A three-part documentary about death and dignity on the US-Mexico border
By Alexandra King, CNN
Film by Craig Waxman, Alexandra King and Alfredo Alcántara
(Missing in the desert)
Five hours into the hike and 100 degrees in the shade, the exhausted men thought about water and their aching feet and how many bodies they would find that day.
Fanned out in a line across a remote patch of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, the 15 men in fluorescent vests reading “Aguilas Del Desierto” (Eagles of the Desert) freckled the Mars-like landscape. All morning, they had hiked over uneven black volcanic rocks, lava-hot and ready to split an ankle in two, into the heart of a valley, where thousands of giant saguaro cactuses waved their stubby arms.
For the last hour, Pedro Fajardo, a 56-year-old factory worker, had smelled death. As the men poked sticks under bushes and sweated through ditches dotted with the familiar detritus of migrants — water bottles painted black, discarded clothing and rosary beads — an occasional putrid breeze was their compass.
Stopping at the bottom of a small ridge, Fajardo caught it again — stronger this time. He pushed the men forward.
That’s when a whistle blew, and 12 radios crackled in familiar chorus.
“Encontramos un cadaver, encontramos un cadaver.”
We’ve found a corpse.
At least once a month, the Aguilas del Desierto, a group of 30 predominantly Mexican-American volunteers, travel to the Sonoran desert to search for migrants reported lost or missing. The names and suspected locations of missing border crossers are reported by desperate families on the other side of the border, usually via Facebook, though the group also receives as many as 20 phone calls per day.
Most of the Aguilas work 40-hour weeks, many as landscapers, cooks and factory workers. Money for their expeditions, including gas for the 14-hour round trip, comes from online donations and weekly collections at local markets in California, where most of the group lives.
The body they had just found was fresh. The man had lain there maybe four or five days, they guessed. He was sprawled in the shadow of a small tree, flies fogged above his swollen chest. Pus and blood leaked from his eyes and mouth.
The man was the second dead migrant they had found that morning; a skull was found earlier. Once they’d found 11 sets of remains in an afternoon. Another time, two days before Christmas, they’d found nine bodies, huddled in a line — victims of dehydration.
Still, it was rare to find a fully fleshed body in the scorching heat of the desert, which can render a human skeletal in a matter of weeks. Even more unusual, the man would be quickly identified.
His name the Aguilas would learn after they had performed the grim ritual they knew so well — taping off the area, radioing coordinates to Border Patrol, saying a prayer for the dead man’s soul. José Inés Ortiz Aguillon. He was from El Salvador and 51 years old.
Found on April 22, 2019, Aguillon would become the 47th dead migrant to be retrieved from the Arizona borderlands since the first of the year. By August, as temperatures rose as high as 107 degrees, that number would more than double.
“It’s like a gigantic cemetery right now, crossing the desert. Only a few make it. Once they get into the desert, there is no return,” Fajardo says.
“We could be looking every day up there, and we can find (dead) people every day. Unfortunately, we can’t do that because we have to work.”
The Aguilas group was founded in 2009 by Mexican-American migrant Eli Ortiz after his brother and cousin died while attempting to cross the Sonoran Desert. Their story, he says, is common to many.
“They were crossing the border and their smuggler left them behind. I asked immigration for help, and they refused to help. I asked the consulate for help and they refused. I asked the police for help and they refused too,” Ortiz says.
“We found my family four-and-a-half months after they were left behind. All that was left were their skeletons.”
That’s when Ortiz knew he had to help. For him, the mission is simple.
“If it wasn’t for us, who would find them?” he says.
The group formed in response to a mass wave of migrant deaths on the border that have been hidden in plain sight for more than two decades, even as overall rates of illegal migration have decreased.
Arizona’s numbers speak for themselves. Between 1990 and 1999, the average number of migrant deaths recorded each fiscal year in southern Arizona was 12. From 2000 to 2017, that number jumped more than tenfold, to 157 deaths per year,) according to the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner.
This increase can be directly attributed, human rights groups argue, to the U.S. Border Patrol’s 1994 adoption of “Prevention Through Deterrence” as its chief operational strategy. The new initiative was formed amid an intense outcry over historic numbers of illegal immigration from Mexico in the ’80s and ’90s. Named “Operation Gatekeeper,” it outlined a radical new tactic for deterring illegal border crossers — using the unforgiving landscape as a natural barrier.
The strategy said that as “mountains, deserts, lakes, rivers and valleys form natural barriers to passage,” known migrant routes at urban entry points should be fenced off and militarized. This left migrants with no choice but to cross over harsh, remote desert. Authorities assumed they would fear making such a hazardous journey — and if anyone tried, their deaths would act as a future deterrent.
In one aspect, this hypothesis proved correct. Illegal migration did go down after the implementation of Operation Gatekeeper. In 2000, more than 1.6 million illegal aliens were apprehended by Border Patrol. By 2010, that number had dropped by more than 80 percent, to just over 300,000.
However, what soon became clear is that the challenges of crossing through inhospitable landscapes like the Sonoran Desert wouldn’t stop migrants from attempting to make the journey.
From October 1997 to September 2018, US Border Patrol recorded 7,505 migrant deaths in its nine sectors along the entire southwestern border. And this astonishing figure — more than the total number of US military killed in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan combined since 2001 — is likely a significant undercount.
A 2018 CNN investigation found that the Border Patrol had failed to count hundreds of migrant deaths on US soil. Border Patrol figure data includes only cases reported to them, and it’s estimated that agents only find about 50% of the remains that are recovered, leading to significant undercounting.
Border Patrol’s numbers also don’t account for the migrants who simply go missing in the desert, never to be seen again, their bodies eaten and scattered by coyotes and vultures. Some human rights organizations estimate the number of missing to be in the tens of thousands.
“The migrant people coming across the border, what they don’t realize is how hard it is to get across the desert,” says Gerardo Campo, a 58-year-old floral designer who moonlights on weekends as the Aguilas’ operations chief.
