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.
Nigerians in Spain say no to genocide
Nigerians resident in Spain have kicked against bad governance and brutalitalisation of innocent citizens by security operatives in Nigeria.
They are in solidarity with the #Endsars protesters.
The #Endsars protest started by young Nigerians to say no to brutality, impunity and gruesome killings in the hands of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the government in the country saw security operatives using live bullets on the protesters last week, October 21, 2020.
In a statement signed by Afolabi Oloko, the Nigerians in Spain said: “In every part of the world, including Nigeria, we believe protesting is a fundamental right of all citizenry that we can exercise whenever we deem it fit as long as it is civil and devoid of violence but such is not the case in Nigeria where the young future of the country are murdered by their very own government just because they made demands that there must be a reform to the notorious Police department and that the country be reformed in general. Have they asked for too much from a responsible and responsive government?
“It is so disheartening that after Ten days that the youth refused to back down they resorted to killing, maiming of their own future generations just because they asked and begged for good governance and good policing. It’s a shame that young people are being killed all around the cities of Nigeria from Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan, Abuja, Ondo , Benin, Porthacort just to mention a few. It was horrendous seeing over seventy people being murdered at night while still protesting unarmed peacefully in Lekki area of Lagos state. They organised by switching off the street light while they carried out their evil deed against defenceless young people of the country and also took away the CCTV. The commander-in-chief of the Armed forces in person of President Muhamodu Buhari must be tried at the International court for genocide against it’s own people.
“We the compatriots far away in Spain are with our young brothers and sister on the streets saying no to bad governance as you’re in our hearts and prayers. We support you in the just cause you’re are fighting. Fighting for one’s future should not be seen as an affront to the authorities, rather they should look inward and realise that the system is rotten and should be cleansed but not killing innocent young men on the streets with Army being deployed to take lives of vibrant and resourceful, frustrated and change hungry citizens.
“Today, we came out in multitude in solidarity with our compatriots back home to say #ENDSARS! #ENDBADGOVERNANCE #ENDPOLICEBRUTALITY #ENDCORUPTION #ENDTHEGENOCIDE”
ILO, IOM sign agreement to strengthen collaboration on migration governance
The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today signed an Agreement to create a framework for cooperation and collaboration to enhance the benefits of migration for all.
The framework includes joint support for improved migration governance, capacity building and policy coherence at national, regional and global levels. Other areas of work may also be developed.
The Agreement was signed by Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, and António Vitorino, the IOM Director-General, on Friday at the ILO Headquarters in Geneva.
Speaking after the signing ceremony, Ryder said, “this Agreement seals an important alliance between our two organizations. Together, we will be stronger and more effective in both fulfilling our individual mandates and in collaborating on areas that are crucial for reshaping the world of work so that it is more inclusive, equitable and sustainable.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is having a brutal impact on economies and societies. Vulnerable groups, particularly migrant workers and their families, are being disproportionately hit. There could be no better time to reinforce our partnership and combine our strengths, so that we can help countries and our constituents build back for a better future.”
DG Vitorino said, “the agreement that we are signing today will help us further solidify our collaboration at the time when joint solutions are so much needed, with a pandemic that is hitting the most vulnerable the hardest. As we move towards post-pandemic recovery, we fully embrace the call to build a better world together, tapping into the added value of each partner. With ILO, we have much to co-create and we look forward to future cooperation within the broader UN family, with our partner governments, private sector and civil society.”
The new ILO-IOM Agreement builds on the agencies’ comparative advantages, expertise, and respective constituencies. By encouraging joint initiatives, the Agreement aims to strengthen international migration governance and boost cooperation, capacity building and joint advocacy to promote migrants’ rights and decent work opportunities.
By encouraging social dialogue, it will allow workers` and employers` organizations – who sit equally with governments in the ILO’s tripartite membership structure – to contribute to policy discussions.
