By Tom Esslemont
LONDON, Jan 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British airports such as Gatwick are increasingly used as entry points to the European Union by Nigerian trafficking gangs seeking alternatives to perilous Mediterranean Sea crossings, Spanish police have warned.
BBC News quoted a crime squad officer in Barcelona as saying his team had bust a notorious Nigerian crime organisation running a network of trafficked prostitutes across the city.
But the gang, known as the Supreme Eiye Confraternity (SEC), is also "using forged documents and passports to fly its Nigerian victims into places like Gatwick," Xavier Cortes, head of anti-trafficking at Catalonia police, said in a BBC interview.
The word 'Eiye' means 'bird' in Yoruba, the main language of southwestern Nigeria where the group originates, the BBC report said.
The Home Office, which oversees immigration controls at UK airports, did not respond to the interview remarks.
A record one million migrants arrived in the European Union last year, many reliant on criminal gangs to smuggle them out of conflict-ridden countries like Syria and Afghanistan as well as many African countries.
The surge in arrivals has heaped pressure on European police and authorities to break a network of organised crime spanning the continent.
The number of people identified as potential victims of human trafficking in Britain rose by 21 percent to 3,309 in 2014, the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) said last year.
The nationality of the victims was known in only 2,100 cases of which nearly 9 percent were Nigerian, the agency's data showed.
The overall rise in trafficking cases may have been due to improvements in the way police and other professionals spotted signs of the hidden crime, the NCA said.
Spanish police officer Cortes said the English-speaking SEC and other Nigerian gangs preferred the British trafficking route, suggesting they may have official help in their home country to obtain forged passports.
"These (fake) documents are expensive, though, and need co-operation of people working in the government to get," Cortes was quoted as saying on the BBC's website.
In 2014 over 240 million passengers passed through UK airports, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.
RAPED AND BEATEN
The SEC's victims are often approached by traffickers in Nigerian towns and cities, including Benin City, lured by the promise of making money through prostitution, according to the BBC report, which first aired on Tuesday.
But one woman said she had no idea of the pain she would have to endure.
"I did not know I would be beaten and raped and have to have sex every night of the week," the victim told the BBC.
Another woman, speaking after she was freed by a recent Spanish police raid in Barcelona, said she had been hit over the head with a glass bottle after telling a gang member she could not meet his demand for payment.
"I had scars all over my body," she told the BBC.
The raid on the SEC in Barcelona mentioned in the BBC report took 18 months of planning and resulted in 23 arrests.
But the SEC has hundreds of members running operations out of Ibadan, about 100 km (60 miles) northeast of the Nigerian city of Lagos, the BBC report said.
In 2014, 70 percent of nearly 900 Nigerian citizens applying for asylum in Britain had their applications refused, government data shows.
Nigeria's government has failed to comply with minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, though it has made some progress, the UK Home Office (interior ministry) said in a report on the country last year.
More than 3,770 migrants and asylum seekers died in 2015 trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, according to the International Organization for Migration.
(Reporting By Tom Esslemont, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, property rights, human trafficking and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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