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 sen­si­ti­za­tio

Weekly Trust - - Front Page - Satur­day, Novem­ber 25, 2017 Stop­ping the men­ace Ig­no­rance, greed should be checked – NAPTIP Hot bed of il­le­gal mi­gra­tion Kano, a ver­i­ta­ble tran­sit route

Ab­dul­la­teef Aliyu & Risikat Ra­moni (La­gos), Ruby Leo&Ab­bas Ji­moh(Abuja), Us­man Bello (Benin), Vic­tor Sorokwu (Asaba), Richard P. Ng­bokai & Ibrahim Musa Giginyu (Kano).

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.

Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari in re­sponse, con­sti­tuted a com­mit­tee to probe the deaths, just as the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Di­as­pora and Non­Govern­men­tal 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-toone 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 so­cial­net 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.

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 mul­ti­pronged 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 in­ter­a­gency 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 AfricanGer­man 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 subSa­ha­ran 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.

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.

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.

Peo­ple pay their re­spect to the 26 teenage mi­grant girls found dead in the Mediter­ranean in early Novem­ber, dur­ing in­ter­re­li­gious fu­neral ser­vice for the vic­tims at the ceme­tery of Salerno, south­ern Italy, on Novem­ber 17. The bod­ies of the vic­tims were found float­ing in the wa­ter by a Span­ish mil­i­tary ship and brought to Italy on Novem­ber 3 after two sep­a­rate res­cue op­er­a­tions Photo: AFP

File photo of mi­grants who jumped into the wa­ter from a crowded wooden boat as they were res­cued off the coast of Libya Photo Credit: Emilio More­natti/As­so­ci­ated Press

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