Osakwe said her parents are very poor and that the idea of going to Russia to help them and to save money for her education appealed to her. She agreed. Only when she arrived, did she discover everything the woman had said was a lie.
There was no supermarket job. Instead, Osakwe told DW, she was forced to work as a prostitute. She was driven around Moscow to have sex with men. One night, she was taken to an apartment building where one man was apparently waiting for her. When she got inside, she discovered there were eight men. She was forced to sleep with all of them, she said. When she refused to have sex without a condom, they took back the money they had paid and beat and molested her, she said.
Then they threw her from the fourth floor of the building. Osakwe broke her hip when she hit the ground. She spent two-days on life-support in the hospital until her treatment was stopped because, she said, she could not afford to pay. She now cannot walk properly and is confined to a wheelchair.
Kehinde said many girls forced into sex work in Russia came to the country on student visas
Trafficked on student visas
Osakwe’s story is not uncommon, said Kenny Kehinde, who works with several Moscow NGOs focused on preventing human trafficking. Around 2,000-3,000 Nigerian girls – many from poor, remote villages – are brought to Russia every year for sex work, he said.
“This is international modern-day slavery, where the girls are brought here with the help of some Russian government officials, some Nigerian authorities and so-called ‘madams’ [pimps] who exploit these girls for sex in Russia,” said Kehinde.
Most of the girls Kehinde dealt with had come to Russia on student visas, he said. Such visas are not easy to obtain as universities must provide supporting material for the applications.
Usman Gafai, head of mission at the Nigerian Embassy in Moscow, said he, too, was aware of Nigerians being trafficked for sex to Russia. “Ten years ago, it was not such a huge problem as this,” he told DW. “Those involved are an international cartel. On a daily basis they are growing and making money out of it.”
The Russian government needed to “carry out proper scrutiny of visa applicants back in Nigeria,” Gafai said. “The majority come to Russia on a student visa, and I want to see more scrutiny of that.”
Kehinde said illiterate teenagers were being trafficked. “How can you bring a girl of 14- or 15-year old to study in a university, when she cannot even read and write?” he asked.
Numerous documents belonging to girls who were trafficked to Russia and exploited examined
DW was able to examine passports and migration documents belonging to six Nigerian girls, including Blessing Osakwe, that showed they had arrived in Russia on student visas.
The Smolny Institute of the Russian Academy of Education in Saint Petersburg told DW it had issued visa support documents in 2014 for Osakwe to study a Russian-language course in preparation for entering university. However, in an emailed statement to DW, the university’s rector, Gaidar Imanov, said she never arrived at the institute, and the university had no knowledge of whether she had entered the country.
Similarly, the Baltic Humanitarian Institute, another St. Petersburg university, confirmed via email it had issued documents to a would-be student from Nigeria who had never made contact to begin her course in Russia.
Both universities rejected the notion that their staff may have been paid to provide documents to students who were not genuine or to traffic girls to Russia for sex, calling the allegation “fiction” and “absolutely baseless.”
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