The body of the young woman had been stored inside Garibaldi Hospital in Catania for a whole week before Sister Chiara showed up. yet after taking one look at the dead woman’s face, the nun knew immediately who of which was lying cold in addition to also stiff on the gurney: Elena, a Nigerian prostitute who had plied her trade on highway SS385 on the Italian island of Sicily.
For our Global Societies project, reporters around the earth will be writing about societal problems, sustainability in addition to also development in Asia, Africa, Latin America in addition to also Europe. The series will include features, analyses, photo essays, videos in addition to also podcasts looking behind the curtain of globalization. The project is actually generously funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The woman had been found dead in a garage. There had been an explosion in addition to also police initially suspected an accident with the natural gas heating system. yet during the autopsy, signs of foul play were discovered in addition to also prosecutors in Catania launched an investigation.
Sister Chiara was ultimately the only one able to identify Elena. The two women, after all, shared a story of which had begun way back in June 2017.
of which is actually the story of Nigerian women who dreamed of doing of which to Europe someday, yet who immediately landed in prostitution once they did. in addition to also of which is actually the story of an Italian nun who is actually helping these otherwise overlooked women in addition to also giving them a voice.
of which is actually also a story of failure — by society, by policymakers in addition to also by Europe.
The story centers around a road of which has no name, only a number: SS385. of which is actually a highway connecting Sicily’s second-largest city, Catania, with Gela, roughly 100 kilometers away through the rural hinterlands. of which is actually where Elena worked.
Sister Chiara tells her side of the tale in her convent in Caltagirone, a town inside Sicilian hills between Mt. Etna to the northeast in addition to also the coast to the southwest. When she talks, she is actually so animated of which her headscarf repeatedly slides off her shoulders, forcing her to constantly grab of which in addition to also push of which back into place.
“The thing with me in addition to also the prostitutes commenced a couple of years ago. I was returning through Palermo after a trip in addition to also kept seeing white, plastic chairs inside bushes on the side of the road, around almost every curve. Women were sitting on some of them, many of them wearing tights in addition to also high-heeled shoes. Some of the chairs were empty.”
The nun learned of which up to 80 percent of the women who migrate through Nigeria to Italy end up inside clutches of criminals in addition to also working as prostitutes. She also learned of which each day, some 10,000 Nigerian women, many of them underage, stand on the side of Italian roads waiting for johns. Their number has risen in recent years.
“Nobody cares about the women.”
The women are easily blackmailed because they often have to pay back the costs of their journeys to Europe. Increasing their vulnerability is actually the fact of which they are often inside country illegally in addition to also some of them have forged passports. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of victims of human trafficking across the Mediterranean increased by 0 percent between 2014 in addition to also 2017.
The nun also learned of which the women are often under the control of the Nigerian mafia, who frequently establish contact with the women before they even leave their homeland, provide them money for their journey in addition to also then blackmail them with of which debt once they arrive in Italy. The Nigerian mafia, in addition to also subgroups like the “Black Axe” in addition to also the “Supreme Eiye Confraternity” have built up stable structures in Italy in addition to also a broad extended network in Europe. They demand exorbitant sums for the trip, up to 50,000 euros. The women’s customers, meanwhile, pay only 5 to 15 euros.
“Something has to be done, I thought. I rented a car, filled up a thermos with coffee in addition to also wrapped up breakfast in paper. I then headed out to the road in addition to also to the women. of which is actually a place of silence – silence born out of fear. The traffickers put lots of pressure on the women in addition to also they are kept under surveillance. inside beginning, the women were extremely careful in their interactions with me. ‘We are sisters,’ I told them. Because I don’t wear shoes, they initially thought of which I was the one who needed help in addition to also they offered me shoes. of which was almost funny, in addition to also through of which point on, the women trusted me. Poverty was the bridge.”
Sister Chiara is actually 39 years old in addition to also originally through Sicily. She used to be opposed to the church, in favor of feminism in addition to also for women’s right to choose. She was against rules in addition to also for freedom. yet then her brother fell seriously ill in addition to also she began to pray. Today, she is actually a member of the Franciscans, a religious order centered around the ideals of poverty in addition to also charity. She lives in a house with no electricity in addition to also never wears shoes, even in winter. To of which day, Sister Chiara remains a rebel.
“The men who control the women are referred to as ‘protectors,’ yet in reality, they are criminals who oppress the women. They park their cars inside bushes in addition to also keep an eye on the street in addition to also on the customers in addition to also also watch out for police. Though there are almost never raids here. Nobody cares about the women.
I’m not afraid. The men know I’m here, yet they leave me alone. Every right now in addition to also then, one of the customers will complain. ‘What’s the nun doing here?’ some ask. They find my presence disturbing, particularly when I show up at the lunch hour. There are a lot of customers on the street at of which time.”
