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Stopping the Mediterranean journey of death

The Federal Government recently set up a committee to probe the deaths of 26 girls believed to be Nigerians on their way to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea, but beyond that, how does the illegal migration thrive despite the campaigns and sensitization against it, and how should it be stopped?

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In early November, 26 girls believed to be Nigerians were reported to have died  in the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Italy and their bodies were later taken to Italy and buried there.

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President Muhammadu Buhari in response, constituted a committee to probe the deaths, just as the Senate Committee on Diaspora and Non-Governmental Organizations as well as that on Foreign Affairs and Special Duties said they were yet to call for a public hearing on the incident as they needed to partner with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP) as well as the Ministry of Information to get more details about the victims.

At a joint committee meeting held at the National Assembly, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Diaspora and Non-Governmental Organizations, Rose Okoh (PDP, Cross River) said: “There are certain ground rules that must be in place before we can conduct a legislative hearing. Even the government does not know if they are truly Nigerians. At the time they were buried, which the government has a problem with, only three of them had been identified.”

She said even though the federal government had set up a committee under the Ministry of Justice, they needed to have more information before foreign bodies are invited. The 26 girls were just a few of the many Nigerians that throng the route to Europe daily, mainly through Libya, braving the harsh Sahara Desert or the dangerous Mediterranean Sea. While several hundreds who could not complete their journeys were stuck in Libya and were lucky to be repatriated home, many others, like the 26, had at one point or the other either lost their lives or become slaves in the hands of Libyans, and many still embark on the perilous trip. 

How human traffickers lure Nigerians to Libya

“Libya was like hellfire. It is not a child’s play at all. I got to Libya in March last year after travelling through the desert. We went through Kano, Niger, Sudan, Agadez and spent four days in the desert. I paid N460,000 to the agent that facilitated my trip. But along the line, I was kidnapped by a Nigerian who asked me to pay N300,000. I was in the man’s custody for four months before my parents paid the money and I was released. I then went to Tripoli to proceed to the village where we would have crossed to Europe.”Chima IJeoma, 24, an indigene of Imo State,said.

“There were about 142 of us in the boat and we had barely taken off when the boat capsized and many people died. From there we were arrested and taken to a Libyan prison facility where I spent three days and from there, we were transferred to a deportation camp where I was for the past seven months,” he added. 

Chima is one of the latest returnees from Libya. He arrived alongside 256 others who were repatriated with the help of the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) which partnered with the federal government to return stranded Nigerians in Libya.

In the past three weeks, about 2,000 Nigerians have returned with lamentations of dehumanizing treatment in Libya.

The repatriation exercise which started in 2015 has succeeded in rescuing over 5,000 Nigerians from Libya. But despite the massive repatriation, it was learnt that many Nigerian youths, especially from the South-South and Southwest, still troop to Libya en route Europe. The more they are repatriated, the more they embark on the dangerous journey.    

This was the case with Jessica John, 23, who travelled to Libya in July. She said she was deceived into embarking on the trip after paying N550,000 which according to her was raised by her sister in Italy. 

Many Nigerians were oblivious of the worrying developments in Libya until the news of the death of 26 girls shocked the nation. Many more are believed to have died en route.

Parents as accomplices 

The Executive Director, Media Initiative against Human Trafficking and Women Rights Abuse (MIAHWRA), Ms Tobore Ovuorie, who was once trafficked in 2013, said parents often aid trafficking.

 “The tables have turned around. Often, parents are accomplices. There was a time traffickers went in search of parents, told them stories and took their children away, especially girls. Along the line, parents now look for traffickers. In my experience in 2013, in the process of being trafficked, some of the people that were trafficked then had a one-to-one contact with the traffickers, not their parents serving as intermediary.

“Some of the girls found dead enroute Italy were between the ages of 14 and 17. Definitely, the parents were involved. A 14 or 17 year-old child could not have found her way to Italy without her parents or guardians being aware. These days, parents are aware that their children are being trafficked”.

“A secondary school teacher was trafficked. Her parents live in their own house. So, you can’t say they are poor. Her mother facilitated the trafficking. In that case, it’s pure greed, not poverty. There is the need to reevaluate our value system. Greed, not poverty, is the cause of human trafficking,” she said.

Our correspondent gathered that most of the returnees were trafficked in connivance with their parents on the pretext of giving their wards employment abroad.

Many parents who were desirous of sending their children for greener pasture but had no money went into some form of agreement with the sponsors and an oath of secrecy is administered to victims.

The Special Assistant to the Governor of Delta State on Child Rights, Barrister. Bridget Anyafulu, also averred that “parents have failed”.

Anyafulu described the Mediterranean Sea incident as very sad and blamed parents for failing to inculcate proper values in their children, especially the girl child.

“Parents have failed. How could a child, especially a girl, leave the house without the consent of the parents? Eventually, she returns with some good money and other goodies, you the parents are fully aware she has no job and you did not give her such money. Yet you keep mute and fail to question her but instead partake in her “spoils”. Tell me what such girl would turn out to become. You don’t let your children  control you as parents, but rather they should look up to you.

