•Condemnation trails exclusion of deportees, expelled migrants from trainings
•Large return of migrants may worsen insecurity- House Committee Chair
on Migration and Refugees •We have trained, empowered over 7, 000
returnees this year –National Commission for Refugees director
No fewer than 15, 000 stranded Nigerian migrants have in the last two years voluntarily returned to the country with the assistance of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a United Nations migration agency . The IOM in July 2017 said roughly 3,800 Nigerian migrants would receive in-kind reintegration assistance to start businesses, study or cover medical and accommodation costs after they return home from other African countries (an estimated 3,000 migrants) and from EU member states (800 migrants) over a period of three years (2017 to 2020). This, according to the organisation, represents a major scale-up in the reintegration assistance that IOM provided previously. More than one and a half years after their return, many of the returnees are yet to get the expected empowerment from IOM even after attending the reintegration programme facilitated by the organisation. The returnees’ woes are compounded by the failure of government to fulfil myriads of promises made to them on return to the country. With the number of migrants coming back to the country constantly increasing, INNOCENT DURU, in this report, examines the implication for the socio-economic and security situation of the country.
After a hellish experience during her turbulent sojourn in Libya, Anthonia heaved a sigh of relief when the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) came to evacuate her and other stranded migrants in the North African country back home to Nigeria.
Anthonia’s joy was not just that she was returning home unscathed, she was elated that after all she had suffered, there was hope that she would later have something to fall back on because she was voluntarily returned by the IOM.
Her confidence level rose when she was invited to participate in a reintegration programme by IOM in Lagos, after which she would be empowered. But that never came. Her vivacity gradually fizzled out after a long time of fruitlessly waiting for IOM’s support.
“I was part of the people brought back by IOM. When we came back, they promised that they would support us by starting businesses for us. I was part of the reintegration programme but I wasn’t empowered. I came back last year April. They accommodated us during the training and also reimbursed us for the money we spent on transportation. The training I attended was held in Lagos and I was given N5, 000 for transportation.
“They have not given me anything after that time. I have been in touch with them. They said they would support and asked me to provide some documents. I have been on it but the latest I heard from them was that they have transferred my case to another person. They have not replied me since then. I am acquiring skills in fashion designs. I have not received any support from the government,” she said in a tone laden with disappointment.
Anthonia is not alone in this. Sifahu Lasisi, who also came back through the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR), also spoke of how her hope of bouncing back to financial independence through the support of IOM was dashed.
“I attended the training at IOM’s office located at Isaac John’s Street, Ikeja. They trained us on how to do business and make profit. For the six days we spent going to take part in the training, I was paid N6, 000. I have not received further help thereafter. I had gone to their office several times but nothing came out of it. I was forced to give up. I have nobody to help me.”
Also reliving his frustration waiting for IOM’s support, another returnee brought back under the AVRR programme, Christian, said: “I came back last year. I was one of the people brought back by IOM. I took part in the reintegration programme. I spent about a week attending the programme. They taught us some hand work but I told them that I am a driver.
“I have not been able to reach IOM officials after the training. I don’t even have their contact anymore. When we returned to the country, they promised us that they would empower us but I have not heard anything from them. I am surprised and disappointed.
“I have been helping people to wash car since I came back just to make both ends meet. I want the government to assist us. I am a driver and need a job to earn a living.” It was the same sad tale for Vitalis who also took part in the IOM’s reintegration programme. “I attended the training but got no support thereafter,” he said.
When The Nation called one of the numbers of the IOM officials, who was identified as Tope, to know why the returnees have not been empowered in line with the organisation’s mandate, he rhetorically asked: “What are their names? Who gave you my number? The person who gave you my number should call me. I don’t know how you got my number. I can’t respond to that question. Who are those people? Give me their names. Please oga, Iam very busy. I can’t answer that your question I beg o. I should know the people that made the allegation.”
Our correspondent subsequently asked Sifahu who provided the IOM official’s mobile to call him.
The embattled returnee later called to inform our correspondent that Tope neither answered her call nor called back. “He also did not respond to a text message I sent to him,” Sifahu said disconsolately.
The Nation subsequently contacted the European Union office in Nigeria to find out why some of the migrants who voluntarily returned with IOM were yet to be empowered.
The International Aid/Cooperation Officer Migration, Drugs and Organised Crime, EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Eleni Zerzelido, declined speaking on the phone but on two occasions requested that our correspondent should send messages to her.
As at the time of filing this report, Eleni was yet to respond to the messages sent via WhatsApp and regular text message.