According to Border Patrol, most deaths occur as a result of dehydration. Many other migrants die after being left behind because of a simple, treatable injury. Migrants walk at night to evade detection, and rocky terrain makes broken bones a common occurrence. Even a bad case of blisters can cause migrants to be abandoned by the smugglers they pay to guide them, leading to almost certain death, Campo says.
“They may have an idea that they’re going to be walking for just a couple of days, as they’ve been told by the coyotes to hook them and make their money. But they don’t realize until they’re into the desert that it’s not two days. It’s going to be about five, six, seven, ten days walking,” he says.
“The traffickers, and even people and family members that are going with them along the journey, they don’t care because their life is in danger too. So if someone gets hurt, that’s it.”
Though all the Aguilas live in the US legally, most of them arrived undocumented, crossing before hardline policies militarized the border. They see themselves as the lucky ones.
“When I find remains of people in the desert, I honestly see myself in that process of dying,” Campo says. “That is me.”
(Identifying the dead)
Dr. Greg Hess, chief medical examiner of Pima County in Tucson, Arizona, points to the outdoor cooler –- capacity: 115 human bodies — the extra one they had to build in 2005 after the flood of migrant remains began to overwhelm his office.
“We ran out of room,” he says.
Pima County, one of 22 counties adjacent to the Mexican border, has long been ground zero for migrants who die trying to cross into the United States. The centralized position of its office, responsible for three of Arizona’s four border areas, means that more migrant remains have come through the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner than anywhere else in the state.
José Inés Ortiz Aguillon, the man found by the Aguilas, was processed here. He was just
one of more than 3,000 suspected US border crossers documented by this office alone since the year 2000.
“In the 1990s, we’d have less than 20 a year. In 2000, that jumped up to about 75,” Hess says.
“Our busiest single year was 2010. We had 222 remains recovered that year.”
This enormous influx not only stretched the morgue capacity to its limits, but also left the office with a quandary: Federal law said nothing about what they should do with these bodies, and official record keeping was non-existent.
“There is no federal law that dictates what states should do with the bodies of migrants who die on the border. Arizona statute requires that the Office of the Medical Examiner be notified when remains of an unidentified person is found. But that’s it,” Hess says.
“There’s really no way to track these types of deaths unless you are keeping your own internal numbers.”
That’s why, as the bodies poured in, unidentified, and taking up space, the office of the medical examiner tasked itself with rigorously documenting the identities of those found and assembled a DNA database.
In doing so, they were able to chronicle, for the first time, a historic wave of death at the border.
Identification, from the start, was the main challenge.
“If people are not found right away, they can become very decomposed and, or skeletal remains very quickly …. you lose a lot of information,” Hess says. “So, when we do examinations on people, we essentially make a profile. Is that a man or a woman? How tall are they and what do they look like? And do they have any identifying marks or scars or tattoos?”
Medical examiners also look to see if the migrants carried any personal effects that might provide a clue to their identity.
That’s where the property room comes in.
At first glance, the metal lockers look just like the ones you’d find in an American high school.
Except each one holds a year’s worth of plastic pouches, streaked with desert dirt, filled with the unmistakable scent of decay and stuffed with belongings chosen to provide a semblance of comfort on a long trip to a new life. Prayer cards. Photographs of children. Hair clips. Reading glasses with a missing lens.
These belongings hold valuable clues that could reunite remains with loved ones, says Robin Reineke, the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Colibri Center for Human Rights.
Colibri works with the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, collecting detailed missing persons reports for people who disappeared while crossing the US-Mexico border and DNA profiles from family members desperate to locate their loved ones.
They currently have reports for more than 3,000 people.
“When we take missing persons reports, we don’t treat that as a legal law enforcement document. We treat that as a scientific document and a humanitarian document,” Reineke says. “We’re recording every detail that the family can remember about the person, about what happened, what size pants they wore, what size shoes … anything that the family can remember.”
Belongings found in the desert are not only useful in identifying the missing but also have tremendous meaning to devastated families.
“We work with families in crisis — families grieving unthinkable losses. The items also help us, help the family to heal,” Reineke adds.
“To see his prayer card, to see his wallet, to see his glasses, to see her ring, her earrings, her scrunchy, her Bible. And then to hold those items and do their best to try to be with that person in that moment when they couldn’t be with them when they left the world.”
When skeletal remains are found with no belongings, DNA becomes the only chance of identification. Since 2016, Colibri has taken DNA samples from more than 583 individual family members in the hope of finding answers in the Pima office’s database of more than 1,000 samples.
So far they have helped families identify 45 loved ones.
But the relentless human toll is hard for Reineke.
“I’m an optimistic person, but at this point I’m pessimistic that we’re going to be able to identify everyone who has died here,” she says. “I keep waiting for the moment when the American public realizes we’ve allowed something really ugly to unfold.”
(From paupers’ graveyard to proper burials)
The paupers’ graveyard at Terrace Park Cemetery in Holtville, California — some 15 miles from the Mexican border — is at the back, behind the manicured lawns with the marble headstones and fresh carnation stems wilting in the hair-dryer heat. It’s home to several large rattlesnakes and more than 500 unmarked graves. A large “WARNING” notice signposts the snakes. The rows of paupers’ graves, marked by numbered bricks, read “Jane Doe” and “John Doe.”
The three-acre dirt lot was opened in 1994, the same year that Operation Gatekeeper policies were introduced. Half of the men, women and children buried here are unidentified. Of those, most are migrants who died attempting to cross into the United States.
Usually this site is closed off to the public, chained shut. Burials stopped here in 2009, after officials realized cremation, at $850 a body, was more cost effective for taxpayers than the roughly $2,300 it costs to bury someone. After cremation, ashes were scattered at sea.
For years, the graveyard’s only visitors were the cemetery’s superintendent and a volunteer group named the Border Angels, who gained permission to pray over the graves every six weeks or so and leave flowers and crosses.
