By Innocent Duru
On July 11, 2016, while Matthew faced the Mediterranean death squad, he remembered his life in Benin. As 85 of his mates fell to the executioners’ bullets, he remembered his ‘beer parlour’ before business went awry and he was forced to quit. He wept for the beautiful kids and ravishing wife he would leave behind and he regretted his decision to desert Nigeria for greener pastures in Italy.
“The boat I boarded was arrested on July 27 by Libyan security on the Mediterranean Sea, while trying to cross from Libya to Italy. When they arrested us, they told us that they were taking us back to our country. We were 138 in number. When we came out of the sea, they separated 53 of us and shot the others dead. It was horrific my brother. I still can’t explain why they did that,” disclosed Matthew.
“They were always happy when they are killing human beings. They hate people with black skin. Whenever they wanted to make themselves happy, they could decide to line up 100 black people and murder them. What I am telling you is not a scene from a movie. It is something that I witnessed live. After killing those ones, they ended up selling us to other security operatives who took us to prison on August 10. That is their business in Libya. We spent 10 months in the prison,” he said.
But how did the proprietor of a once fluorishing pub become a target of extrajudicial killing?
“I quit the beer parlor business because people were buying things on credit and at a point, I didn’t have enough resources to continue the business. I already had five children before I travelled. I made some provisions for them when I was travelling hoping that when I get to Europe, I would come and take all of them to stay with me,” he said.
Unlike several of his peers who perished in the harsh weather of the Sahara Desert, Mathew weathered the storm and found his way to Libya. Soon, he departed for Italy on the Mediterranean Sea. As his boat sailed out, Matthew dreamt of a lucrative job and comfortable life abroad. He hoped to ‘make it big’ and return home to fete his family with his fortune.
But several hours into his voyage, his hopes of berthing in Italy was truncated by Libya’s coastal guards. Following his arrest and the execution of 85 of his co-travelers, Matthew was imprisoned with fellow passengers.
Reliving his experience in prison, he said: “They always gave us a slice of bread in a day. The bread had no nutritional value. That was what we lived on for 10 months. People were defecating and urinating blood and dying because there was nothing in their bodies. Some people had their intestines coming out while defecating and died.
“If you enter the prison, you would see all manner of ailments; people with wounds all over their mouths and those that their bodies had swollen three times their normal sizes. On a regular basis, we were made to carry dead bodies on our back out of the prison,” he revealed.
Among other miseries, Matthew complained of starvation: “Here in Nigeria, people always say that it is a bad thing for one to eat in a dream but I was always praying to eat good food in my dream and each time I did, I always felt good during the day.”
He picked up a habit too. “It was in the prison that I learnt to smoke because the weather was too cold. Sometimes, instead of eating my bread ration, I would trade it off to collect two sticks of cigarette. Whenever there was no cigarette, I would beg for a carton or anything I could roll into the shape of a cigarette so that I would have something to smoke,” he said.
Corroborating him, Raphael, a fellow deportee revealed that he became a chain-smoker in prison because “the cold was too much.” He also smoked to endure “the stench of dead bodies and inmates with decaying body parts.”
Cigarettes weighed like gold in the Libyan prison; about 10 inmates often shared one cigarette because it was more valuable to them than food, revealed Raphael. “Oftentimes, I break a stick into pieces. I smoke one and save the rest for different hours of the day. Many females begged prison officials to sleep with them so that they could get bread to eat. In the prison people begged for urine to drink. It was that bad,” he said.
The deported immigrant accused Libyan prison authorities of “callousness.” He said: “At times, they would deliberately shoot into the caravan we were sleeping in and immediately, you would see some inmates in their pool of blood. They would be left to die.”
John, another returnee, had a rewarding livelihood before he was bitten by the migration bug. “I left Nigeria on April 20, 2016. I was working as a photographer and doing well. But my brother who lives in Europe, invited me over to further my education. He went through the dessert in 2007/08 but he never told me that the route was dangerous. People died as we travelled through the desert. And we had sailed for five hours on the Mediterranean Sea when they arrested us. We were 133 passengers inside the boat called Lampalampa.”
Before their arrest on the Mediterranean Sea, John said he and his co-travelers engaged in fervent prayers. “People were dying as we were moving on the sea. Some Lampalampa boats were capsizing. Even the guy that buggered (trafficked) us, Moses, lost his younger brother’s wife and daughter on the Mediterranean Sea before we were arrested.
