STANDING IN FRONT of a packed classroom at a school in Iruekpen, a remote farming village in southern Nigeria, Precious Owens warns teenage students about the dangers of migrating to Europe. Recruiters trick people into thinking they can get a good job overseas, she explains. “They will come and tell you they have a salon abroad,” she says. But this is often a lie. Instead, migrants en route to Libya frequently wind up imprisoned by smugglers for months, before being shipped across the Mediterranean on rickety boats, she says. The journey is perilous—as are their lives abroad, where many end up as prostitutes or in other forms of forced labor.
Owens works for a nongovernmental organization that helps educate children and families in Nigeria’s Edo state about the risks of illegal migration, among other things. Yet the program isn’t just a local effort to help the people in this impoverished region; it’s funded by the European Union.
Over the past three years, the influx of nearly 2 million migrants and refugees—many from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq—sparked a furious backlash across Europe. And last year, the number of people coming from Africa to Italy rose sharply. Many came from Nigeria, where plummeting oil prices have left people desperate to find work abroad.
In response, the EU is spending billions of euros to try to reduce the number of people who decide to make the journey across land and sea. The money, analysts say, signals an important shift. “Migration and refugee issues have gone to the top of the EU foreign policy agenda,” says Jeff Crisp, a research associate at the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre.
But as the EU spends more money to try to reduce migration—through job-creation programs or agricultural development, among other measures—some analysts question whether