But now, a decade since the last pauper’s grave was dug here, the remains of unidentified border crossers are coming back to Terrace Park. Except this time, their cremated bodies aren’t buried at the back. Instead, a new policy is ensuring remains are placed in an endowed area of the cemetery that is marked and accessible to the public.
This new policy is the work of Imperial County Public Administrator Rosie Blankenship.
For years, it has been her job to break the news to any migrant families who came calling about the fate of their loved ones.
If the coroner can’t identify a migrant’s body within 30 days, the remains are sent to her department, Blankenship says. Her office then typically waits about 30 days before moving forward with cremation. However, by the time a family might call, it was often too late.
“When they would come to me and say, ‘I’d like to claim my loved one,’ I would have to tell them, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, we scattered their ashes at sea,” she says.
“There was no closure for the family. And I thought, ‘Okay, we’ve got to change that.’”
Blankenship’s first visit to the dirt lot at Terrace Park Cemetery left an indelible impression.
“As soon as I crossed those gates and looked at the area in which our decedents were buried, my heart just broke,” she says.
Changing the cemetery policy was one of the first things on her to-do list, Blankenship says. “To be able to bury them in the endowed area, a much more beautiful place, I mean that was the right way to go,” she says. “Why it hadn’t been thought of before, I don’t know.”
Which is why, on a blazing hot April morning, as three volunteers strum guitars and softly sing the Catholic hymn “Entre Tus Manos,” Blankenship reads out a list of 17 names — most of them simply “John Doe” — with an estimated date of death.
Volunteers take turns laying single red roses into an open grave. Her voice quivers as she reads the names aloud.
“No more unidentified migrant or identified person has to be buried in the back,” she says. “They too have the honors of being buried in the front with all the rest of us.”
Seventeen people are interred during the ceremony. Not all of them were migrants — some were homeless and others simply locals who went unclaimed after their death.
“We bid them farewell in a very respectful and dignified way and at the end of the day, I can look back and say, we did well. We did well for them,” Blankenship says. “And that gives me great pleasure to know that their farewell was a grand adios.”
After the ceremony, a crowd files solemnly through the gate into the paupers’ graveyard, winding their way around the shallow graves to lay homemade crosses. A Catholic priest recites a prayer in Spanish as the freeway across the dirt fields rumbles with the sounds of Border Patrol cars and trucks of goods on their way to Mexico.
The crosses read “No Olvidado.”
Human traffickers in brutal exploits (2)
- How pastor masterminded my prostitution journey to Russia —Victim
Says I paid my madam $45,000, her mother requested additional $1,000
In spite of the measures put in place by various governments to check the activities of human traffickers, the syndicates have continued to laugh all the way to the bank, leaving their victims to lick their own wounds. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that human trafficking generates $150.2 billion in illegal profits each year at the expense of innocent people’s lives. Many of the victims have returned home worse off financially and health wise than they were before travelling abroad purportedly for greener pastures, INNOCENT DURU reports.
The experience of Florence, an indigene of Edo State, reveals that traffickers could be anybody and could be found anywhere, including worship centres.The young lady had completed her apprenticeship in hairdressing and started life with the skill she had acquired without any plan of travelling abroad to seek greener pastures. But the story changed when a trusted pastor in her church convinced her that she could be better off if she travelled abroad to practice the craft.
Since questioning the views of a clergy man is seen as a taboo in this part of the world, the dark complexioned lady accepted everything that the man of God told her hook, line and sinker, believing in the prophecy that her breakthrough and time to shine had come. She eventually travelled abroad with high hopes. But instead of a breakthrough, the journey became a huge setback for her life.
She said: “I was trafficked to Russia in 2017. They told me I was going to practice my handwork there, but it was not what they told me that I found on getting there. I started selling my body to men.
“Ironically, the man in charge of the journey was an assistant pastor in my church. He was the one who told me that I would be better off over there and would be better positioned to take care of myself and my family.
“But the story changed when I got to Russia. My madam, who was my pastor’s sister, told
me to put my craft aside because the way I would pay her back was different from what they had told me. She said I would have to work as a prostitute to pay her back because that was the easiest way to get the money.”
Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Florence said she immediately realised that she had no choice in the matter, given the stern manner the woman spoke.
“She was speaking with threats. And since I had nobody to run to over there, I decided to do her wish. I paid a total of $45, 000 to my madam, even though I don’t know how much they spent for my travelling. The only thing they asked me to do was to obtain my passport, which I borrowed money to do. After the payment, things got bad. Her mother started asking for her own percentage.
“Before I left Nigeria, she had taken my finger nails, pant and hair from my pubic areas. I didn’t want to give it to her, but the pastor said I would have to do it because that was the only way I could gain the mother’s trust. I succumbed and gave all those things to her.”
Still living with the scars the heinous crime has left in her life, Florence added: “After paying her daughter’s money, she madam’s mother) said I would have to give her $1,000 before she would return the things she collected from me. She threatened that if I didn’t pay her, something terrible would happen to me.
“I subsequently called my mum and told her everything. I later raised about N20, 000 and sent it to the pastor to give to her mother. After receiving it, she called and asked why I had to send her that kind of money. She said I should know that she is a family woman and that I should have sent the money in dollars. She then said I should send more money within a week or face the consequences.
“After that call, I started having series of issues and a problem with my face. I thought it was something I could easily handle but it defied all treatments. They drove me out of the place where I was working and also sent me parking from my apartment in Moscow.
“It was at that point I told my mum exactly what I was doing there. She started crying and asked why I didn’t tell her about it all along. I could not tell her because I had no telephone and was only permitted to speak for a minute on my madam’s phone.”
Asked how she eventually overcame the problem with her face, Florence said: “It was when I returned to Nigeria that my face became okay. I sincerely don’t know how.
“The pastor denied me when they arrested him. He said he could only remember that I was an ordinary member in the church. Later, he turned round and said I was the one who came to tell him I wanted to travel out because I was frustrated.
“He was charged to court by NAPTIP, which took me to their shelter when I returned. I didn’t know when they granted the pastor bail. They wrote an undertaking that if anything happened to me, he would be held responsible.”
