It has been reported by Europol that on 14 July 2014, Portuguese law enforcement authorities, with the support of Europol, dismantled an organised criminal group of West African and Portuguese nationals suspected of trafficking young mostly Nigerian women to Portugal and other EU countries in order to exploit them through forced prostitution.

The EUROPOL report adds that seven suspects were arrested in Portugal and seven house searches carried out. Mobile phones, computers and tablets and other significant evidentiary material relevant to the investigation were seized including a false passport.

These results are part of the long-running ‘Operation NAIRA’, an investigation into human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, led by the Portuguese Immigration Service (SEF). The investigation has been focusing on an organised crime network which trafficked young African females, from West Africa, to Portugal, France and Spain where they were forced into prostitution.

The victims of this particular criminal group are generally young Nigerian women from Benin City (Edo State) who are recruited in their places of origin, from where their trips are organised. Members of the criminal network in Portugal take care of logistics such as contacting the victims, providing accommodation and ID documents. The women often travel with forged travel documents or sometimes no documents at all.

On arrival at their destinations, most of the women identify themselves verbally as minors originating in Nigeria, Guinea and Mali and claim asylum (as allegedly instructed by their traffickers). They are then placed in shelters from where they later abscond and disappear. Victims are subsequently moved to other EU countries by the criminal group. The trafficking process for these vulnerable victims is characterised by threats against the victims and often includes debt bondage, the use of threats against the victims and/or their relatives, physical and sexual violence, and the use of “voodoo” rituals.

Europol actively supported this human trafficking operation and provided operational analytical support throughout the investigation to the countries involved. This included facilitating information exchange and analysis, organising an operational meeting at Europol and delivering real-time cross-checks of all data gathered in the course of the field action through the deployment of a Europol mobile office and an Europol analyst in Portugal.