Over 2000 Nigerian girls who were brought to Russia last year for the FIFA World Cup under the guise of being football fans have been forced into sex slavery, prostitution by the traffickers who brought them into the country.
Blessing Obuson, a teenager from Edo state, pictured below was one of them before she recently got rescued.
According to a Reuters report, Blessing Obuson thought Russia’s soccer World Cup would be an opportunity to find a job so she flew into Moscow from Nigeria last June on a fan ID.
Fan IDs allowed visa-free entry to World Cup supporters with match tickets, but did not confer the right to work. Despite that, Obuson, 19, said she had hoped to work as a shop assistant to provide for her two-year-old daughter and younger siblings back in Nigeria.
However, on getting to Russia, Blessing found herself forced to work as a prostitute.
She said she was locked in a flat on the outskirts of Moscow and forced into sex work along with 11 other Nigerian women who were supervised by a madam, also from Nigeria.
“I cried really hard. But what choice did I have?” Obuson said after being freed by anti-slavery activists.
She said her madam had confiscated her passport and told her she’d only get it back once she’d worked off a fictional debt of $50,000.
Obuson would eventually tell her story to a rare English-speaking client who got anti-slavery activists involved and got her her freedom.
Two Nigerians were later arrested and charged with human trafficking after striking a deal to sell Obuson for two million rubles (around $30,000) to a police officer posing as a client, according to her lawyer, statements from prosecutors, and evidence presented at court hearings in the case attended by Reuters journalists. The case is still under investigation.
Obuson’s case is not isolated.
Reuters met eight Nigerian women aged between 16 and 22 brought into Russia on fan IDs and forced into sex work. All said they had endured violence.
“They don’t give you food for days, they slap you, they beat you, they spit in your face… It’s like a cage,” said one 21-year old woman, who declined to be named.
In September, a Nigerian woman was killed by a man who refused to pay for sex, police said. The Nigerian embassy later identified her as 22-year old Alifat Momoh who had come to Russia from Nigeria with a fan ID.
Kenny Kehindo, who works with several Moscow NGOs to help sex trafficking victims, estimates that more than 2,000 Nigerian women were brought in on fan IDs.
Calling for more cooperation between the authorities and anti-trafficking NGOs during major sporting events, including the 2022 Qatar World Cup where a fan ID system is also being considered. Kenny said:
“Fan ID is a very good thing, but in the hands of the human traffickers it’s just an instrument.”
Last year, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to bring back home the 230 stranded Nigerians in Russia after the World Cup.
A nursing mother and 154 out of the 230 were brought home.