Father Oreste Benzi, known throughout Italy for his struggle against prostitution mafias and his work to rehabilitate young sex "slaves" who want to be reintegrated into society, will soon travel to Nigeria, to report on the widespread exploitation. Estimates say there are 500,000 prostitutes in European Union countries.
Father Benzi, president of the John XXIII Association of Rimini, will travel as a guest of the Nigerian government. He will give an address in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, at an international conference on prostitution.
"I am going with the support of the European Commission and its president, Romano Prodi, whom I met last Friday, to cry out to the authorities of Nigeria that 50,000 of their compatriots live like slaves in Europe today and, 15,000 of them in Italy," Father Benzi said.
In his address, the priest will illustrate the situation in which the young women -- some, only girls -- are lured from their towns and villages with promises of work and success, only to be later enslaved by mafias who ship them to Europe for exploitation.
The conference is due in good part to the Nigerian ambassador in Italy, who has traveled with Father Benzi to different Italian cities to observe the situation of his compatriots on the streets. The priest also discussed the matter with the wife of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Father Benzi will also meet with the apostolic nuncio in Nigeria. He will also propose a plan to the Nigerian government.
"In the first place, I shall request stricter control of the passports with which these girls travel," Father Benzi said. He wondered why most of the passports are false, and who issues them.
Through meetings with bishops and missionaries, Father Benzi also will try to look into establishing houses for shelter.
"It is a concrete way to help Nigerian girls released from prostitution to return to their country," he explained. "If, instead, they are left alone, they will either fall again into the prostitution nets or be killed along with their families, especially if they have not paid for being rescued from the prostitution mafia."
During a recent visit to Brussels, Belgium, Father Benzi asked the European Union to block the market of sexual exploitation which transports women through a route that originates in China, Vietnam and different Eastern European countries, and uses Turkey as the base for distribution.
Father Benzi proposed concrete measures: that European Union funds be used in the countries where the network starts, in order "to stop the phenomenon there, where it is born, and to facilitate [a woman´s] return to the homeland."
He also suggested that a European conference be organized on prostitution and on ways to liberate the "new slaves."
Today´s issue of the Italian newspaper Avvenire estimated that there are almost 500,000 prostitutes in the European Union countries. Fifty thousand are from Nigeria; 35,000 come from Albania; and most of the rest come from other African and Eastern European countries, especially Romania and Moldova, according to the newspaper.
Prostitution traffic produces the greatest illegal profits, after the arms and drugs trade, it said.