The EU and the IOM entered into a partnership for the Protection and Reintegration of Migrants, which was launched in Nigeria on 20 July, 2017. The European Union Trust Fund (EUTF) support is part of the EU–IOM Initiative.
Returnees lament successive governments’ failed promises
The frustration of not being empowered by IOM for many of the returnees is bearable compared to the failure of successive governments in the country to make good their promises to the beleaguered migrants.
Some of the returnees in Edo State told The Nation how they went into agriculture to make both ends meet and shun the temptation of embarking on another round of irregular migration but got no support. They recounted how they formed cooperative societies to enable them access loans but ended up disappointed.
One of the leaders of the cooperative groups, Pastor Dongo, said: “ I am the head of Victory Farmers Cooperative Society. We are into fish farming. I actually head two cooperative groups and both are into fish farming. We have not received any support from any government. Edo State government under Obaseki trained us but we are yet to be empowered. When they made the promises to us, we were praising them all over the social media but at the end nothing came out of it.
“This is why most of us went to hustle on our own. It has not been easy hustling without support. I attended training on fish farming for good three months, wasting all my money on transportation. Some of my cooperative members don’t have money. I have to foot their bill in order to encourage them. At the end, like I said, we are just at the mercy of fate. We only thank God that we are still alive.”
Expressing fears about the large number of jobless returnees in the country, Dongo said: “The situation of things in the country is an eyesore. In my area, once it is 7 O’ clock, you will not see a single fly outside. Yesterday (Tuesday), there were gunshots for good three hours. Things are getting out of hand.
“The major problem of our youths is unemployment and hunger. I believe strongly that if our youths are empowered and they work during the day, they would sleep at night. But when they are idle in the day, they would be busy at night.
“Some of my members have been expressing the desire to travel again but being a pastor, I have been talking to them, giving them hope that one day, God will help us. Some of them have started learning how to repair generators and other skills. Nobody has left in my group but it cannot be zero per cent in all the groups. Some will come today and in the next three months, they are back again.”
For Chidi, the head of Fish Farmers Cooperative Society, it was endless lamentation as he relives the ordeal of his members . “No government has ever empowered us. We are a registered body and we have our certificate. Since the expected empowerment from the govern ment didn’t come through, we are operating individually, but we hold meetings from time to time. We are not happy with the state of things. It is because of lack of support that the cooperative society is not functioning the way it should be.
“It is not everybody in the group that has the money to start the business of fish farming. It is those whose parents helped to raise funds that have started farming. Our personal efforts are grossly insufficient but instead of staying back and doing nothing, we have decided to be productive and take care of our families. We have made efforts to get loans from a new generation bank we opened an account with but nothing came out of it after they had tossed us up and down,” he said.
Chidi suddenly became emotional as he recounted how some of his frustrated members have perished trying to make another attempt at going abroad. “Many of our members have gone back through the desert to places like Morocco because there was no hope of empowerment from the government. Many of them even died in the process because they there was nobody to assist them.”
When The Nation cornered Tony Jimoh, the leader of Snail Farming Cooperative Society, he told of how they registered the group last year with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, adding: “We are 27 in my group. Some other groups have 27 members each too. Our farmland is more than four hectares. We contributed money to get the land. Nobody has given us any support since we started. They have only been promising to assist without fulfilling it. They only brag and do nothing. We came back from Libya in 2011. We started the group in 2013 but it was not registered. It has been promises galore since then till this time.”
Former leader of the Nigerian Migrants in Tripoli, Libya, Sidi Yakubu, who is based in Kogi State, also said: “Government has done nothing to empower us. I came back in 2011 and have received no form of assistance since then. I came in on as a diplomatic returnee. I have been on the street since I came back. I have been part of one or two civil society groups which have helped in one way or the other.
“There are dangers in continuously bringing people back without providing jobs for them. They could be used as thugs during election period and can be engaged in criminal activities. The way out is for the government to train and empower returnees and give them a conducive environment to operate in. I went to Libya legitimately. I worked there for eight years with an international organisation. I couldn’t take the risk of staying back there because my life was at risk. The rebels raided my house and brought it down.
We have been training, empowering returnees- National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs (NCFRMI)
The Director, Refugee and Migrants at the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs (NCFRMI) , Hamidu Lawal, in a chat with our correspondent, dismissed the allegations of the returnees, saying that the commission has always trained and empowered returnees. “We actually do empowerment, which we call Durable Solution. We don’t it not only for migrants but also for IDPs and persons of concern. This empowerment is in phases. When migrants return, we do NEEDS Assessment.
