ascertain whether
they may be applying for U.S. visas. Information shared by
the Secretariat and Van Hemert also begs another question:
are the women truly trafficked or smuggled illegal immigrants
seeking economic gain? END COMMENT