Nigerian migrant gangs are collaborating with the Sicilian Mafia in the organisation of prostitution rackets and the heroin trade, according to Italian police sources.
An investigative report by The Times reveals that machete-wielding gangsters calling themselves ‘the Vikings’ have now taken the lead in trafficking of around 8,000 prostitutes a year into Palermo, a port city which has become one of the major landing grounds for hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants.
The Vikings have displaced a rival organisation called the Black Axe, which The Times described as a Europe-wide operation which uses “voodoo rites” to intimidate African women into submission.
Rodolfo Ruperti, who leads the Palermo flying squad, told the newspaper that it was acting against the Black Axe which allowed the Vikings to take over: “When you take out one [gang], others will try to fill the gap,” he explained.
In many ways, the Vikings represent a bigger challenge for the authorities than the Black Axe, which another police source described as “very hierarchical, with bosses from each town, a boss for Italy and meetings to elect a European boss”.
The Vikings, in contrast, are not known to have a boss, and are “less structured, with less of a code”.
The migrants operate mainly in neighbourhoods such as Ballaro, which transforms from street market to drug den at night, with the apparent blessing of the notorious ‘Cosa Nostra’.
In Ballaro, police say: “The Nigerians may use primordial violence against each other, but not against the Italians … There is harmony [and] Nigerian lookouts posted to watch for the police will alert Cosa Nostra members as well as their own.”
They fear, however, the balance between the old crime gangs and the new is delicate, and if a crackdown by the authorities were to “weaken the Italians”, then “the Nigerians may start to operate outside their own communities, just as the north Africans are now doing in Naples”.
The truce between the established mobsters and the newcomers is by no means set in stone, with journalists saying they were “at war” in 2016 and reporting that men were being gunned down in broad daylight.
The migrant influx has had such a dramatic impact on the Sicilian capital that the city’s mayor, Leoluca Orlando, now argues that “Palermo is no longer an Italian town. It is no longer European. You can walk in the city and feel like you’re in Istanbul or Beirut.”
Despite this, Mayor Orlando is a staunch supporter of mass migration into Europe, to the point where he has called for free movement not only for asylum seekers but for economic migrants, too.
“Europe is guilty of slavery and genocide when it comes to migration,” he insisted in an April 2017 interview with The Guardian. “People have the right to move in search for a better life.”