“We aggregate their needs, knowing those who want to go to school and those who want to do other things. We take an aggregate of whatever they want to do. Most of these returnees, especially those stranded in Libya and Cameroon are adults who want to do something for livelihood and not education. We have a training skill for them, which we do together with our partners like the IOM and others”.
This year, he said, “We have trained over 7, 000 of them. We do this sometimes on our own and sometimes with our partners. Thereafter, we empower them. If you want to open a shop, we will get a shop for you, buy the goods and pay the rent for at least two years. We paid rent for those who came back from Cameroon; we gave them food for six months and empower them in a trade after training.
“When they come back, we take them back to their local communities or any communities they choose to stay in and we empower them from there. Last week, we set up a cooperative group in Numan, Adamawa State. It is a rice milling cooperative. We set up the cooperatives and gave them the machines and capital to do their work. We are going to do the same thing in oil mill in Adamawa State. We teach others on how to make soap and other skills.
“The figure of migrants who have been brought back is over than 14, 000. I know that NEMA brought back 2, 100; IOM has brought back over 16, 000 migrants. Those who are deported because of immigration problems are being brought back on a regular basis.”
He further pointed out that “some of the migrants don’t understand that this intervention is in their interest. Some of them disappear immediately they arrive. Even when we have given them SIM cards so that we can keep in touch, they don’t come back. It is not the fault of the intervening authorities. It is the fault of the beneficiaries. Some of them want to be given physical cash. The programme is tailored in such a way that the cash doesn’t get to their hands. If it is a store he wants, we would do that and get the equipment.
“Some of these people coming from Mali, Europe and so on have criminal history. Most of them are returning for immigration related offences. Those ones fizzle away immediately they arrive. Some of them because of circumstances key into this programme. The ones that came back from Cameroon because they are refugees are fully part of the process. Most of them have been returned to their villages and empowered.”
Stakeholder decry returnees’ plight
Some stakeholders on migration issues in the country, who spoke with our correspondent, flayed the plight of the returnees.
The Director of the Centre for Youth Integrated Development (CYID), Victor Aihawu, said: “When we met in Morocco, the international reintegration officer of IOM said if reintegration does not lead to financial independence, that it is not sustainable. IOM does not work with forced deportation. They deal with voluntary returns. But the truth is that there are so many people that came under that voluntary return that they have not implemented their programmes. Because I don’t work with IOM, I wouldn’t know what the problem is.
“The NCRI is supposed to be the agency supervising the work that IOM is doing in Nigeria. IOM is not the owner of the funds. They are only working with the money given to them by EU. The NCRI is in the best position to answer why this and this have not been done. If the NCRI asks IOM that they are aware that after one and a half years, so many returnees have not gone through their reintegration programme, what is the problem? IOM will immediately respond to them because if they fail to do that, the NCRI can write to the EU and terminate their contract.
Unfortunately, the NCRI is not supervising anything. When you have a country where their migration management is 100 per cent in the hands of foreign donors, he who pays the piper will dictate the tune. The standard operating procedures in Nigeria, which we are reviewing now, only covers voluntary return because it was IOM that sponsored the draft. Nigerians are Nigerians irrespective of how they came back. tion, expulsion, they all should be entitled to reintegration because you don’t even know the danger of receiving people you don’t even have their background information. Most of these returnees didn’t leave this country as criminals, drug addicts or rapists. They developed those characters over there and Nigeria is just receiving them without proper monitoring. Nobody monitors them, when they enter the country they disappear and that is all.”
Also expressing concern about the plight of the returnees, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on IDPs, Refugees and North East Initiatives, Hon. Muhammed Umar Jega, said it is a serious matter. “In the first place, they are leaving their country for another in search of greener pasture. When they get there, they are declared persona non grata because they don’t have valid documents. This comprises educated and non-educated. We need to make our system better and make our economy work so that people don’t leave the country.
“It has serious security implications. When people are idle, their minds would become the devil’s workshop, as the saying goes. Some people cannot even provide some basic needs. You know it is a serious matter. The way forward is to make our system work.”
He added: “This is the work of the executive. Ours is to enact the law and also ensure there is supervision and implementation of this law, that is an oversight on the part of the executive to ensure they are doing the right thing.
“This question is better answered by the minister of humanitarian affairs because they are supposed to provide a policy direction and where they think they need some legal framework from us, they should let us know. The minister of humanitarian affairs should make adequate provisions for the rehabilitation of those returning so that they will be reintegrated back to their families.”
