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Second journey to ARMAGEDDON

After narrowly escaping death in their search for greener pastures abroad, many returnees from Edo State have begun to return to the perilous path. They are blaming their strange decision on failure of the state government to empower them two years after they were exposed to various agricultural trainings. Rather than stay back in the country and continue to suffer, they said, they would prefer dying searching for greener pastures abroad. INNOCENT DURU digs into the development and reports that the unbridled exodus of the returnees, some of who have also turned into traffickers themselves, is fast eroding the impression that the ugly practice is declining in the state.

AFTER a tortuous experience in Russia where she experienced a mysterious affliction that claimed all the savings she had abroad and back home in Nigeria, Florence Abu, a mother and housewife, is bent on going back to the European country to continue ‘selling her body’ in order to meet the needs of her family. During her initial adventure to Russia, the dark-complexioned lady said she was forced into working as a commercial sex worker by her pastor’s sister who paid for her trip.

Even though she didn’t enjoy her involvement in one of the oldest businesses in human history back then, the trade has now become something she is gladly ready to take to stave off the hardship that has become her lot. This time, she said, she will also be working as a trafficker, and brazenly vowed to traffic family members of public officials in Edo State who she said had failed in their promise to empower her. “When I came back from Russia, I met with the state government in the course of my advocacy against human trafficking. The government got interested and decided to call me over.

When I got there, the governor promised that they would integrate me. I have gone for so many trainings, and after each training, they would say they would set me up, but nothing is forthcoming. “Most of my colleagues I came back with have gone back.

They are not willing to stay here. I am the only one that chose to stay back and prove that there is hope in Nigeria, but it is like the government is not encouraging me.

“There is something in me that I want to bring out, but the government is not helping me to do so. If I am just sitting at home and doing nothing, then, what am I waiting for? I am now a mother. Even when I was single, I was crying and complaining. If I do anything drastic, it is the government that is pushing me to do what I don’t want to do.”

The vocal returnee said she would go back to selling her body if she succeeds in going back to Russia. She said: “My husband’s business is not moving well, and that is the reason why things are even very hard for me. I know he will feel bad if he hears that I want to go back and sell my body to survive. But instead of us dying in hunger. I woud it.

“Now, things are getting very hard for me as I cannot pay my rent or take care of my child. I am no longer comfortable with the situation of things. I am going back to where I came from. I am looking for traffickers who will take me along if that is the only way I can survive. If by any means I leave this country, I will become a trafficker myself. Government officials would have to be very prayerful so that I don’t come for their family members.

If I have the opportunity, I will traffic anybody that is related to them. “I have a child, but I have to feed that child. If there is no money for me to take care of that child, how would I be happy? I can’t watch my child die. The best thing for me to do is to fight for myself and fight for my child. I don’t want a situation where tomorrow the child grows up and says, ‘Mummy, you are suffering, I want to go and help you.’ “The child would now be doing what I don’t want all in the name of putting food on my table. I won’t allow it to happen. The best thing for me to do is to make the sacrifice for her. “I am saying all this so that the government can fulfil their promise. I just don’t want to do it without crying out. If nobody supports me, I will move ahead with my life. What I said I want to do, I would do.”

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While Florence is contemplating taking to trafficking, a Libya returnee, Tony Jimo, said he was planning to return to the North African country and has already begun trafficking fresh indigenes of the state. He said: “Things are bad here for us. I initially came back in 2011, after which the government trained us in livestock farming but failed to empower us. I had to go back to Libya in 2015 when nothing was forthcoming.

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“My experience travelling through the dessert the first time was terrible. But when the government was not making good their promises, I had to go back the second time. I took 10 passengers (illegal migrants) along. I collected N150,000 from each of them. “All the money was not mine. It was for settling (bribing) immigration officers in Abuja, Kano and other places. We bought dollars and cefas on the way. What I made on each of them was not more than N5,000.”

Explaining the desperation of many of the indigenes to travel abroad, Jimo said: “Many people are still entering the desert. As I am speaking to you, my younger brother is begging me to traffic him. He was one of the people repatriated recently from Ghana. “If not for the help of IOM, many of us would have died in Libya. But it is better if we had died then than to be experiencing what we are going through now. By now, I would have known if I belong to God or I belong to the devil.

“The safest route to Europe now is Morocco through Algeria. If I have like 10 people now with N200,000 I will go. “Many people on the street are desperate to be trafficked. Let the government and the NGOs show us the returnees that they have empowered and we will show them thousands that have got no attention.

“IOM gave us N42,000 when we came back, before the Edo task force came to take us to Benin. The government should fulfil their promise to the returnees. Let them establish returnees’ farm. ” Another Libya returnee, Vivian Osaigbovo, said she has a debt of N500,000 the mother borrowed to facilitate her failed trip to Libya hanging on her neck. Reliving her ordeal, Vivian said: “I came back from Libya in 2018. I attended the IOM training on how to make hair but there was no empowerment thereafter.

“The training was done for five days. After the training, they asked us to send the cost of what we needed to start what we learnt. We have sent it but we are yet to get any response from them three months after. “I have been calling but their number has not been reachable.

That same number was reachable during the training and when we were processing the invoice we sent to them. Even the money that the government promised to give us is not forthcoming. “I have been hustling since I came back, working as a sales girl from one place to the other. I want the government to help open a shop for me. With that, I will survive. “I don’t want to go back to experience the horrors again if the government comes to my help. But if the government does not answer me, I will go back, not minding the challenges.

