For a young Nigerian woman, illegally trafficked into Europe, the power of ju-ju (voodoo) is absolute. Before her dream of living in Europe can be realised, she must take part in a traditional ju-ju ceremony, which will rob her of her spirit, and bind her inexorably to her trafficker, or madam as she is known.
'Ju-ju is often used for trafficking purposes,' explains Lorena, who met the women in this feature on the streets of Barcelona, Madrid and Paris, before travelling to Benin City, in the south of Nigeria, to find the heart of the story. Such is the power of ju-ju the young women are absolutely terrified at the thought of failing their 'mission', which first and foremost is to repay the $50,000 debt owed to the madam for facilitating the eight-month journey, often on foot, through the desert from Nigeria to Morocco, from where they will finally take a boat to Spain. 'Of course they cannot work legally in Europe as they have no papers,' says Lorena. 'Men can work in construction, but the women have to go into prostitution. What else is there but to sell themselves? The madams tell them their debt will be paid in a couple of months. The reality is that they're still paying four years later.'
The women's religious and cultural heritage makes it very hard for them to break their ties with the madams. On the one hand they hold strong Chrisitian beliefs yet on the other they still believe in the power of ju-ju. It is this contradiction that the madams have successfully exploited. Not that the girls see it that way. 'They never, ever, talk badly of their madam. They don't fight her. She is their only point of contact. They are very isolated once they are in Europe, and they have nothing else to hold onto except the madam and each other. When they arrive and the reality of the situation hits home, they blame the white man for the lack of jobs. They blame the government for not giving them papers.'
Text courtesy of Ei8ht magazine.
Lorena Ros' story on trafficking was awarded the prize for photojournalism at the One World Media Awards for 2005, a prestigious contest recognising outstanding coverage of the developing world. The judges gave an extra commendation to Panos Pictures and Ei8ht magazine in acknowledgement of their achievement in winning the prize for a second successive year.