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.”
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.
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.
“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. “
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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