Naomi, another indigene of Edo State, told of how she met the man who trafficked her at the most unlikely place in the state.
She said: “I was trafficked to Russia by a man who I met at Ogida Barracks here in Edo State. He asked me if I was interested in travelling abroad and I said yes, but he never told me what I was going there to do.
“They used student documents to process my trip. They gave the impression that I was going there to study. When I got there, I was asked to do something that was entirely different. I had no choice but to do it because I was already there. I stayed in Russia for over four years and paid my madam a total of $40, 000. I resided in St Petersburg.”
Describing her stay in Russia as unpleasant, Naomi added: “My madam was very mean. She denied me every form of freedom you can think about. I didn’t have freedom to buy a phone to call my family or the freedom to send money to them. She maltreated me and sometimes beat me up. She said there was no way I would go back without fully paying her and that I was free to go back or remain there after the payments.
“There was a day she beat me to the extent that blood was dripping from my nose and I could not breathe. I was down for more than an hour and she did not bother to take me to the hospital. It was a neighbour that helped me out.
“I took an oath before travelling. I vowed not to blackmail my madam and to pay her, her complete money.
“Only two of us embarked on the journey. But on getting to Russia, I saw a lot of Nigerians. When I say a lot, I mean a lot. I was paid 2, 500 Robos for an hour. The owner of the place where we worked would take 1,250 Robos, they will collect 500 Robos for security and leave us with the balance. My madam didn’t allow me to save a dime. She had her eyes fixed on me always.”
Naomi recalled that she returned to Nigeria alongside Florence after wasting four odd years of her life in Russia. But despite her predicament, she said, her family was neither angry nor aggressive towards when she returned. “They were even happy that I came back alive,” she said.
“I couldn’t stay back after paying my madam, because I was frustrated. Things were not moving for me. It was like somebody introducing you to something and backed you up with some diabolical powers to make you succeed and pay the money you agreed to pay. After the contract, the success will fade off and you will be on your own.
“After completing the payment, I became ill. I was having cold and blood shortage. When I went to the hospital, a doctor advised me to return to Nigeria because it appeared the weather was very bad for my health.
“Human traffickers are terrible and horrible people. It is not something a young lady should experience.
Alaba, another victim, who was working as a nurse before travelling to Lebanon, said she was trafficked by someone who used to be her patient.
The young lady, who is stranded in the Middle East country, said in a chat with our correspondent: “The woman who trafficked me was someone I normally treated, being a nurse. I told her I wished I could have a shop to start my own business. She told me that I should try and go to Lebanon just to take care of the house of my boss.
“Unfortunately, I found myself in slavery here. I have not been paid salary for some months now, yet the agent (trafficker) kept pestering me to send money to her. I need help to leave this place and return home.”
How traffickers hounded me out of Nigeria – Ex IYAMIDR informant
After reading the first part of this report published last Saturday, an informant, whose whereabouts were said to be unknown, called from his base abroad to share his experience.
The former informant for Initiative for Youth Awareness on Migration, Immigration, Development and Reintegration (IYAMIDR), who identified himself simply as Wisdom, said: “While I was working for IYAMIDR, there was some information I was giving them about traffickers’ activities.
“There was particular information I gave the organisation not knowing that another person I had informed about the issue was one of the traffickers. When I passed the information to the President of IYAMIDR, Comrade Solomon Okoduwa, he swung into action immediately and got the suspects arrested. But before I knew it, I started receiving threat messages.
“In one of the messages, I was told to run away from the state (Edo) if I loved my life. One day, as I was returning from a journey, some guys came and started harassing me. They said, ‘You are showing off. You think we don’t know what you do? Your cup will soon be full. Don’t worry; very, very soon, all these things you are doing, you will not do them again here but in another planet.
“When the threats and other scary signs that I was seeing were becoming too much, I ran to Lagos. Before I travelled, some security operatives who I also trusted with information betrayed me. They were revealing my activities to some arrested traffickers, telling them I was the guy that masterminded their arrest.
“When I got all those information, I felt there was nobody to be trusted, so I made up my mind to leave Edo State.”
Did fleeing to Lagos State provide the needed solution to his problem?
Wisdom said no, adding: “After about two weeks in my sister’s place in Lagos, my in-law told me that I was not safe in Lagos too because they were looking for me. He said it was like I did something that was making them to be all out to hurt me. I said not really and went on to explain what happened. He said they were really bent on getting me and that it would be better for me to leave the country.
“Mafias and cultists are everywhere in the country. If they are out to get somebody, there is nowhere the person will go that they will not trace him.
“I had to raise money to leave the country. I left for Italy, but on getting there, I realised that Italy is an advanced extension of Nigeria. Everything that is happening in Nigeria is equally happening in Italy. Running to Italy was as good as still remaining in Nigeria.
“The information I also got in Italy was that the policemen there have information about the activities of Nigerians in Italy at the back of their hands. If you report to them that blacks are fighting, they will do as if you know where they are from. And once you say Nigeria, they will ask you to leave them.
“It is only when there is bloodshed or someone is killed that the police will show up, because they are already used to Nigerians lifestyle of gangsterism. The police there in Italy will tell you they are tired of Nigerians. When I got that information, I felt Italy would not be a safe place for me to stay.
“Before I started working as an informant, I was always quick to dismiss the claims by my friends that they were attacked by strange guys for daring to expose their activities. It was when I found myself in that situation that I knew my friends were not making frivolous claims.”
‘Working with survivors of human trafficking revealing and disturbing’
Tayo Elegbede, Media Lead of The Migrant Project, a non-governmental organisation providing support for migrants, says their experience working with survivors of human trafficking has been “quite revealing and perhaps disturbing at some point.”
Through their counseling and psychological support sessions, he said, “we realised that most survivors are often overwhelmed and traumatised by their experiences. They are unsure of the future, family acceptance and public outlook, hence, they feel lonely and unwanted in the society.
