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Asylum is almost impossibility for 'sex slave' women

The Department of Justice and the courts are turning down "nearly all" asylum requests from African women who say they fled here to escape sex traffickers in other European countries, it has been learned.

The latest appeal rejected by the High Court was brought by a 29-year-old Nigerian woman who claims she was trafficked into the sex trade in Italy against her will. She says she went there in the belief she would be given childminding work but was passed into the hands of a trafficking ring who raped and tortured her before forcing her into sex slavery.

Her request for asylum to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal was turned down in February 2009, two years after she arrived here, despite the backing of support group Ruhama. She appealed to the High Court, which also rejected her appeal.

Repeated studies and investigations by journalists have shown that Italy is the European hub for the trafficking of African women into sex slavery. The 29-year-old Nigerian arrived in Ireland on a flight from Milan, saying she had been helped to escape by one of her Italian clients.

In her statement to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal she said she had gone to Italy voluntarily in 2004 after a family friend promised work with a Nigerian family resident there.

Her appeal states: "She was a young woman with academic ambition, a Christian and still a virgin. A friend of her parents informed them that her nephew, Mr (name), resided in Italy, his wife had recently given birth and needed help with childcare, and if the parents approved he would take the applicant to his home in Italy and arrange for her receipt of a good education in return for childminding and housework duties, and would pay for the passport and travel fees. The applicant and her family believed this to be a good opportunity, and she left Nigeria for Italy on April 28, 2004.

"On arrival in Turin, Mr (name) placed the applicant in the care of a Madam Julie. The applicant believed this to be Mr (name's) wife, but she quickly realised the deceit. She was taken to a house to join 16 young women, and they were described as 'new starters'. They were informed they owed money in return for bringing them to Italy and it was important that they work hard to pay off the debts.

The applicant objected strenuously, whereupon she was taken to Mr (name's) house and tortured. After two days, she submitted and returned to the care of Madam Julie. The new starters were trained in the provision of sexual services to men, women and children. The applicant was informed that her debt was €60,000 and her contract was for 10 years. The women . . . were forced to work on the streets, often without the use of condoms, and were always followed by minders."

However, the tribunal rejected her appeal, saying it contained "inconsistencies and unresolved contradictions". It also rejected her claim that if she were returned to Nigeria she would again be forced into prostitution, saying: "Just because the level of protection which the applicant would receive in Ireland is not the same as she would receive in Nigeria does not give the applicant an automatic entitlement to be declared a refugee."

The High Court also rejected her appeal against deportation, saying she had not "provided cogent evidence of the Nigerian state's inability to protect her".

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The woman has been living in a government transit centre, sharing a room with two others and receiving the weekly €19 given to asylum seekers.

She must now apply for "subsidiary protection". If it is established that she is exposed to serious harm, she may then apply to stay on humanitarian grounds.

It is not unusual to wait several years before those decisions are made. If the decisions are negative and she chooses to challenge them, she must go back to the High Court, and wait for several years before her case will be heard.

During this time she cannot get legal aid from the State and must hope to get a private solicitor to take on her case pro bono.

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