“Yes, prostitution is the oldest human business. But nobody would say it’s as a result of poverty or vulnerability. Those who are involved in prostitution due to poverty come out of it when they get proper assistance that empowers them to start any small enterprise. Prostitution is therefore not an issue of poverty or economic vulnerability but a matter of an indolent mindset of covetousness”.

She recommended entrepreneurship, vocational skills acquisition and poverty eradication schemes and called for effective sensitization to enable the rural and urban poor and the vulnerable be impacted through social-net schemes.

The Assistant to Governor Okowa on Micro Credit, Mrs. Shimite Bello, said, “You may be poor, but you don’t sell your integrity and kill yourself to deal with the situation, you don’t have to embark on a death trek or mission to get over poverty. We need to sit down and think out what we have to do rightly to deal with poverty”.

Obstacles, death on the way

It was learnt the fee for the journey ranges between N200,000 and N500,000. One of the returnees, Tony Jimoh, 38, told our reporter that the road to Libya was full of obstacles.  

“We moved from Nigeria and stopped over at Agades in Niger Republic where we met citizens from other African countries also travelling to Libya. From there, we entered  a truck to Duruku, a transit camp, and spent about three days  before getting a vehicle to Libya,” he said.

Jimoh said most of the people and drivers who took migrants through Libya were rebels and bandits who usually raped women and killed travellers who could not give them money.

“Secondly, the rebels and bandits did abandon their vehicles and travellers on the pretext that they wanted to get water for them. After waiting for days the people would resort to trekking. Most people died while trekking because there was no food or water in the desert.”

He said the journey to Libya was expected to take about two weeks without obstacles but took over three months due to activities of rebels and bandits.

Daniel Osaro, 35, who spent over seven years in Libya, said, “The journey is a 50-50 chance because of rebels and militants. We could spend 11 days in a truck with over 100 people if the bandits were operating on the way.”

Favour, 22, a fashion designer, told Daily Trust that she abandoned her work to travel to Libya in search of greener pasture.

“My sister assisted me to get to Libya in February but I don’t know how much she paid and when I got there I was unable to reach her as she was no longer picking my calls.

“The journey was an unpleasant experience because we would stay for a day without eating and most of the time we were living on a loaf of bread. I saw dead bodies on my way to Libya. You would see people dying while crying for water but we had to move on,” she said.

Stopping the menace 

Ignorance, greed should be checked –NAPTIP

Barely a few hours after news of the deaths of the 26 girls was reported,the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) rescued 39 trafficking victims who were being prepared for a trip outside the country.

The Director General of NAPTIP, Julie Okah Donli, said ignorance and greed remained the primary factors sustaining human trafficking. Human traffickers, she said,  preyed on the ignorance of the rural poor, offering them the proverbial pie in the sky as a way out of pervasive poverty.

On how to stop the menace, she said, “I must confess that our response to trafficking in persons has been reactive and designed to deal with the consequences of the scourge rather than its root causes thereby making our current preventive responses piecemeal and uncoordinated.

“Countries need to see human trafficking as more than just an organized crime but also as a crime perpetrated by people related to one another and living their lives outwardly respectably in destination countries, we must develop a multi-pronged response which will target both local and international enforcement systems”.

She said all states in the country have to make access to education compulsory and free and include human trafficking issues in the curricula of basic and senior secondary schools with the objective of educating and sensitizing children on the dangers of trafficking in persons.

Fortunately, the National Educational Research Development Council has agreed to include it in the curricula and the topics range from causes, purposes and consequences of trafficking and the methods of controlling victims.

The agency has embarked on aggressive massive sensitization in some of the identified endemic states and communities and strengthened its surveillance team and inter-agency cooperation in some of the entry and exit points to be able to rescue victims before they are trafficked.

“We have had consultations with officials of some of the embassies in Nigeria with a view to streamlining the issuance of visa and other documents to applicants whose mission is suspicious.

“Efforts are also ongoing to review the operational permits of some of the labour recruitment companies as well as travel and tour agents with a view to regulating their operations in such a way that it will not jeopardize the current effort of the federal government to fight human trafficking and illegal migration”, Donli said.

According to her, the agency has continued to engage the public with specific anti- trafficking messages from urban to rural areas, from schools to worship centres, from market places and streets to the political and the traditional leaders.

But despite these efforts, she laments that the traffickers have employed new tactics to lure unsuspecting victims into their nets.

She said some are tricked and forced to give out their organs at a price while others willingly sell their organs.

“Trafficking for sexual and labour purposes seem no longer a quick money making venture for traffickers who are not ready to wait for years for their investments to yield desired results. They have now found a quicker one in the illegal harvesting of organs of unsuspecting victims who are lured with various tricks”.

On that, she said the agency had strengthened its surveillance and broadened its horizon by working with security agencies, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and embassies of destinations countries to curb the menace.

She added that NAPTIP’s officers were being deployed to some international airports and border lines to identify human traffickers.

The Migration Enlightenment Project Nigeria (MEPN), in a report mailed to our correspondent, said activities of human traffickers had resulted in the death of many Nigerians, and it was high time government stopped them.