“This understanding helps us to engage their mental and behavioural state, which is usually the starting point to help them relax and gain their trust to go through the needed therapy.
“At this point, empathy is reflected as against sympathy, to help them start the journey through psychological rewiring.
“Aside the psychological framework of the support, we realise their experiences often impact their health and physical wellbeing. Therefore, medical and humanitarian support is provided to salvage their conditions.”
Real reasons Nigerians are barred from jobs in Dubai
According to a post that has gone viral in recent times, Nigerians resident in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are barred from applying for jobs advertised in the Middle East country. And while many were quick to attribute the development to the recent arrest of the alleged notorious cybercrime fraudster, Hushpuppi, findings revealed otherwise, INNOCENT DURU reports.
Ban not connected with Hushpuppi’s arrest, says Nigerian resident
We’re not aware of ban -NIDCOM
No official statement from consular office -Foreign Affairs Ministry
Most of them had departed their homes in Nigeria in the hope of securing lucrative jobs in the oil rich United Arab Emirates, having lost hope in their own country and its system.
For many of them, however, the decision has turned out an awful error as many employers in the oil rich country are said to have barred Nigerians from applying for jobs, even when such jobs are meant strictly for Africans.
With the Eldorado they chased from Nigeria to Dubai, the UAE capital not anywhere in sight, many of them are desperate to return home, but they are not only stranded but also frustrated.
Their plight became public knowledge after a social media post indicating that Nigerians in UAE were precluded from applying for available jobs in the Asian country went viral.
Given that the post came on the heels of the arrest of Hushpuppi, the alleged notorious cybercrime kingpin, many were fast to attribute the predicament of other Nigerians in UAE to his atrocities.
But Nigerians who spoke with our correspondent from the UAE were unanimous in declaring that their plight had nothing to do with Hushpuppi. The ban on Nigerians, according to them, had been in effect long before the fraudster’s issue.
What then are the sins for which UAE employers prefer the nationals of smaller African countries to those of the so-called giant of Africa?
Femi Johnson, a Nigerian resident in Dubai, said: “I saw the information barring Nigerians from applying for the advertised vacancies.
When I asked why, I was told that it was not an official decision of the UAE government but that of employers of labour.
“The ban on Nigerians from applying for advertised jobs also has nothing to do with Hushppuppi. After all, he was not the only person arrested around that period.
People of other nationalities were also arrested but it was that of Hushppupi that grabbed the media space.
“Many Nigerians like the easy way out. For instance, sale of alcohol is regulated here but some Nigerians will want to be smart about it.
“Last Friday, some Nigerians held a party and in Sharjah area and ran into trouble with the authorities. An Indian neighbour told them that the music was too loud but they did not budge.
“An argument ensued and they threw the guy down from a 14-storey building. The police moved in and arrested many Nigerians and other Africans there.”
Such development, according to Johnson, robs off negatively on the image of innocent Nigerians.
He added: “At my place of work, my colleagues got angry about the incident and bombarded me with questions. I had to repeatedly explain things to defend my country and our people.
“I am working here in Dubai, and I happen to be the first African to work in the organisation. When my boss saw my level of diligence and hard work, he asked me to bring my brother to also come and work in the company. He is here working in the company with me.”
A Nigerian resident in Sharjah area of the UAE, Emem Akpan, said some employers bar Nigerians from applying for certain jobs because of their past experiences.
Sloan said: “It has nothing to do with Hushpuppi’s arrest. Some Nigerians always want to take advantage of situations. After some employers would have invested so much on some of them, the employees will just run away at a point.
“Some of the employers here prefer to employ Ethiopians instead of Nigerians. I went for an interview some time ago and a fellow Nigerian told me that once they helped her with a visa, she would work for two months and run away if another job came her way.
“I told her if she was not going to stay, there was no need making them to process her visa which costs almost a million naira.
•Hushpuppi after his arrest
Some companies deem such Nigerians to have absconded, and once they do that, it will be difficult for such Nigerians to get jobs.”
Another reason UAE employers of labour turn down Nigerians, according to Emem, is language barrier.
She said: “When I came here, I could not apply for a front desk job because I could not speak Arabic and could not transact with the people that were coming to do business.
“Some of the clients don’t speak English well so they always want somebody who understands and speaks Arabic. But Nigerians are still employed in customer care sections. Presently, I work with a travel agency.
“The Hushpuppi issue still pops up during newscast. But it is not only Nigerians that are committing crimes here. We read about Dubai police arresting some drug lords but they won’t publicise them because they are not Nigerians.”
Dada Ezekiel, who resides in Dubai, said he felt bad when he saw the post barring Nigerians from applying for jobs.
“It doesn’t actually make one feel well,” he said.
“When I saw the job vacancies Nigerians were barred from applying for, I initially thought it had to do with the Hushpuppi stuff.
“Later that day, I saw a report that it was not the UAE government’s position but that of the employer who placed the advert.
“There are two Nigerians in the company I work with. Before now, they didn’t want blacks. When they tried the first person and saw what he was able to do and has been doing, they asked him to bring another person from Nigeria, and that was how I got the job.
“When I was in Nigeria, I didn’t know the depth of this kind of issue on one’s psyche until I got to this place. It is here I got to know how it feels when you go for an interview and you feel isolated and people treat you like you are not a human being just because of the information they might have received about Nigerians’ involvement in scam.”
Many Nigerians, he said don’t care about how their actions affect other people.
“What Nigerians are generally noted for here is internet fraud. When I got here, I saw that there were a lot of services we could offer but a few of our people dent our image.
“Recently, a Nigerian colleague was trying to scam an Indian by pretending to be processing a Canadian visa for him.
“The Indian was almost paying the money when he noticed that he was being scammed. If he (Nigerians) had been caught, how would the hosts perceive somebody like me?
“Many of them believe that every black man is a Nigerian. They see Nigeria as a continent and not just a country. Whenever any black man commits an offence, they say he is a Nigerian.