Risking it all crossing the Darien Gap, a treacherous trek no one should tackle
In the notorious Darien Gap spanning the Colombia-Panama border, a young pregnant woman and her husband from Haiti were left alone to face the unforgiving jungle along one of the world’s most dangerous irregular migration routes.
No roads, poisonous snakes, steep mountain ranges, raging rivers and groups of armed robbers had deterred Jean Horima, 25, and his wife Rose from risking their lives as thousands of desperate people from countries such as Haiti, Cuba, Bangladesh or Somalia do every year trying to reach the United States, Canada or Mexico.
More than 42,000 Haitians, including thousands of children, have tackled the perilous journey so far this year, hoping to gain refugee status and better futures. Many have not made it and Jean and Rose know they are lucky to have survived, especially as the baby came early.
“The jungle is brutal; it’s really, really tough. The hardest thing for me was to climb the mountains and cross the water,” says Jean. ”There are also people in the forest who will rob or kill you. I know some who got killed. Yes, people who left before me and when I arrived, I found them dead in the woods.”
The couple had started the week-long slog from the Colombia side with 50 others, but when the first hill loomed, the group abandoned them. After several days tackling the dense rainforest, Rose went into labour in the middle of nowhere.
“I was with my wife, and she told me what to do to help and save her,” says Jean. She gave birth and told her husband to cut the umbilical cord with a pair of scissors. “I also had a black string, so I told him to use it to tie the baby’s umbilical cord. Then, we used a t-shirt to make a bag to put the baby in,” says Rose.
The birth of a healthy baby boy gave them the courage and strength to continue and three days later, the exhausted but relieved family emerged at the Migrant Reception Station (ERM* by its Spanish acronym) in San Vicente, Panama, which is managed by the Panamanian Government with support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.
Vertulo Renonce and Guerline Mettelus from Haiti have also survived the Darien trek. They had travelled from Chile with their three-year-old son Louvertir, and crossed Colombia’s border with Panama in February. The couple has five other children and hope to join their two eldest in Guatemala. The other three are still in Haiti.
The parents have had difficulty communicating with their children since they arrived at the migrant reception centre in Lajas Blancas, but life there is not just an emotional drain.
“The can of milk Louvertir drinks costs USD 4.50 and about every two days I have to buy a new one,” says Guerline. The room in the Guatemala hostel where her children are staying is USD 20 a night, and her children in Haiti have missed school for more than a month because their fees have not been paid.
They arrived in Panama with USD 400 they had hidden from three armed attackers who had robbed their group of 14 people along the way and have only USD 3 left.
Lajas Blancas looks like a small neighbourhood where up to 500 people can be sheltered. Near the only entrance is a small kiosk where people gather to buy refreshments and biscuits and to charge their mobile phones. Off to the right are tents, showers and toilets. Down by the river is the quarantine and care area for people with COVID-19, where access is restricted.
Outside his tent, Jean François, who left Haiti in 2015, is grateful for the respite in his journey from Brazil with his four children. He greets a childhood friend who dumps firewood collected from the riverbank to prepare rice and beans.
“The food they give us here is not bad, but it is not made with love. That’s what we need,” says Jean François. They had survived a week in the jungle with very little food and travelled from Necoclí, Colombia. “Among the 230 people who crossed the jungle, there were around 100 children. It hurts to see them; the children don’t deserve this,” he says.
In the San Vicente ERM, Jean Paul, his wife and their four children are taking a breather on their way to the United States. After the perils of the Darien Gap, they must still travel through Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.
They travelled by boat to the border of Colombia and Panama, where they paid a “coyote”, or migrant smuggler, to walk them through the jungle in groups of hundreds of migrants, most of them Haitian nationals.
On the swings and slide in San Vicente, three of Jean’s young children play.
It’s noon. The officers of the National Border Service are handing out the food and people are crowding at the entrance waiting for their turn. Jean Michelet is sitting with a plate of food in one hand and, lying in his arms, is one-year-old Alejandro, who has not wanted to eat since they arrived at the station three days earlier.
Jean Michelet made sure the three eldest children had eaten and took them to play, giving his wife who sleeps in one of the houses a break. Unsuccessfully, he keeps trying to get his baby to eat. In his face you can see anguish – concern for the future and the pain of remembering the nightmare of the merciless Darien Gap.
*The ERM was built by the Government of Panama with support from international cooperation, intergovernmental organizations, civil society and private enterprise to reduce overcrowding in La Peñita, another ERM. San Vicente provides dignified conditions in which physical separation and other biosecurity measures can be maintained to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Story written by José Espinosa Bilgray, IOM Panama.
