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Page last updated at 10:24 GMT, Friday, 22 May 2009 11:24 UK

Spain holds 'voodoo' traffickers

Red light district in Amsterdam (6 December 2008)
The traffickers allegedly supplied women for the sex trade across Europe

Spanish police have arrested 23 people suspected of trafficking Nigerian women into the country and forcing them into prostitution by using voodoo curses.

Experts said the women were scared into submission because of a vow they were forced to take on the graves of their ancestors before they left Nigeria.

The money the women earned was then kept until they had paid off the debt incurred getting to Spain, police said.

The traffickers allegedly supplied women for the sex trade across Europe.

Earlier this month, 11 people went on trial in the Netherlands accused of using voodoo to force up to 150 Nigerian women and girls into prostitution in Europe.

Prosecutors said most were minors at the time they disappeared from Dutch asylum centres, ending up in Italy, Spain and France.

'Black magic'

In a statement, Spanish police said they had detained 23 people after raids on 10 homes across the country. Material used in voodoo rituals, computer equipment and several passports were also seized.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

Police said they had opened an investigation in February after receiving a complaint from a Nigerian woman in the south-eastern city of Seville, who said she had been one of the traffickers' victims.

The suspects had carried out "voodoo rituals and black magic to frighten the women and keep them always under control with the threat of 'destroying their souls' or 'making them crazy'", they added.

They were then transported by road to Libya before being smuggled into Italy by boat. The women were hidden in flats while the traffickers had created false identification documents before being sent elsewhere in Europe.

All the money which the women earned as prostitutes was kept by the ring until they had paid off the debt they incurred to make the trip to Spain, which typically amounted to 50,000 euros (£44,000; $68,000), police said.

'Harrowing'

Orakwue Arinze, a spokesman for the Nigerian National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), told the BBC that vulnerable girls between the ages of 12 and 18 were being targeted.

Nigerian women willing to emigrate to Europe prostitute themselves in Tangiers (2000)
Orakwue Arinze said the girls were promised a new life in Europe

"Some of the victims of broken families... Some of them come from communities who have branded them as witches," he said. "So they have been thrown out of their homes and abandoned by their families."

Mr Arinze said the girls were promised a new life in Europe and told that they would easily get a well-paid job or get married.

Before they left home, the traffickers forced the girls to swear an oath, he added.

"The girl is taken to a shrine or a cemetery in the middle of the night, her finger nails are cut off, her pubic hair is shaved, a menstrual pad containing her blood is taken away, and then a piece of her clothing is removed," he said.

"These are deposited in a shrine with wicked incantations that this girl should die and her family be wiped out in the event that she runs away or [exposes] these criminal practices," he added.

Mr Arinze said that such was the strength of the girls' belief in the oath, that even if they were presented with the opportunity to escape from prostitution once in Europe, hardly any would dare.

"These girls sleep with as many as 30 men a day because when they get to the destination countries, the madams make them understand... that the earlier she pays back the money, the better for her."



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