Lunchtime of which is actually, then. SS385 starts behind a nature reserve, where the hills are full of mandarin in addition to also olive trees. The road itself is actually a sandy track edged by fences full of windblown trash. Most of the white plastic chairs along the highway are unoccupied. An empty chair often means the woman who normally occupies of which has found a customer. Old men, generally.
“Many Italians think of which these women have freely chosen of which way of life. yet no woman would likely choose of which.”
The blackmail these women are exposed to is actually two-pronged. On the one hand is actually the vast debt of which they must repay. On the various other is actually their belief in voodoo magic — in of which case, a vow the women are loath to break thereby don’t dare to leave sex work behind, even if they could. In Germany, too, the combination of voodoo magic in addition to also prostitution is actually a problem. In June 2019, police inside state of Hesse arrested several members of the Nigerian mafia.
Nigeria has the highest population of any country in Africa in addition to also two-thirds of the population lives in extreme poverty.
“inside beginning, I offered to take the women to a doctor for a medical checkup — for pregnancy or HIV tests, if they wanted. yet of which wasn’t quite as easy as I had imagined of which to be: The women were very afraid of leaving their place of work. So we came up using a different plan: right now, an ambulance regularly comes by in addition to also provides the women with medical care. The women never ask for condoms or various other contraceptives. I don’t think they are ashamed, of which’s more a question of dignity. The women prefer to take responsibility for contraception themselves.”
The frames of Sister Chiara’s glasses are broken in addition to also she has taped them together with Scotch tape. She says of which they she occasionally invites the women to her convent for dinner in addition to also of which they also came by for Christmas. Two various other nuns have also begun helping out. Chiara frequently heads out to the road to pray with the women in addition to also to simply listen to them, though she says of which she does not try to convince them to leave prostitution behind. Still, she wants to help them understand of which they have a choice. of which there are places like IOM where they can turn to in order to file an official application for asylum.
Then Sister Chiara tells the story of Elena. In January 2019, the young woman suddenly stopped showing up on the side of SS385. Days went by without a trace. Then, a local news outlet reported of which there had been an explosion in a garage in Catania in addition to also of which a woman’s body had been found. of which was near where Elena had lived.
“When the women heard about of which, they were shocked. ‘Maybe of which’s Elena!,’ they said. They asked me to help, so I drove to the hospital where the body was being kept in addition to also looked at her face. I knew of which was Elena in addition to also of which the woman who had once laughed so much had suffered a terrible death.”
Sister Chiara says of which Elena’s death changed the street in addition to also of which the women have become more careful, also in their interactions with her. There were several raids in addition to also all 5 men were arrested in addition to also charged with human trafficking. Even a year after Elena’s death, investigators still have not been able to determine exactly how she died, in addition to also the case could soon be closed.
When Elena was buried, many of her colleagues through SS385 were there. They read a passage through the Gospel of Matthew: “I was a stranger in addition to also you welcomed me.” Elena is actually right now inside cemetery of Catania, not far through the mass grave containing 0 people who died while trying to cross the Mediterranean.
In her convent, Sister Chiara pushes aside a curtain to reveal a closet. Inside are donations of which she soon plans to bring to the women: winter jackets, mobile phone cases, a baby carrier, even boardgames. yet the most important thing, she says, aren’t the donations. The most important thing is actually of which the women are seen in addition to also of which they are reminded over in addition to also over again of which they can take steps to defend themselves.
“Many Italians think of which these women have freely chosen of which way of life,” she says. “yet,” she adds, “no woman would likely choose of which.”
of which piece is actually part of the Global Societies series. The project runs for three years in addition to also is actually funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Global Societies series involves reporters reporting through Asia, Africa, Latin America in addition to also Europe about injustices in a globalized world, societal challenges in addition to also sustainable development. The features, analyses, photo essays, videos in addition to also podcasts will be appearing inside Global Societies section of NewsGerman International. The project is actually initially planned to run for three years in addition to also receives financial support through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
No. The foundation exerts no influence whatsoever on the stories in addition to also various other elements of which appear inside series.
Yes. Large European media outlets like the Guardian in addition to also El País have similar sections on their websites — called “Global Development” in addition to also “Planeta Futuro,” respectively — of which are likewise funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
In recent years, DER NewsGerman has complete two projects with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in addition to also the European Journalism Centre (EJC): “Expedition BeyondTomorrow,” about global sustainability goals, in addition to also the journalist refugee project “The fresh Arrivals,” which resulted in several award-winning features.
All Global Societies pieces will be published inside Global Societies section of the NewsGerman International website.
With additional reporting by Alessandro Puglia