Migration, trafficking: When grass isn’t greener on the other side

The average Nigerian wants to travel out of the country to seek greener pastures, a situation that has been made worse with growing unemployment and economic recession in Nigeria. PAUL OKAH reports that the grass isn’t greener on the other side with more Nigerians falling victims of human trafficking and irregular migration.

There is a growing fad for Nigerians to travel out of the country at any opportunity due to captivating pictures painted by many of money literally growing on trees or littering streets in Europe and America, whereas unemployment and poverty rate continues to rise steadily in Nigeria.

As a result of the desperation of many to make it big and escape from the manacles of poverty, cases of irregular migration, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and other crimes are recorded at our international borders, involving Nigerians who throw caution to the wind, sometimes out of ignorance.

On a daily basis, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and other agencies continue campaigns to combat human trafficking and irregular migration through constant awareness, however, the effort seems not to deter these Nigerians who keep trying to make it out of the country against all odds.

Also, driven by the demand for cheap labour and commercial sex workers trafficking rings within countries and across borders capitalise on economic, social and political vulnerabilities of Nigerians to exploit their victims, especially desperate and ignorant women, by luring them from Nigeria, with promises of greener pastures, to face uncertain lives abroad.

All that glitters…

Speaking with Blueprint Weekend from his base in London, Engr. Ebuka Nnanna, a Nigerian in the Diaspora, said things were not as easy as they are painted as many have to engage in multiple jobs and pay heavy taxes, unlike what obtains in Nigeria.

“I have never seen a country more blessed than Nigeria. We have all it takes to survive as a country and feed other nations, except that bad government policies tend to frustrate Nigerians and make them look elsewhere for survival. “However, things are not as rosy as people make out abroad. Money does not grow on trees, neither are they picked from the streets as many have been misled to believe.

“Here in London, you have many Africans, especially Nigerians, still struggling to survive. Unlike the fairy tales and lies people learn from Nollywood, there are still Nigerians who depend on their relatives back home for survival.

“Instead of making and sending money home, they receive money from their relatives back in Nigeria to survive here.

“I have lived here for over 10 years and I have seen and heard a lot of things that make me laughs when I see the desperation from my people back home.

“Many are homeless, while some have to do some jobs they would rather die than touch back in Nigeria, just to make ends meet. Of course, the tag of being abroad prevents many from swallowing their pride to go back to Nigeria, even though all the money they make go into paying different taxes to avoid being deported or constituting nuisance.

“I work different shifts myself and engage in shipping of items to Nigeria to make ends meet. So, anyone telling you that the grass is greener here is lying to you,” he stated.

Speaking further, Nnanna said, “The major difference is that we are not as lawless here as we are in Nigeria. For instance, no matter how highly placed you may be, you will answer for whatever crime you commit, unlike what is obtainable in Nigeria, whereas the poor are intimidated by the rich.

“In fact, the politicians who are hero-worshipped back home, whose head swell seeing poor people milling around them back home, are ignored and avoided like plague here. It is a situation of: All man to himself.

“The security aides who always prevent people from seeing their elected representatives are nowhere to be found here. So, the demi-god politician back home is just an ordinary man here, which tells you a lot about the poverty back home.”

Nigeria killing careers, dreams

Also speaking with our reporter, a Canada-based Nigerian Dr Adolphus Wale said Nigerians should not be blamed for doing everything possible to travel out of the country as lack of basic amenities and policies are discouraging, compared to advanced countries.

He said: “My advice to whoever gets the opportunity to travel out of the country is to grab it with two hands and experience another life other than the hell called Nigeria.

“Once you have your complete documents and genuine reasons, I see no reason you shouldn’t travel abroad to see that Nigeria is killing the career and dreams of many people, especially those from poor homes.

“I came to Canada as a student on scholarship and couldn’t imagine that there is a world outside what we are used to in Nigeria. Mind you, the major thing affecting us in Nigeria is corruption, bad government policies, insecurity among others.

“For instance, doctors are presently on strike in Nigeria, while ASUU is threatening to embark on its own strike, just like other unions that always protest over common things and embarking on strike as last resort.

“However, that is not to say that things are not difficult here too. In fact, you have to basically abandon what you studied back home if you want to get a job and make ends meet.

“The truth is that, whereas you require connections for basically everything in Nigeria, you get things done on merit here. Opportunities abound here if you are hard working and can find your feet or way around. Many of us make it here and invest back home to still develop our country and communities, no matter how discouraging the government wants to be.”

IOM laments

The Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Frantz Celestin, at a recent press conference in Abuja, lamented that migration to Europe is mostly captured in the media space, whereas a higher number of migrants remain within Africa, with mostly Nigerians migrating as a result of many factors the Nigerian government has failed to address.

He said: “Most people look at the media report of migrants trying to get across to Europe, but the fact is that the vast majority of migrants who decide to move from one place of habitual residence, they decide to do so within the African continent.

“Giving the number of people on the move and knowing how vulnerable people tend to be if they are migrating irregularly, the chances of them being trafficked or abused during their journey is quite high.

“If we know all of these and if ECOWAS tends to reason that there might be a lot of women trafficked within its space, what do we do? It is to make sure we understand the pattern, look at the trends and see where they are going. Mali has quite a number of young Nigerian women as sex workers in the Gold Mine District.

So, if I were to say, given the numbers that we have seen, Mali is the number one destination in West Africa for Nigerian women who were trafficked, but there are trafficking going on throughout the ECOWAS space.

“Between January and May, a sizeable number of the 29,000 persons from sub-Saharan Africa, who made it to Europe through the Central Mediterranean route, are Nigerians. Unfortunately, their fate is uncertain, as they may end up as sex slaves, victims of organ theft, among others. Most of the irregular migrants were not aware of dangers ahead.

“Aside those who successfully made it, over 761 others died in the quest to cross, about 13,000 were pushed back by the Libyan Coast Guard, while thousands of others are languishing in detention facilities.

“In spite of IOM’s campaign and sensitisation across Nigeria, many still opt to move as they are driven by many factors that must be addressed. The drivers could be conflict, social-economic pressures, population pressures, it could be disasters, climate induces phenomenon. There are a lot of push factors out there and we only see that they are increasing.

“So how do we step forward to mitigate the number of people migrating as well as the level of suffering we see in that process? It is not going to stop unless the drivers are removed or mitigated, and these drivers are hardship, conflict, disasters and the fact that we have more people looking for work and a lot of people under-employed. So the combination of unemployment and under-employment will definitely push people forward.

“You can tell them as much as you want, but if you don’t find something to keep them in place, they will migrate. All of the work that we do is to prevent, reduce and address the drivers of migration.

“However, the work of IOM is not to discourage migration. It is necessary for migration to take place, but it must be done the right way. IOM will continue to work with the media to shed light on the plight of the people and the often-hidden opportunities that arise from migration.”

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