Stitching hope: Empowering women in South Sudan towards self-reliance
It is only the first day of training in hand-sewing and the women already have big plans about how they are going to use their newly acquired skills to support their families to gain independence.
“Once I get the hang of hand-sewing, I will learn how to sew with a machine. From there, I will make bedsheets, curtains and tablecloths to sell and use the money to provide for my children,” says 50-year-old Adut Akwar.
Adut and 14 other women from the Hai Masna Collective Centre, an internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in South Sudan’s Western Bahr el Ghazal state, are part of the selected group to be trained by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in an array of techniques including sewing, business and entrepreneurship as well as leadership skills. The group comprises women living with disabilities, young mothers and female-headed households.
Adut lives in Masna with her six children. They fled their home in 2017 when renewed fighting rocked their village in Jur River, forcing thousands of people, including women, children and the elderly to flee to save their lives. Many found refuge in Hai Masna (hosting 3,850 IDPs) and other collective centres around Wau, while the majority of the displaced sheltered at Naivasha IDP camp, formerly known as the UN Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Wau.
She is among the 40 women from Hai Masna and Naivasha who have benefited from the training workshops through the Women Participation Project (WPP). Through this project, IOM’s Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) team facilitates women’s access to income-generating activities through vocational and leadership skills training to support them to become self-reliant, encourage them to raise their concerns when they have them and take up leadership roles within the IDP camp and within their communities.
“I am very impressed by the enthusiasm that the women have shown in learning these skills which will help them in rebuilding their lives,” says Titus Muniri, IOM CCCM’s Community Participation Assistant.
“Some women who participated in previous trainings have even gone up and taken leading roles in the camp’s governance structures. We have four women who completed our training who were elected as members of the Community Leadership Committee (CLC) in Naivasha camp,” says Titus.
Adut Akwar says that she “has a plan.”
“When I return home, I will go back to ploughing my fields to grow food for my children,” she says.
“That’s not it though,” she adds with a renewed sense of excitement. “I will also use my time to sew bedsheets that I can sell to make an income.”
Adut says that she hopes that as peace holds in Western Bahr el Ghazal, more women will choose to leave the camps and return to their villages.
“When we leave, we can come together and form women-led cooperatives putting to use the business management and craft-making skills we learnt. We can make some real changes in our lives,” says Adut.
Adut, who was born with congenital upper limb reduction, says that she has never been one to depend on others to do things for her because of her disability.
“I guess, being born with a disability, you are also born with an inherent sense that you have to push harder to show the world that you can,” says Adut. “That is why when I was selected for the workshop, I did not think twice about joining.”
“Sure, I may need help putting the thread through the needle, but the rest I can learn and do by myself,” says Adut.
The Women Participation Project (WPP) is supported by the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) under the global “Safe from the Start Initiative” through which IOM’s CCCM team facilitates women’s access to income-generating activities.
To find out more about the Women’s Participation Project, visit https://womenindisplacement.org/
Written by Liatile Putsoa, Media and Communications Officer.
Observatory on smuggling of migrants
The Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants is a research initiative funded by the Governments of Denmark, Canada, Japan and Italy, and is being implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime since 2019. The website of the Observatory was launched in May 2021.
Smuggling of migrants is a complex crime involving the facilitation of the irregularly entry of people into a country for profit. Migrants are smuggled across borders with the financial or material gain. In establishing an Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants, UNODC seeks to gather information, collect, analyze and disseminate data to enhance the knowledge on this crime and inform evidence-based policy and law enforcement responses.
The UNODC Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants gathers data on key areas including migrants’ plans and preparations for the journey – particularly in relation to contact with smugglers, key smuggling routes and experiences on the journey, profiles of migrant smugglers and networks of organized crime, prices for smuggling services and mode of payment, and the types of abuses suffered in the context of smuggling.
Building on data collected in Nigeria and other countries in West and North Africa as well as in Europe, the Observatory has already published findings on smuggling of migrants along the Central Mediterranean Route. Upcoming findings will cover the use of migrant smugglers by Nigerians on the move.
Moreover, UNODC is partnering with the Mixed Migration Centre to collect data in transit and destination countries in West and North Africa to gain specific data on Nigerian use of smugglers in the region. MMC has produced a snapshot of emerging findings based on this research partnership.
Risking it all crossing the Darien Gap, a treacherous trek no one should tackle
Stitching hope: Empowering women in South Sudan towards self-reliance
Observatory on smuggling of migrants
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