MEPN, which was conceived by the African-German Information Center and the African Courier in Germany with the support of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation Germany, is promoting increased public awareness on the dangers of irregular  migration.

The group said the latest tragedy bought to the fore, the ongoing humanitarian crisis among sub-Saharan migrants in Libya and stressed the need to enact tougher laws against human trafficking to bring the needless deaths to an end.

It stressed the need for government to take a decisive action to stop the activities of traffickers who do not only promise their victims entry into Europe but hand them over to kidnappers who demand up to $5,000 as ransom from their families in Europe and Nigeria.

“Those who are unable to buy their freedom are subjected to forced labour, sexual slavery and torture. Many victims die in the process. It’s now time to enact tougher laws targeting people traffickers as their crime is akin to that of kidnapping in Nigeria. Perpetrators deserve to be sentenced to jail terms without the option of fine.

Executive Director, Media Initiative against Human Trafficking and Women Rights Abuse (MIAHWRA), Tobore Ovuorie, said Nigeria must tackle the scourge of trafficking. “Since September 2013, in the Netherlands, Norway, the United States, Italy and other parts of the world, when you see people being trafficked, there must be a Nigerian among them. It’s that bad. Sex trafficking from Nigeria to Italy has not reduced. If trafficking is not checked, we are going to have a terrible scourge in our hands. We may end up fighting trafficking just like we are fighting cancer. It’s getting out of hand”.

ActionAid Nigeria (AAN) also urged the federal government to do more than “just investigate” the deaths of the 26 girls.

The Interim Country Director of AAN, Funmilayo Oyefusi, told Daily Trust that it was important for the government to implement the Child Rights Act to ensure the protection of the Nigerian child as part of measure to prevent recurrence.

“ActionAid Nigeria calls on the federal government to do more than just call for investigation of the incident but start to address issues that affect and influence young people and children. We need to educate both children and parents on the provisions of CRA and take bold steps in addressing the long list of challenges the girl child faces,” she said.

Hot bed of illegal migration 

Edo State is believed to be one of the hottest exit points of human trafficking and illegal migration in the country. In the past three weeks, the state government has received over 400 returnees from Libya, and still counting.

Governor Godwin Obaseki received the first batch of 84 returnees, 169 in the second batch while 153 were received in the third batch, bringing the total to 406 returnees within three weeks.

Obaseki says his government plans to eradicate trafficking in persons and stem the illegal migration in the state.

“Government is taking the problem as its own, we are trying to assist them to be integrated into the society. Those who want to go back to school would be encouraged to go back while those who need skills acquisition would be trained in their chosen skills,” he said. 

He said the state had built formidable structures and systems to receive and re-integrate victims of human trafficking and illegal migration who are indigenes of the state. He however called for the support of Italy and the European Union to sustain his government’s efforts.

Kano, a veritable transit route

An investigation by Daily Trust revealed that no fewer than 60 Nigerians cross to Niger Republic on their way to Libya from Kano every day.

Our correspondents learnt that the increase in cross-border migration through Kano in recent times is as a result of lack of strict enforcement of migration laws between the two countries.

Our reporters gathered that about five buses full of passengers leave the city every day for Republic Niger with the likelihood of many passengers proceeding through the Sahara desert on their way to Europe.

It was gathered that Niger Republic has been the first point of entry for many youths from Nigeria seeking to enter Europe. It was also revealed that some of them however do stopover in Libya and other countries despite the security risks.

It was further gathered that the famous Tashar Kuka Motor Park in Kano has for ages served as the focal starting point of such journeys. The motor park has become popular as the only one in Kano for trans-border routes to Niger Republic. When our correspondent visited in the early hours of the day, the first vehicle, a Sienna saloon car, was full of passengers heading to Maradi in Niger Republic. Some of the passengers said they were on business missions while others said they were  visiting their relatives.

Malam Tukur Nasiru, a driver and booking clerk at the park in a chat with Daily Trust attributed the laxity in enforcing trans-border laws to the existing cordial relations between the two countries.

He said in rare occasions passengers were forced out of vehicles especially when they looked suspicious and held no valid identification, or failed to provide satisfactory explanations relating to their missions, adding that on normal occasions, entry into Niger Republic is not difficult for Nigerians who “know their ways”.

“I can say about 60 to 70 people get into Niger Republic from Nigeria through this motor park daily,” said Malam Tukur.

It was also gathered that from the Tashar Kuka Motor Park that no vehicle goes beyond Maradi and Damagaran states in Niger Republic, but the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) at the park said there was the tendency that some of the passengers were proceeding to Libya through the Sahara desert from where they cross the Mediterranean Sea to Spain, Italy and other parts of Europe. 

But the line chairman of NURTW at the motor park, Malam Umar Shehu, said though they were in charge of the Nigeria-Niger line at the park, they won’t tell when a passenger was going beyond West Africa.

 “It is not our duty to ask passengers whether they are going to Europe or not. However, as professionals we can tell when we see one. Many of our passengers are Nigerian students, businessmen and women from all regions of the country. Five to seven cars leave this park to Niger daily, so you can calculate how many people enter Niger Republic from Nigeria in a day,” said Malam Hudu.


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