“From the sea, they took us to Gharian Prison where we spent 11 months and some days. We had no access to good water and food all through the period we were in prison. It was God that saved those of us that came back alive. They weren’t killing people in the section of the prison I was but people were always dying in the prison because they punished us severely,” he said.
All hope lost
Seeing their fellow inmates die on daily basis instilled fear in the illegal migrants. Many of them feared that they would suffer similar fate. Many of them had lost hope of surviving the ordeal. For instance, Matthew revealed that he resigned to fate after being denied a phone call to his family seven months into his incarceration.
However, they enjoyed a reprieve at the intervention of the Nigerian government. “We were extremely happy the day we were released. I came back on May 15 and I have been undergoing medical treatment since then. If you saw me the time we returned, you would mistake me for someone suffering from chronic HIV/AIDS. I am getting better now and I am prepared to do any work that my ability can take.”
“For now, my colleagues and I don’t have anything doing. Nobody cares. When we arrived at the airport here, they gave us N19, 000 each to go back to our destinations. Government at all levels have abandoned us since then. I have been surviving through the help of my siblings and friends,” he said.
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The President of the Initiative for Youth Awareness on Migration, Development and Re-integration (IYAMIDR), Comrade Solomon Okoduwa, observed that the failure of the government to empower the returnees is fueling insecurity.
“We have six of them with the Directorate of State Services (DSS). They were arrested for various crimes. How about those that were not caught in the act? The truth is that, if the government will not use the enormous resources in the country to empower the people, it would spend more fighting insecurity,” he said.
Traffickers explore new routes
Findings revealed that many returnees have returned to the dangerous paths where they escaped death by the whiskers. A returnee, who identified himself as Abraham disclosed that traffickers are expanding the business by exploring new routes. One of them is the Moroccan diplomats’ route. “Unlike the general route that accommodates thousands of illegal migrants, who pay between N200,000 and N300, 000 passage fee, the route is available for very few migrants and costs €5, 000,” he said.
According to him, some highly connected traffickers have a working relationship with some Moroccan policemen who patrol the routes mapped out for diplomats.
“It is these policemen who help them transport their clients to Spain. They always remove the petrol tank of the trucks they use for patrol and expand it to contain about two people. They will create holes to allow air get to the clients to prevent them from suffocating and channel a pipe into a gallon in the booth to supply fuel to the engine.
“When the clients are hidden inside the tank, about three to four policemen; two at the front and two at the back, will sit inside the truck. If you look inside the truck, even with a camera, it is policemen that you will find. They will take them to the edge of Spain and secretly ask them to come down. They will point to a camp and ask them to go and declare themselves as refugees. I have two relations who successfully used this route recently after paying €5, 000 each,” he said.
Returnees also accused Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) of aiding and abetting the practice.
People trafficked through the Sokoto route that connects Niger are allegedly assisted by immigration and NAPTIP officers at the border who receive N2, 000 bribe for each trafficked person.
The Executive Director of the Justice and Peace, Uromi Diocese and Coordinator of Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) Benin Province, Fidelis Arhedo, stated that there is an international network where Nigerian traffickers and their allies, who produce fake travel documents, connive with immigration officers in Turkey.
“The Turkish guys will tell their Nigerian collaborators to arrange the travel of the client on a day they will be on duty. When the person gets there, the conniving officer (s) will stamp the fake visa and clear the person based on the arrangement they have made. It is a network in which a client pays as much as N1million for a trip we pay N150, 000 for,” he said.
A Nigerian based in Russia also hinted that major international events have also become another way of moving people to Europe.
“The fight against illegal migration and human trafficking should be extended to Russia. For the past few weeks, many Nigerians have been trafficked to Russia on the pretense of coming to watch the just concluded Confederation Cup. Over 800 of them are stranded and trapped in Moscow. It cost between $2,000 and $4, 500 to get them here. The females pay between $45, 000 and $60, 000 to get their freedom. If you calculate it, the trafficker will make between $43, 000 and $56, 000 on each client over a period of three to five years.”
Government agencies’ response
In response to the returnees’ allegations, NAPTIP denied that its officers connive with traffickers.