A workplan will be developed in the next six months to push forward the collaboration at global, regional and country levels and, more importantly, facilitate the implementation of the Agreement in the field, where both agencies are working directly with affected populations.
It will seek to enhance the agencies joint contribution to their member states, UN country teams, and societies to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Agreement will also allow the ILO and IOM to strengthen support for their respective constituencies in implementing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), and contribute to other global and regional migration policy fora and debates.
Stop enslavement of Africans in other continents- Experts tell African leaders
The second international migration summit by the Journalists International Forum For Migration (JIFORM) ended on Friday, October 16, 2020, at the Pensioners FM, Ibadan, Oyo State, with a call to African leaders to deliver good governance to halt continued enslavement of the Africans in other continents through irregular migration.
The conference themed: Migration governance and media strategy for development with physical and virtual presentations was attended by hundreds of journalists and other participants across the world.
President of JIFORM, Ajibola Abayomi, in his remark after signing a memorandum of understanding with the Diaspora Innovation Institute (DII), US, on training and investment opportunities for journalists, said the global media body with over 200 journalists spread across the continents as parts of the fallouts of the summit would produce glossary of terminologies for over 10,000 journalists and media houses beyond Africa.
Speaking at the occasion, Governor Oluwaseyi Makinde of Oyo State hailed JIFORM’s advocacy and identified poverty as the root cause of irregular migration pledging commitment to reverse the tide through good governance.
Represented by Barrister Olubunmi Ogunniran, Director General of Legal Administration, Oyo State Ministry of Justice, the governor said apart from rescuing trafficked indigenes of the state abroad and creating diaspora unit, he had inaugurated a task force against human trafficking, sexual offenders with prosecute department and further engagement of the youths through economic activities.
Minister of Labour Sierra Leone, Mr Alpha Timbo; Ghana Ambassador to Egypt, Lebanon and Sudan, Nii Okai Hammond, and the United Nations Youth Ambassador (Ghana), Lilian Addo, all praised what they tagged courageous movement by JIFORM and promised to support the body in its quest to further spread its advocacies.
Chairman of the summit, Patrick Lumumba, rued the faulty labour and trade laws in Africa limiting development and called on the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) for ntervention to remove migration barriers causing undue frictions between Ghana and Nigeria ditto for the African Union to end the xenophobic attacks in South Africa against other African nationals.
He blamed the crisis on misapplication of resources and corruption among African leaders and urged them to retrace their steps to save the youths from desperate migration to other continents through the desert and the Mediterranean Sea.
Chairman of House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Matters, Tolulope Akande-Sadipe lauded JIFORM’s efforts to eradicate irregular migration and vowed to rescue and end the suffering of stranded Nigerians lured through human trafficking to the Middle East and other Arabian nations through collaborations.
Member of African Union Advisory Committee on Labour Migration, (Ghana) Dr Princess Ocansey urged the African nations to end the Kafala bilateral agreement entered into with some Middle East countres that permitted the en-slavery of mostly African women.
“African leaders must wake up to save the youths from deadly work they are being subjected and replace that with decent work. The Kafala system is a shame and very dehumanizing” she said.
Former Canada Minister of Immigration, Gerry Weiner while delivering his presentation urged the African youths to acquit themselves with the right processes to tap into numerous diaspora opportunities in Canada and elsewhere.
Weiner, who had 12 years working experience in Africa, said only safe and regular migration, would guarantee the actualization of the desire to be part of economic activities in the world.
The summit had participation from several international speaker that Prince Akin Ojomo from DII; included Johanna Mac from Erich Brost Institute, Germany; Barrister Samuel Adeusi and Ms Omotola Fawunmi both from the US; International Organization for Migration (IOM), Nigeria and Gambia; Rescue African Mission; Synergy Rescue Mission; ThisLebanon Lebanon; Nigerians In Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM); National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP); Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS); Ghana Immigration Service; Diaspora Innovation Institute, New York, America; and Ghana Immigration Service.
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