The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has warned that the number of women and girls being trafficked from Ivory Coast has been rising. Many of them reportedly suffer abuse, slavery and prostitution — both in North Africa and Europe.
According to IOM, anti-trafficking workers report an increase in numbers of Ivorian females attempting to cross the Mediterranean, with many submitting desperate pleas for help when they reach landing points in Italy.
The IOM said that it had recorded several hundred such cases on both sides of the Mediterranean in recent years. The report also specified that when female victims of smuggling managed to arrive in Italy they were often found to be pregnant as the result of rape or had neonates with them.
Slavery, rape and prostitution
Laurence Hart, IOM coordinator for the Mediterranean, told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency that the trafficked Ivorian women and girls interviewed usually reported having been used as prostitutes or subjected to slavery in northern Africa before either making their escape or being further trafficked to Europe.
"Many are recruited in their country with the promise of being given employment as maids or waitresses and become, instead, victims of domestic servitude upon arriving in Tunisia or Libya," he said on European Anti-Trafficking Day on October 18.
Hart added that these women were often "subjected to sexual abuse, mistreatment, violence and deprivation of personal freedom" in criminal networks run by people smugglers.
The IOM report highlighted a case in which a 28-year-old Ivorian woman was taken to Tunisia in hopes of becoming a waitress there. Once she arrived, she was then forced to work as a domestic worker for 17 hours each day for eight months, had her identity papers taken away and also became subject to sexual violence.
After falling pregnant, Josephine was reportedly forced to have an abortion, escaping on the way back from the medical procedure. It was only then that she managed to plot a way to get to Europe. She didn't recount any further instances of abuse for the rest of her journey, but many young women and girls aren't that lucky:
The women are then often subjected to abuse a second time by smugglers who "intend on exploiting them upon their arrival to Italy, or other countries of the European Union," IOM coordinator Hart said.
He also highlighted that many risk losing their lives at sea while trying to reach Europe: "More needs to be done to protect these vulnerable groups, which not only suffer a long series of abuses and human rights violations, but then find themselves forced to risk dying at sea."
The percentage of women and girls arriving in Italy by sea has risen even though there has been a drop in the total number of Ivorian migrants arriving, IOM said: in 2015, less than 10% of the number of Ivorians arriving in Italy were women; by 2019, that number had jumped up to 46%.
"Behind the numbers, there are many tragic stories, of which we often know too little," Hart said.
"The recruitment is carried out by members of the victim’s network such as friends, relatives, people who attend their family or randomly met. Social media can also be used as a tool to entice potential victims of trafficking," the IOM said in its report. It further highlighted that the many of the Ivorian females leaving their country were not economic migrants:
"According to the testimonies collected by IOM staff at the landing sites and reception centers, the reasons that explain the departure of Ivorian women and girls are not exclusively economic but are also related to gender-based violence suffered in the country of origin: female genital mutilations, forced marriage, domestic violence," the report stressed.