The agency’s spokesman, Josiah Emereole, said that: “The allegation that NAPTIP officials collect bribe at the border to aid traffickers is not true. NAPTIP is not at any border. The people at the border are the immigration service. They are the ones empowered by the law to man all the entry and exit points in Nigeria. What they do is to rescue such people at the border areas and transfer to us through what is called the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). It is purely an immigration service issue. It may be of interest to you to contact the immigration service on this matter.”
When The Nation got in touch with the spokesperson of the National Refugee Commission (NRC), Ahmed Dambazau, on June 28, he promised to respond after meeting with his boss. After repetitive calls and text messages, Dambazau eventually answered the correspondent’s call on Tuesday, July 18.
“I will get back to you. Don’t worry, I will get back to you today, I promise. The federal commissioner just came back from Maiduguri and we are expecting her in the office. You will get what you want,” he said.
The NIS spokesman, Assistant Comptroller Sunday James, declined to comment on the allegations against the service. James said he was preparing for an examination and had no time to react.
To curb human trafficking…
Explaining Federal Government’s efforts at helping the returnees, the Special adviser to President Muhamadu Buhari on Diaspora Matters, Honourable Abike Dabiri Erewa said: “When they arrive, NAPTIP and NEMA will profile them. Through them, information is passed to the various states to support the re-integration and rehabilitation of their indigenes. A few of them have also enrolled for the N-Power program and I hope they succeed.
“I have as an individual done a bit personally to help out some of the girls. I gave some financial support to two of them wishing to establish a little business. One of them reunited with her family in Benin. I paid for her enrollment at a catering and finishing school in Benin and through an NGO , Pathfinders, I pay her a monthly stipend. When she is through with her training, we will work on setting her up to run her own business,” she said.
As part of its measures to curb human trafficking, the Edo State government is planning to establish an anti-human trafficking task force. The state governor, Godwin Obaseki, stated that the special task force, led by the newly-sworn in Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of the state, Professor Yinka Omoregbe, would be set up to address the malaise. He added that the DSS, Police and other security agencies would work with the task force to tackle the scourge.
Governor Obaseki described trafficking as “A threat to our survival as a race and as a people.” He stated that his administration would do everything possible to combat the problem, while also charging citizens of the state to assist the government in the fight.
Dominican Republic, IOM clear hurdles for 100,000 Venezuelan migrants
Santo Domingo – The first group of almost 100,000 Venezuelan migrants without legal status in the Dominican Republic have received visas allowing them to work, open bank accounts and join the social security system under the country’s Migration Normalization Plan.
Created by the Dominican government and launched with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the plan aims to regularize the Venezuelan population in three stages: application for extension of stay, visa, and residency. Since April, when the first phase began, 43,000 Venezuelans have registered to extend their stay and, on 1 July, the first group of 21 Venezuelans received their work visa.
“Now that I have my visa, I feel that for others like me a lot of opportunities are opening. We will be able to establish more safely and formally to offer a better future to our children,” says Gabriela Rivero, who arrived in the country with her husband and daughter in 2018. “Once we settled, we did not imagine how difficult it would be to get a job because the lack of documentation closed all doors.”
Since 2019 Gabriela has led a support organization for Venezuelan migrants in Santiago de los Caballeros called FEV (Fundación Emigrantes de Venezuela), which offers free orientation and helps hundreds of migrants daily to complete their normalization plan applications.
With IOM support, eight Venezuelan migrant organizations have created orientation hubs to assist the Venezuelan population who are applying to the plan. Of the 43,000 registered through the General Directorate of Migration (DGM) web page, around 9,000 have visited the hubs for help on the procedure. The promoters and coordinators of each hub – mostly Venezuelan migrants – have learned the process with the support and guidance of the DGM team and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MIREX). Besides being trained for orientation, they became the pilot group of the plan to receive their extensions and visas.
“The idea of this process is that we are the ones at the front of the hubs, a migrant helping a migrant, a Venezuelan helping a Venezuelan,” says Iván Carrera, a lawyer from Caracas and legal adviser of FUNCOVERD (Fundación Colonia de Venezolanos en RD). Carrera works as a promoter at the orientation hub in El Sambil Santo Domingo, one of the locations with the most people requesting support for their application.
IOM launches open South America portal
Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Open South America, available in Spanish, English and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.
The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.
The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.
Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.
“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.
“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.
29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM
The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.
About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.
Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.
He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.
Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.
“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”
Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.
“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.
Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.
The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.
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