Two trafficking survivors have brought a case against Italy and Libya to a UN committee. The two Nigerian women claim the countries failed to protect their rights and left them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
The Italian legal rights association, ASGI (The Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration), helped the survivors take their case to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Trafficking in Libya: A cycle of detention and exploitation
ASGI held a press conference on December 16 in which they spoke about the harrowing experiences of Princess* and Doris*. InfoMigrants reports:
According to ASGI, “from the moment the women crossed the border into Niger, they were repeatedly sold and bought by different actors. They have been abused and tortured in order to profit from their exploitation: in informal places of detention, they have been tortured in order to obtain ransom payments from their families. When their families could not pay, they were sold to people who enslaved them and forced them into prostitution to pay for the cost of their ‘release.'”
Traffickers brought both women to Libya from Nigeria in 2017 and 2018 respectively with the goal of trapping them in forced prostitution. Along their journey to Libya and within the country, they were both locked into an extremely traumatic cycle of enslavement, abuse and exploitation, as they were repeatedly detained in shocking conditions and sold from one criminal group to the next.
After successfully escaping captors, Princess and Doris attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. However, both were intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and taken to detention centers, returning them to the cycle of abuse.
Eventually, Doris and Princess were sent home to Nigeria through the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s “voluntary humanitarian repatriation” program. However, ASGI lawyers have called into question the extent to which repatriation in these circumstances can be considered voluntary, given that they were not offered any other choice that would help them escape abuse.
How are Italy and the E.U. complicit in these crimes?
As ASGI lawyers point out, the migration management system which led to the enslavement of Princess and Doris receives considerable financial support from Italy and the E.U. Indeed, Italy and Libya have made several bilateral agreements in recent years, with support from the E.U., which commit funding for the Libyan Coast Guard and authorities to build their capacity to intercept and detain people trying to reach Europe.
Italy dedicated €11 million (around $12.5 million) of funding to Libya and the IOM repatriation program between 2017 and 2020. Libyan authorities, including the Coast Guard, have also received substantial amounts of funding from the E.U. Trust Fund for Africa.
What is the potential impact of this appeal?
International human rights conventions oblige States to identify victims of trafficking and protect them from retrafficking. Doris and Princess were not identified as victims and they were put at risk of re-trafficking when they were returned to Nigeria.
InfoMigrants reports on the potential impact of this case:
At the end of the press conference, the ASGI lawyers and experts said that they hoped that if they won their appeal, the UN would begin to apply the findings to similar cases. They hope that if the UN finds that Italy and Libya did indeed fail to protect the rights of these women, and others like them, then they will be forced to rethink policies and programs available.
In concrete terms, this could mean that when someone is offered a place on a voluntary repatriation program, they would be asked if they have been a victim of trafficking. If they are found to have fallen victim to trafficking, this might grant them the right to be offered asylum, potentially in a European country.
At the time of writing, there had been no update from the CEDAW, but ASGI expects a response soon.
Join Freedom United’s call
The Freedom United community is demanding that the E.U. stop bolstering the exploitative system that enslaves thousands of people like Doris and Princess in Libya. We’re calling for an end to the funding of the Libyan Coast Guard and the liberation of all men, women and children from the country’s infamous detention centers.
Join our call today! Sign the petition.
*Names have been changed.