Between “Victims” and “Criminals”: Rescue, Deportation, and Everyday Violence Among Nigerian Migrants

Abstract

This article is about the lives of Nigerian sex workers after deportation from Europe, as well as the institutions that intervene in their migration trajectories. In Europe, some of these women’s situations fit the legal definitions of trafficking, and they were categorized as “victims of human trafficking”; others were categorized as undocumented migrants—“criminals” guilty of violating immigration laws. Despite the growing political attention devoted to protecting victims of trafficking, I argue that in areas of Nigeria prone to economic insecurity and gender-based violence, the categories of “victim” and “criminal” collapse into, and begin to resemble, one another once on the ground. The need to identify and distinguish groups of migrants from one another illustrates the dilemmas that have arisen in the wake of increasingly restrictive European immigration policies. Furthermore, the return processes create a hierarchical structure in which the violence women experience in the sex industry in Europe is imagined to be worse than the everyday violence they experience at home.

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