An Italian association has attributed the rise in Nigerian sex slavery in Italy to violence and “juju” magic.

It stressed that in the past two years 12,000 Nigerian women reached Italy by sea, six times more than the previous two years and most are victims of trafficking.

The Penelope Association said on Thursday in Catania (Italy) said this while briefing newly arrived migrants about the dangers of trafficking.

Oriana Cannavo, Head of the Charity’s Catania branch, said that with the numbers of Nigerians rising in Sicily, prostitution is a thriving business, though nobody knows exactly how many women end up plying their trade on the streets.

She said the women need help to reintegrate in society, warning that the offer of support is a delicate one, because the girls are already in the psychological clutches of their traffickers.

Cannavo noted that the number of Nigerian women arriving in Italy is accelerating and complicating the task of law enforcement agencies determined to keep tabs on the location of pimps known as “madams”.

Margherita Limoni, a legal advisor, with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Catania, said that the new arrivals are also stretching the workload of the organisation, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) and local charities.

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“It is reaching a stage where it is out of control.

Limoni said that the number of Nigerian women arriving in Italy has almost doubled in the past year, surpassing 6,300 in the first eight months of 2016, up from 3,400 for the same period last year.

She said that the IOM data showed that unaccompanied children from Nigeria, some as young as 10 or 11, have also flocked to Italy.

“Around 1,700 arrived in the first eight months of this year, while 1,000 came during the whole of 2015, minors are offered state protection.

Limoni lamented that most of the affected women are not always to accept assistance, as they always sipped back into prostitution out of fear of their pimps or loyalty.

“Many times the girls see their pimp as a benefactor, who is trying to improve their lives.

The IOM’s official agreed that the strong spiritual and psychological grip of Nigerian pimps, madams and traffickers makes it harder to support the victims.

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“The traffickers are getting smarter and smarter by the day,” she said.

Another Sicily-based campaigner said that victims are also put off from fleeing pimps by actual stories of families being targeted or killed back in Nigeria.

“This is indeed a reminder of the need to fulfil their obligations or stick to their juju oaths.

Vivian Wiwoloku, president of the charity Pelligrino della Terra, said that if a girl breaks her juju oath then she loses the spiritual protection, or so they believe.

“There was one Nigerian girl some years ago who abandoned prostitution.

“Then someone was really sent to her home in Nigeria to kill her brother,” she said.

Wiwoloku, also a Nigeria, said that his charity work that has helped more than 400 women abandon prostitution since 1996 was not without its dangers.

“My car has twice been set on fire.

“When you try to help somebody not everyone will be happy,” he said.

They said investigation revealed that before their journey through Niger to Libya, a spiritual priest practicing a form of black magic known in Nigeria as “juju” forcing them to swear an oath of obedience to their traffickers.

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The association said that the threat of a “curse” if she broke her oath and the possibility of violence by her traffickers at home were enough to trap them into sex slavery.

The association said that the victims confessed that if they have reported to the police, their family would have been in great danger.

Italian charities said that young, exhausted and vulnerable, many victims reported being told that prostitution is the only way to repay hefty debts ranging from 25,000 to 100,000 euros (28,000 to 112,000 dollars) to their traffickers.

“Fear plays a large part in the juju rituals, with pubic hair, fingernails and blood collected from the victim as they are made to swear never to report her situation to the authorities.

“In some cases, fearing the juju “spell” may be turned on them and they may die, Nigerian parents insist their daughters obey their traffickers, testimony from Italian court documents shows,’’ they said. NAN