Nigerian Gangs, The Mafia, Human Trafficking and Italy

Italy, the birthplace of the Cosa Nostra, is a hub for economic migrants fleeing violence, terrorism and poverty. Over 100,000 migrants came to Italy in 2017. Nigeria by far had the largest total number of arrivals from December 2015 to November 2016, according to Eurostat data. 9.15% of asylum seekers to the EU applied to Italy in 2016 up from 6.7% from 2015.

Further, according to UNHCR, 181,436 migrants arrived to Italy by sea, and 13% of whom were women. “In particular, the number of women arriving from Nigeria has nearly doubled +95.5%: from 5,633 in 2015 to 11,009 in 2016. Italy, after all, is the principal destination for migrants fleeing Abuja. Women, on the other hand, often end up being exploited and forced into prostitution,” Openmigration reports, with findings based on a IOM report called A study on the socioeconomic profile of migrants arriving in Italy.


The problem is the gangs, both African and Italian. The Black Axe, a Nigerian criminal gang that slipped into Italy amongst earlier waves of migrants, has made a living in Italy trafficking drugs and humans. Italy Cosa Nostra—the mafia—are teaming up with those Nigerian gangs, creating an almost inescapable web into which many Nigerian women migrants have become trapped. The Guardian, among other digital news sources, have done an exemplary job chronicling the tragic stories.

Via Domiziana in the Campania region of Italy, for example, is becoming a part of this horrible trap. It is now a sector of what is called the Mafia Coast. Barbie Latza Nadeau writes of a man she calls “Giovanni,” who drives a Fiat Uno to go window-shopping for prostitutes almost every Sunday morning. “By his own admission, his goal is to experience a blowjob by as many different Nigerian women as he can because, in his words, the ‘dirtiness of having a black woman’s mouth on him’ is a turn on,” Barbie Latza Nadeau writes in The Daily Beast. “Plus, if he never goes to the same woman twice, he can never be accused of having a relationship outside of his marriage.” Giovanni – a false name – is further described as "a short, balding man with a thick neck full of gray stubble, and a potbelly that flops over the top of his trousers." He is 55, and does not seem to know that the Nigerian women he frequents are victims of sex trafficking.


VICE News visited Ballarò, a small market area, and mafia stronghold. Instead of fighting over territory, the mafias and the Nigerian gangs have formed a strategic partnership. The mob controls the territory and brothel space, and the Nigerians violently control the “supply” of women. “(T)he situation in Ballarò has become lucrative for the Mafia, who are in essence allowing the Black Axe to sell drugs here, providing they pay a pseudo-tax — known as a ‘pizzo’ — to rent brothel space, and sell drugs on their turf,” Vice reports. Italy, famous for its institutional corruptions, does not disappoint here. Policemen, judges and local politicians are connected to that mob that is now connected to the Nigerian gangs. The connection leads to legal protections for the gangs, making it even more impossible to escape the trap once one is locked into their sex work operations. Everyone, it would seem, is profiting except, of course, these women.

There are very few alternatives for these women. Driven by economic need, they left Nigeria and their network of kin to come to the shores of Europe, where they have no protection and no job prospects. Nigerian women are barred from the Italian workforce, which is already among the worst in Europe. And the itinerant formwork, one of the only forms of employment open to migrants is reserved for men. How then are they to make a living?

Of course, all these corruptions have hatched in public, like poisons in the mud. How could they not? The public is angry at the wealth flowing from the corruptions and the degradation of their communities. Who are they blaming? The immigrants – say the far right – are the cause of all these societal poisons. Attacking immigrants, the weak, the destitute, and the preyed upon, is now a part of the election landscape, and will be for the near future in Italy with the rise of the Five Star movement. Polls in Italy show that the immigrant wedge issue is a giant political force. The recent elections in Italy favored far right fringe groups that scapegoat immigrants from places like Nigeria. But do these people know exactly the challenges and hardships that Nigerian women particularly face in immigrating?

Pope Francis perhaps is here the voice of reason. He counsels for Lent “violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own certainties: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us ...”

But will the Italians listen to the Pope? 

Cover photo via