There are migratory routes that set off alarms. Specific sequences of countries. Edo (Nigeria), Libya, Italy, Spain. Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco, Spain. A beauty shop in Colombia and a tourist visa at the airport. A woman who arrives without a cell phone and without a card.
These are the main routes of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation that the experts in the women’s area of the Movement for Peace see every day. Mary Renart is a social worker, Rocío Llopis is an immigration lawyer and Pilar Albero, a lawyer specializing in international protection. The three of them have been dedicated since 2019 to collecting the stories of sexually exploited women, ensuring their protection and documenting them so that they can rebuild – if that is possible – their lives.
There are two major migratory routes that reach the association at the moment. One is for Africa, the other for Colombia. Each one has its differences and characteristics to pay attention to. Edo is a state in Nigeria and is considered the cradle of trafficking. “When I hear that a woman has left there, all my alarms go off. It’s a very common case,” says Mary Renart. The route continues through Libya, Italy and Spain.
In Libya is where the greatest atrocities are committed, according to Renart. To cross they must pay for the trip in a more than precarious boat. And from there they will travel back to Spain in cars and vans overcrowded with people. Also in taxis, where some drivers abuse them on the way.
That’s one of the land routes. “In Libya there are some terrible camps not only for these women, but for any person who suffers from abuse, torture, humiliation… The greatest violation of human rights.” They get on the boat after paying thousands of euros to risk their lives. And when they arrive in Italy, the borders become softer. “They go in cars, buses, and many people on the border dedicate themselves to this, they spend it without problems,” assures Renart.
Another African route leaves Senegal, passes through Mauritania and reaches Morocco to circumvent the southern Spanish border. “Nigeria used to be a very powerful indicator. Now we are also very attentive to how the mafias develop in Senegal,” says Llopis. Renart clarifies that “the vast majority of women arrive without proof of anything. But when they come from places like Edo, the simple testimony almost guarantees that they can ask for protection as a victim of trafficking.”
African women also have a certain profile. “They have all suffered gender violence or domestic violence throughout their lives. And many of them do not have a roof over their heads,” says Renart. That is when the figure of “the savior” appears. A man who promises them take them off the street and tell them “I can take you to Europe”. It can be a single person or an entire organized mafia. “Many women arrive here with their ‘husbands’ who force them to prostitute themselves to earn money. Some, in fact, get pregnant and use the children as an element of coercion on them,” says Renart. When they arrive in Spain, many by sea, they are separated by the first Red Cross care device. “There you try to see what the relationship is like and if there is danger, but many of these victims are never detected.“, says Mary. When they arrive, many ‘husbands’ leave. The entire migration process is linked to them, unlike the mafias, which pass them from hand to hand after the figure of the savior takes them out of the “The common thing is that they take away the mobile with a card and when they arrive they pick them up and give them another one,” they explain.
The second route starts from Colombia, and is very different from the first. To begin with, the victims are recruited by women. And not on the street, but in beauty salons. The false promise is also the same: “I can take you to Europe“.”They usually tell them that here they will work as a maid cleaning, that they will do paperwork for them and they are paid very well, but then they realize that the reality is different,” says Llopis. In these cases there is no exploitative ‘husband’, they are moved the mafias directly.
They have, in fact, everything under control. “Upon arrival at the airport they have been given cash and they have been explained what the main attractions of the city are, so that they can answer correctly in case they are asked if they are coming for tourism,” says Llopis. Of course, they leave them without a mobile phone and when they leave the terminal a man usually waits for them with a new one.
The routes are not similar at origin, but when they arrive in Spain they are. As Llopis and Renart explain, sexual exploitation has changed. They are no longer visible on the streets or in clubs, trafficking is concentrated in flats. “The pandemic that did not allow people to move, but also the municipal legislation that penalizes prostitution has made these women generally disappear from public thoroughfares. Now consumption is focused on flats that look touristy but are not”, Llopis points out.
And in those houses where they live and are exploited they also begin to pay off their debts. Because victims of trafficking have debts to pay at source. Those of the person who told them “I’ll take you to Europe”, but the trip to Europe was 20,000 euros from Nigeria, or 4,000 in the case of Colombia. “We have had cases of girls who charged 60 euros for ‘service’ and 30 were kept by the mafia. They only earned 30,” Renart and Llopis say.
Women end up trapped in the cage of trafficking for years until they either escape or pay off the debt. Or neither.
Then, after going through the routes, the “savior”, Libya, the ‘husband’, the taxis, the overcrowded buses and the flats where they are sexually exploited, come to Mary, Rocío and Pilar. Those that arrive and those that remain in one of the previous screens is something that nobody knows. “There are many that never come out,” remarks Renart.
They come to the association “by way of exclusion”. “They call us from social services saying that they have an African girl. I sit down to talk to her and see how little by little all the alarms go off. It turns out that they forced her into prostitution, that 4 or 5 years have passed in which she paid the debt or went out of the network, or they let her go. ANDWhatever the reason, but they have already gone through one of the greatest violations that a person and a woman can suffer. But no one has intervened before », he regrets.
Many of these women arrive without even knowing they are victims of trafficking. “The reality is that most of them are very afraid of going to tell the police in case they are deported,” complaint.
Those who arrive as victims are quickly identified and the entity activates the two main ways to document them. The first is that of international protection and the second, article 59 of the Immigration Law, which provides for work permits depending on the situation and if it is possible to collaborate in a police investigation. The first way is the most guaranteed. As explained by Pilar Albero, specialist lawyer“the most important thing is that it guarantees the principle of non-refoulement of this person, because if he returns to his country he runs the risk of being portrayed”, points out. Despite everything, she clarifies that “Spain has always been reluctant to recognize trafficking victims as women who can obtain international protection, but a few years ago this situation was regulated and now it is being granted.” He remarks thate “many women arrive and forget about this route, which is the one that gives the greatest protection because it gives you work and residence permits but guarantees that they will not return you to your country,” she says.
The second route, that of foreigners, is activated by Llopis at the same time. The article 59cIt contemplates obtaining permits for collaboration with the police or personal circumstances. Although most of these women arrive without proof, there have been cases of regularization through this route. “Thanks to the testimonies of the women, entire floors have been dismantled. That has happened,” says Llopis.