“When I came here, there was a guy that came in with a three-month visa. When the visa expired, he absconded instead of making efforts to renew it.
“Those are the kinds of people who commit most of the crimes. They always run away from the police and do nothing than drinking.
“Sharjah is where you find many Nigerians. It is like a community for Nigerians and what most of them do is to drink with the females, doing all sorts of stuff.”
Corroborating Ezekiel’s remarks, a Dubai resident, who gave his name simply as Segun, said: “Why they prefer some other African nationals to Nigerians is the attitude of our boys.
Most of them want to make quick money. are doing here. They do leave those guys for some time because they know that they will confiscate all they have at the end of the day. There is no way they can take any of those things out of Dubai.”
He added: “Some of them don’t have any qualification and want to come here to make quick money. Here, they pay according to your qualification and level.
“People from other African countries come with good qualifications and experience. At times, there would be job vacancies for only Africans, but as soon as they see Nigerians, they keep them aside and interview nationals of other African countries, telling the Nigerians to go away.
“There are so many challenges for our brothers here. Most of them are not doing well at all.
“Some of them who got jobs in some companies would suddenly say they don’t want to work again because they think the pay is not enough for them.
“Most of them live extravagantly. They cannot safe when they lead extravagant lifestyle because Dubai is an expensive place to live in.
“No matter how much you are paid, if you want to live the way you want here, you may not be able to save a dime.
“Even some Europeans run into debts because of extravagant lifestyle, even though they earn fat salaries. Some of them get as much as N17 million monthly but they still run into debt.”
‘Nigerians treated like slaves in UAE’
A Nigerian cleric, Archbishop Sam Zuga of the House of Joy Ministry, Makurdi, who was in Dubai early in the year, decried the plight of many Nigerians in the UAE.
Zuga said: “Nigerians are being treated like slaves in UAE. Most of them are women who are stranded with their international passports seized by Nigerian human traffickers. The most stranded people in the UAE are Nigerians. Nigerians are the biggest problem of Nigerians in the UAE.
“Dubai needs standard, but they don’t have standard. Many of the Nigerians youths I met in Dubai went there to look for money without a defined agenda. Dubai is not a money-making but a money-spending city.
“The truth is, no firm in Dubai, be it government or private, trusts a Nigerian. Nigerians have big certificates without skills. They (UAE) need both your money and your skills.”
Last year, the Nigerian Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed Rimi, revealed that 446 Nigerians were serving different terms in UAE prisons for crimes ranging from possession of hard drugs to engaging in robbery.
He said: “Although there is no exact record of our citizens in the UAE owing to the inability to register them on arrival, the number of Nigerians resident in the country is estimated at about 10,000. Out of this number, about 2,017 are students in various universities.
“It is disheartening to state that 446 Nigerians are currently serving different terms in prisons across UAE for committing various crimes including possession and consumption of hard drugs and engaging in armed robbery.”
“In the spirit of forgiveness, tolerance and accommodation, the UAE government granted amnesty to all irregular residents in the country.
“In 2018, no fewer than 5,774 standard passports were issued by the embassy, out of which, 3,164 were specifically issued during the amnesty programme. A further 1,346 emergency traveling certificates were issued to Nigerians to facilitate their return home.”
NIDCOM, Foreign Affairs Ministry react
Contacted, the spokesman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Rahman Balogun, said he was not aware of the post claiming that Nigerian had been barred from applying for jobs in the UAE.
“I am not aware, but the Foreign Affairs may, because it is a consular matter. We here at NIDCOM are not aware.”
Foreign Affairs Ministry’s spokesman, Ferdinand Nwoye, admitted seeing the post, but he said the ministry had not received any official report about it.
“Everybody read it on the social media. The ministry does not work on the basis of speculations on the social media. We have a consulate in Dubai; we have an embassy in Dubai.
“If such a thing happens, they will write to us officially informing us of that position, because it is an official position. I am not of any knowledge that such has been communicated to the ministry,” Nwoye said.
Relief package scandal rocks IDP camps
Questions are trailing the disbursement of the World Bank’s Target Grant Transfer funds to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Bauchi, Gombe and Adamawa states. While beneficiaries were to receive N200,000 over a period of time, the IDPs alleged that they have only received between N30,000 and N50, 000 since 2017 and all their efforts to get the balance have failed, INNOCENT DURU reports.
- Officials halt disbursement of N.2m World Bank money promised each household after paying N30,000
- Hunger, Ill-health spike death toll in camps
- Survivors recall how insurgents murdered loved ones
Zara Umoru, a mother of eight had her husband brutally murdered in 2014 by Boko Haram members in Borno State. Zara, together with her eight children subsequently fled her home town in Gwoza Local Government Area and that began a journey of the widow into a world of misery and uncertainty.
“When we ran away from Gwoza, my children and I started moving from place to place begging people to help them wash their clothes in order to get money to survive. Sometimes, if I washed clothes with my children, we could get between N500 and N600 daily. At times, some neighbours would give my children the remnant of what they have eaten in their houses,” she said.
After some time of wandering about, Zara and her children moved to Bauchi State to search for better living conditions and also stave off the challenges posed by insurgents.
Her frustration started to ease when the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the state were asked to register for Target Grant Transfer (TGT), a World Bank funds that would see them getting a total of N200,000 over a period of time.
After receiving the initial N30,000 and an ATM card that she would use for subsequent withdrawals, Zara has not heard from the officials nor received any other payment. This, she said, has dashed her hope of starting a business that would put an end to her woes.
Zara said: “I benefitted from the World Bank money. I was given an ATM card and also got N30,000. When they came at the beginning in 2017, they said they were going to give us N200,000 broken down to N20,000, N30,000, N50,000 and N100,000. But we have not set our eyes on them since they gave us the initial N30,000. I don t know their office and don’t even know how to communicate with them.”
Zara, who is the IDPs woman-leader in Bauchi State, is deeply worried about her future and that of her eight children. “The man who gave us a room apartment we are occupying is now late. It is this one room that my eight children and I are living in.