I will look for somebody to traffic me, because I have not been able to pay the N100,000 back from the N500,000 my mother helped me to borrow. Three of my colleagues have gone back.” Two other Libya returnees, Theresa Uwaida and Daniels Osaro, also expressed disappointment over the alleged failure of the government to empower them. Like their colleagues, they said they would be taking another shot at going to Libya.

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Theresa said she was in Libya and about crossing to Italy when she was captured. She said: “I spent about nine months in detention. I came back in 2015 and the government promised to give us N100 million and 150 acres of land to start poultry business. “When the governor made the pronouncement, we were so excited. But they have been telling us to have hope since then. Na hope we wan chop? I have made attempts to return to Libya but I don’t have the money to do so. “I am a single mother. I don’t have anything to take care of my children.

I had the children before I travelled, and that was why my marriage didn’t work out again. “When they captured us in Libya, they were using us to engage in slave trade. My children couldn’t write the last examination because I had no money to pay their fees. I don’t know what will become of their future.” Miffed by what he described as the state government’s insensitivity to their plight, Osaro said: “What the government did to us since we returned is bad. They promised to integrate us in Agriculture Development Programme (ADP).

We spent three weeks undergoing the training. “After the training, they failed to provide the N100 million they promised. They made us to start a journey they would not help us to complete.” Highlighting the implication of the alleged failure of the government to empower them, Osaro said: “The government is putting more pressure on the security system by their action, because the street is full of people that are idle.

“My colleagues whose parents are well to do have helped them to go back since the government deceived us. I was detained in prison for seven years in Libya because of language barrier.” Pastor’s mother collects pubic hair, pant, others from victim Florence gave a shocking account of how the pastor’s mother collected her pubic hair before she embarked on the distasteful trip abroad. She said: “My pastor’s mother said she would not just allow me to go like that. She took my pant, hair from my head, armpit and private part, and also took my finger nail. The pastor himself was the one that asked me to go ahead and do it, to prove my innocence that I would not run away with the sister’s money. He gave me assurance that it was not going to harm me.

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“When I came back to Nigeria, I reported the matter to NAPTIP, because they were the people that received me when I came back. The pastor initially denied knowing me. In the long run, they accepted but said that was not their intention.” Our horrible experiences abroad The returnee said she was deceived into travelling to Russia in 2013 by her pastor who said the trip was to enable her hone her skills as a hairstylist and singer. On getting to Russia where she put up with the pastor’s sister, Florence was faced with the real reason she was lured abroad. Rather than being enrolled in a hairdressing or a music school, the naïve young lady was told point blank that the purpose of paying her bills to Russia was for her to go into prostitution and pay a whopping $45,000 in return. She said: “My experience in Russia was hell. When I got there, it was not what I was told that I would do that I ended up doing. They said since I was a hairstylist and a chorister, I would go over there to do the same thing.

“When I got there, I had to follow the trend because the lady told me that I had to do it or die. She collected my passport and that was how I started selling my body to pay back a total of $45,000. “After paying the pastor’s sister the money, things became bad for me and I fell seriously ill. I came back after developing a disturbing affliction on my face. It started as rashes and later became something like pimples. From there, it advanced to boils. I took drugs and even went to hospitals but it didn’t work.

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“I spent a lot of money, including my savings, treating myself. I had to ask my people to send the money I had sent home to me to treat myself. Instead of dying in a foreign land, I ran to the Nigerian Embassy to complain, and that was how I came back. I thank God that after the intervention of some pastors, my face became okay. ” Although she was keen on making money, Florence said she was always protecting myself when sleeping with men back in Russia, adding: “But most of my friends were not protecting themselves. They were always doing it the fast way so that they could move ahead with their lives. I protected myself so that I would not be regretting tomorrow.

“We were charging per hour when dealing with men, and it is always about 3000 Robo. That is about N15,000 an hour. I always had one, two or more men every day. It is just like the weather which can either be bright or dark.” Recalling his plight trafficking other illegal migrants through the dessert, Jimo, said: “I was seriously dealt with in the dessert by rebels. They wounded me and I am still carrying the wound on my body till date. We fell into wrong connection during the trip. I told the boys I was trafficking to hold extra money aside the N150,000 because we needed to settle rebels. Some of them were not holding extra money.

“The rebels arrested about 50 vehicles and told us that each person must pay $100. They messed up many females and males. “When you fall into the hands of rebels, they will naked everybody. About five people will be raping one girl and you will be hearing the cry. Many of them died in the process and some others contracted diseases. Some of them that came back pregnant was because of what they experienced on the way.” Also recounting her ordeal going to Libya, Vivian said it was her girlfriend who brought her into the arrangement.

“She told me she wanted to travel and asked if I would like to go with her. We passed through hell in the dessert as many people were dying. The vehicle we boarded caught fire inside the dessert and there was no place for us to go. “We spent three weeks inside the dessert before we eventually got another vehicle. We had no water to have our bath. Where would you see water? Some people were drinking their urine when there was no water. When there was no urine to drink again, some survived and others died. “The rebels in the dessert raped my female friends but they didn’t touch me. Life in Libya was terrible. The country is one terrible place that I have seen in my life. “

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

READ  IOM facilitates return of 116 Nigerians from Libya

“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

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“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

READ  Forced back home by the pandemic, Venezuelan grandmother sees no choice but to flee once again

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

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UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

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“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

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“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

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Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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