Nigerian girls appeared on the streets of Athens during the Olympic Games of 2004. They never left. Nobody knew where they came from, nor did anybody care.
Most of them arrived transiting through Italy and France.
The EU’s invisible borders have made it easy for traffickers to move girls around. And Nigeria has its own powerful –and highly lucrative– criminal ring. Although it may cost 1000 Euros to transport girls to their destination cities, the latter will be forced to pay back their traffickers up to 80,000 Euros. And girls are kept from rebelling by the strong hold of voodoo oaths –and threats to their families.
Larissa is a city with a population of 200.000. It lies between the two major cities of Greece, Athens and Thessaloniki.
It is a major agricultural centre and a national transportation hub.
I met Sonia, a 22 years old Nigerian, back in 2008. At that time she used to work as a prostitute in the streets of Athens for 15-30 Euros per customer.
She had no passport or any residence permit. She had to run when the police was raiding the historical centre of Athens, where she usually worked, because as she used to say: I’ m double illegal.
The last two years a series of town-planning projects aimed at revamping the city’s run-down historic center. Athens’s Mayor stressed that thriving crime in the area – including the trade in drugs and prostitution – posed a risk to public health and safety.
As a result of that, ‘cleaning up’ operations by the police took place. The illegal immigrants were targeted.
It’ s been extremely difficult for the Nigerians to work in the streets since then.
Many girls were deported back to their countries and others had to look for work outside the capital city.
Sonia along with two other Nigerian women, Valentina and Amanda, decided to look for work in the city of Larissa.
Girls were told that police checks were not so strict in the countryside. They also knew some other Nigerians that had been working already in Larissa.
A cheap hotel in the city centre of Larissa is where Sonia stays. She shares a room with two more Nigerian girls. Twenty more girls are spread in other rooms of the same building.
I spent three days with them, trying to reveal through their daily life and their habits, some aspects of their personality.
I intentionally avoided following them at the bars where they work because I didn’t want the cliché photo approach of sex workers with customers, etc.
I gave them a voice, through the video recording, to explain how they came to Greece at first place as well as talking about their past life (Valentina with her children’s dvd from London).
Sonia insisted, as the other girls too, that they work without a pimp and that not all the girls are victims of trafficking.
They said that they were told and they believed that Europe was a promised land; where you can one way or another make a fortune easily.
Following them during their daytime walks in Larissa and sharing some of their free time with them in the hotel some conclusions were obvious: The girls lead a life apart, like most of the migrant workers, not having integrated at all in the local society. They spend most of their time watching Nigerian TV series and listening to African music.
Greeks in the countryside are not used to see a lot of black people. Their being aware of the fact that the African girls are in their hometown to work as prostitutes makes them behave in a funny way, mostly by staring at them persistently.
They live a ‘normal’ life, mainly listening to music, watching TV, cooking, shopping.
Their dream is to get married with a local Greek. This would allow them stop working at the bars as well as having the opportunity of becoming legal.