“We still engage in helping people to wash clothes to have money to feed. I have become a washer woman here in Bauchi.
“Like I said earlier, at times, some neighbours who see our plight do give my children the remnant of what they have eaten in their houses.
“Boko Haram put me in all this. They killed my husband and left me with eight children. My husband was running away to where he could seek refuge on a mountain when Boko Haram insurgents caught and murdered him.”
IDPs’ chairman in the state, (Bauchi) Buba Musa Shehu, who also hails from Gwoza Local Government Area in Borno State, confirmed Zara’s claim that the balance of the World Bank funds had not been paid to them.
He said: “I benefitted from the TGT programme of the World Bank. They promised to give us N200,000 but they have only given us N30,000 since 2017. They have not given us the balance since then. “We have written petitions and have been struggling to make them pay the balance to no avail.”
The story is not different in Gombe and Adamawa states where the IDPs feel they are being ripped off. A frontline member of the group in Akko Local Government Area, Gombe State, Bukar Alirambe, was furious as he shared the frustration the group has experienced asking for their balance.
“We registered for the World Bank fund meant to give each registered household a total sum of N200,000. In 2018, they gave us an ATM card promising that they would give N200,000 to each registered household for capital project and emergency relief.
“About 3,534 households benefitted from the initial N30,000 they paid for our emergency relief. Some of us also got N20,000 for relocating from Borno. Those who did not relocate from any state were not given the N20,000.
“In all, we are entitled to N150,000 balance which, according to them, is for capital project. They have not given it to us till date.
“They said there is a second phase of the programme but the IDPs on the second batch have not benefitted at all from the funds.
“We have gone to the extent of writing and submitting petition to Senator Ali Ndume, the senator representing Southern Borno but nothing has come out of it. The petition was submitted in 2019.
“We are calling on the government to come to our aid by helping us to get this money so that we can start some petty businesses.
“We are begging the Federal Ministry of Finance and everybody that is involved in this programme to come to our aid so that we can be self-reliant and able to send our children to school.”
The IDPs chairman in Adamawa State, Usman Yahaya, corroborated the allegation, adding that what was promised them in Adamawa was N400,000.
He said: “The former coordinator told us they were going to give us N400,000 but not at a go. They said they were going to give us N30,000 for the first payment, then N20,000, N50,000, N100,000 and N200,000 respectively.
“They gave us N30,000 and later changed the coordinator. The new coordinator said there is nothing like that, saying the N30,000 we had received was the only money meant for us.
“Yet they gave us ATM cards that will expire in 2022.”
IDPs decry neglect by federal agencies
Aside their frustrations accessing the balance of the alleged World Bank funds, the IDPs are aggrieved by the attitude of Federal Government owned humanitarian agencies to their plight.
“Government agencies don’t care about us. There are more than 30,000 IDPs within the four local governments here in Yola.
“They announce in the media that they are taking care of us, but in reality, that is not true,” Adamawa State IDPs chairman, Yahaya said.
He alleged that the government agencies take care of only the IDPs that live in the camps, leaving out those that reside elsewhere. Their complaints and agitations, he said, have yielded no fruits.
He said: “We are not in the camp because it cannot accommodate all of us. Those that live in the camps are not up to one quarter of those of us that live the hosts in the communities.
“We have three official camps in Adamawa State. Last month, our secretary, woman leader and I went to NEMA to tell them about our plight.
“They said it was a directive given to them but that they only serve only those in camps and not those that live outside.
“They said we should go to camp. But if we go, they will not be able to accommodate us.”
Yahaya alleged that despite the huge budgetary allocations to the humanitarian agencies, they have not been getting any support. “There is nothing free at all for us. We pay for rent and our children’s education.
“It was one NGO (NRC) that supported us with N25,000 each for accommodation two years ago.
“There are many of our people that are homeless. Many are living in dilapidated houses. Some are in uncompleted houses.
“They stay in any kind of house, provided there is a roof on it, and they pay rent for such buildings.
“The government is not coming to our aid at all.”
Hunger, lack of access to healthcare spike death toll among IDPs
Following the challenges posed by acute hunger and lack of access to healthcare, checks showed that death rate among the IDPs has been on the increase.
In Gombe, more than 40 people are said to have died recently.
“Many of our people, including children, are dying of hunger and attendant health challenges.
“Some of the children don’t have food to eat for two to three days. Between 2019 and now, about 40 people, including children, have died,” Bukar Alirambe said.
“We don’t have a primary health centre close to us.
“Between 2018 and 2019, Victim Support Group gave money to the specialist and teaching hospitals here in Gombe to support our treatment.
“The funds have been exhausted. Unfortunately, they didn’t provide fresh funds to continue this laudable cause.
“We have resorted to self-help. Another opportunity we have now is from the Catholic Relief Funds. They give anti-malaria drugs to our people.
“In the last six to seven months, the pregnant women among us have not been getting medical support.
“They have only been getting anti-malaria medications from CRF.”
The IDPs chairman in Bauchi State, Buba Musa Shehu, also bemoaned the rising death toll among his people.
He said: “Many of our people are dying. This year alone, we have lost about 50 people.
“Just last week, we had a high casualty figure. There is no access to good medical care.
“There is no support from any organization apart from the North East Development Commission who sometimes help us with foodstuffs.
“The IDPs in Bauchi State are about 54,000. When we arrived here, many of our people were begging on the streets to get money to eat.
“We don’t have a hospital. Whenever any of us is sick, we would have to contribute money among ourselves to treat the person.
“When one of our women wanted to give birth recently, we had to contribute money to take her to Maiduguri for treatment.”
In Adamawa State, the IDPs chairman said no fewer than 50 members had died recently.
‘Everyday was war in Borno’
Six years or more after they narrowly escaped the swords of the dreaded Boko Haram sect, the IDPs are yet to overcome the terror they experienced back at home in Borno State.
