This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
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 TAGS: PHUM SMIG SOCI SNAR CVIS NI SUBJECT: THE SEX TRADE TO THE US AND EUROPE: MEETING WITH DUTCH DCM, LAGOS
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.
EDO STATE, THE ROTTEN APPLE OF NIGERIA
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 home.
TRACKING THE TRAFFICKED
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.
COLLUSION OF TRAFFICKERS AND SENIOR NIGERIAN IMMIGRATION OFFICIALS?
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.
CONFIRMATION FROM CATHOLIC SECRETARIAT
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 HINSON-JONES