Reliving his close shave with death at the hands of the insurgents, the IDPs chairman in Bauchi, Buba Musa Shehu, said: “I fled Borno in 2014 because of Boko Haram.
“They came to our local government area around 5pm on August 5, 2014, killing people, including my family members. I lost my sisters, brothers, uncles and so on.
“I left my family in Gwoza in the night, ran away through Cameroon and came back through Yola to Bauchi.
“I trekked barefoot for eight days without food. I only survived on the water I found on the way.”
Asked how life is in Bauchi, Shehu said: “We are suffering a great deal here. First of all, we are living in our hosts’ communities and not in a camp. We are paying rent.
“I have four wives and 34 children. Not all my children are going to school. About 18 of them are not going to school because of financial challenges.
“I do odd jobs to raise money to pay for rent and feed my family. I assist at times at the block-making place. At times I go to bush to fetch firewood to sell. We don’t have any empowerment.
“What we need now is school for our children to get education. We also need empowerment so that we can go and farm.
“We don’t have farm implements, so we are always idling away. At times, we contribute money among ourselves to pay rent for a member.
“About 80 per cent of our children are out of school.
“Home is better than anywhere else. Wherever you go outside your home, you will feel isolated.
But the insurgents are still there in Borno. The area is not safe.
“In my house right now, there are five orphans who have no relations whatsoever to call their own or run to.”
His Adamawa counterpart, Yahaya, who hails from Gwoza, said: I fled Borno in 2014. I have a farm at Madagali in Adamawa State.
“I was returning to Borno one day when they called to inform me that Gwoza was under fire and that people were already fleeing. “I had always believed that the Nigerian army team at Gwoza then was very strong and that they would not capture the area easily.
“It was the third day that my family surfaced. We stayed at Madagali hoping that the area would be safe. But to our surprise, the insurgents struck within a week of our stay there.
“We ran from there to Mubi while those who were well to do moved to Yola.
“After some time, the insurgents entered Michika, forcing those that were there to run down to our place in Mubi.
“We stayed Mubi for about a year before the insurgents attacked the area and forced us to run to Yola.”
The terrorist group, Yahaya said, killed so many of his neighbours.
“The number is uncountable,” he said.
One of the displaced persons in Gombe, Mohammed Abdulahi, also spoke about how he escaped from Borno in October 2014.
He said: “I ran here in Gombe before my family came to join me. I just had to run when Boko Haram members came to our place. They were not attacking women as such.
“As a male, you had to climb the hill to escape. From Gwoza, I trekked to a village near Adamawa. There, some organisations assisted by giving us money to transport ourselves.
“Many of my relations were killed by Bojko Haram. Many things are happening there now. A lot of people are being killed.
“Boko Haram is occupying all our villages in Borno up till now. We weren’t sleeping back then in Borno State.
“There was also no rest during the day. You will always hear sounds of bombs in nearby villages. Gunshots were always reverberating every day, and each time the children heard the sound, they would run inside.
Mohammed lamented that the host communities deliberately jerked up rent when because of the high number of IDPs.
“My uncle that I was staying with initially rented an apartment for me. He pays N40,000 annually. “The hosts increased the rent because many of our people were coming here. Gombe is the centre of the North East.
“Many IDPs from Adamawa, Borno and Yobe are coming here and that is why they increased the rent.
“We have very little to eat. We eat once or at most twice a day.
“We used to go to the hospital. Formerly, we were receiving free treatment when there was victims support fund. Now, there is no such opportunity.
I have five children. Three are in school but two are out of school because of financial challenges.
“I feel very sad about it. If I have the means, I will train them up to university level. But as things stand, that is not possible.”
Also sharing her experience, a widow, Hadiza Alli, from Gwoza Local Government, said: “I have left Borno since August, 2014. My husband fell ill and died, leaving me with three children and an aged woman to cater for. “When the Boko Haram insurgents came attacking our area, I took my children into a cave one night and hid them there.
“From there, I managed to run away with them to Mubi. It was at Mubi that I got help to come to Gombe.
“I sell akara to earn a living and also feed my family.
“I am living in a rented apartment paid for by my elder sister who is resident in Maiduguri.
“She died two months ago. I don’t know how I will pay the next rent.
“Only one of my three children is in school. I don’t feel happy that my kids are not in school.
“They have been selling sachet water by the roadside since they can’t go to school.
“If the situation in Borno improves today, I will go back immediately. Unfortunately for us, the problem is not abating.
World Bank fund project managers, NCFRI speak
An official of the World Bank Target Grant Transfer fund project, who identified himself simply as Atiku, declined comment on the allegations levelled by the IDPs on the grounds that he was not competent to speak on the matter.
“May I ask who gave you my phone number?” he asked after laughing and expressing surprise about the IDPs claim.
“I am a journalist who can get any contact I want,” the reporter responded.
Atiku then retorted: “I also have the right to ask how you got my number so that I can channel you to the person who has the competence to respond to your request. I am not the national coordinator. I am just the head of the M and E of the project. You have every right to… we also encourage disclosure. I cannot give you any information without the instruction of my national coordinator.
“That was why I was asking if the person that gave you my number knew the right person to handle this. He would have channeled you to the national coordinator who has the competence to give the information. I don’t have it.
“I put up report, I collect report, I collate report but I don’t have the right to give out any information. That is what I am trying to tell you.
“The right person to respond to your interview is the national coordinator.”
The National Coordinator of the project, Hajara Sami, did not answer the calls made to her mobile telephone.
She, however, responded tersely to a text message sent by the reporter, saying: “Ok. Wl (will) call when I’m out of noisy environment.”
She was, however, yet to call at the time of filing this report.
Also contacted to clear the air on the IDPs’ allegation of neglect and being short-changed by government agencies, the spokesman of National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs (NCFRMI), Abdul Onu, said:“I am actually not in town now. But there is an SA (Special Assistant) Media to the commissioner now. I will introduce you to him so that you can take it up from there.”
He was also yet to send the contact at the time of filing this report.
Cullled from The Nation Newspaper (Nigeria)
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