The predicament of Nigerian migrants appears to be getting worse on a daily basis as the effects of COVID 19 and myriads of other challenges have continued to make life unbearable for them. While some stranded abroad are itching to return to the country, some returnees are doing everything possible to leave the country. PHILIPPINE-OBETO DURU reports.
A Nigerian migrant who survived the Beirut blast is one of the latest victims of inhuman treatment constantly meted out to Nigerians, other Africans in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East.
After surviving the blast, her boss prevented her from leaving Lebanon as she was reported to the authorities as a runaway. No thanks to the Kafala system which gives unbridled control to masters of these unfortunate victims of human trafficking. “ The explosion threw me in the air. I saw dead bodies. I’m at the airport but they won’t allow five of us to board because our madams reported us as runaways. If you don’t hear from me again, I’m in prison.” NOW SHE’S IN PRISON. SHAME ON,” This is Lebanon, an international Non Governmental Organization, posted on its Instagram page shared with us.
Ground Coordinator of This is Lebanon, Nia Evans, told this website that the ordeal of Nigerian migrants in the Middle East, Lebanon in particular has been compounded by the COVID 19 pandemic. Many Migrant Domestic Workers (MDW) experienced racism when at the testing centres in Lebanon. Most MDW are financially destitute and therefore unable to pay for PCR tests both in Lebanon and Nigeria. Upon arrival to Nigeria MDW were being forced to pay $150 for a further PCR test and if they did not present the funds were threatened with imprisonment. Some MDW were returned back to their employers for not having paid the $150 on credit card prior to boarding and charged full price for re-booking their tickets,” Nia said.
Ben, one of the Nigerians deported from Austria and Germany on Thursday, November, 12, 2020, decried the level of racism against Nigerians in Austria, adding that their predicament was worsened by the pandemic.
“In Austria, Nigerians suffer seriously from racism. Citizens of other African countries like Ghana, Somalia and others are not so treated. Don’t know why. Many are in prison where bathing is not allowed for more than two days in a week. Many inmates have rashes all over their bodies and feeling unwell. The pandemic worsened our situation because we were indoors and weren’t making money for a long time. I am supposed to return home and be happy among my people but here I am back home with nothing,” he said despondently.
Back home, the ravaging effects of the pandemic and other push factors such as the wide spread #Endsars protests have also made life unbearable for many returnees tempting them to want to leave the country at all costs.
Emma who was deported from Germany told us that he has lost the little job he got because of the pandemic. It (COVID 19) affected me in many ways. The company I was working with has stopped me. I have no job now and no company is employing anybody. I am at home doing nothing.
Asked if he has the temptation to leave the country again, he said: “Yes because of hardship” adding that his friends abroad are already asking him to come back.
“They told me to come back there because life is better up there than in Nigeria. I don’t have money to go but I will ask my friends to support me. I have been speaking with GIZ and IOM to support me for tools because I am into welder fabrication. It is really difficult for me here. If they can support me with tools I’ll be happy.”
When this reporter informed Emma that efforts to reach his fellow deportee has been fruitless, he said: “He has sold his phone in order to have money to eat. He is also out of job and has nobody to assist him.”
It was also the same tale of lamentation for Motun, who returned from Lebanon recently.
“Life has not been what we expected it to be when we were coming home. We didn’t come back with any money so survival has been pretty difficult.”
IOM Public information Officer , other activists react
IOM’ s Public Information Officer, Jorge Galindo, said the COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on people’s livelihood and economic prospects around the world and Nigeria is no exception. “According to a recent assessment conducted with 105 Nigerian returnees in Edo and Delta states, 96 per cent reported that they are now worse-off financially compared to before the start of the pandemic. In addition to lower income, beneficiaries’ purchasing power has also taken a hit. Three-quarters of Nigerian respondents reported that food and basic items are now much more
expensive than previously.”
Socio-economic factors according to Jorge play a key role in the mobility of persons. “Given the direct implications of COVID-19 on Nigeria’s economic situation, it is anticipated that there will be an impact on mobility trajectories in migration-prone communities. In the Southern States, where approximately 20,500 Nigerian migrants had returned from Libya and European countries, the pandemic has heightened vulnerabilities associated with return and reintegration into their communities of origin.”
He further said: “Though it is too early to attribute any current increase or decrease in irregular migration to the economic impacts of COVID-19 in the country, it is predicted that these impacts will become a push factor for people at risk in areas with large migrant outflows such as Edo, Delta and Lagos states. Moreover, according to IOM’s assessment, diseases outbreaks and subsequent factors can be key drivers of human trafficking.
“Criminal groups such as traffickers are likely to take advantage of people’s vulnerabilities for exploitative purposes. Increasing rates of unemployment which will likely worsen in the foreseeable future will add additional pressures on workers and increase competition for jobs, while reducing flows of international remittances to countries of origin, thereby exposing more families to poverty.”
Concluding, he said: “Remittances are a lifeline in the developing world. The loss of income from COVID-19 is likely to lead to a colossal $109 billion drop in remittances – the equivalent of nearly three-quarters of all official development assistance.”
|Speaking on the plight of the citizens in the Middle East, founder of RebirthHub Africa, Omotola Fawunmi, noted that quite a number of people who emigrate from Nigeria or who found themselves in what we know as the Kafala system did that because they were practically economic migrants seeking a better quality of life for themselves and for their family members.
“Unfortunately, some of these ladies ended up being tricked by traffickers with a promise of a better opportunity. Sadly, the COVID -19 simply aggravated the situation of migrant domestic workers across the world because their principals could not pay them. A lot of them, particularly in Lebanon were kicked off the street.
“If you have spoken with some of our partners on ground, they will give you a better picture of the condition of living of some of these ladies on the streets. Another thing is that many of them didn’t have enough money to come back home. Many approached the embassies and many of the embassies were quite unhelpful and unwilling to provide support until the migrant domestic workers had to cry out.
What is the impact of this on irregular migration? Omotola replied: “For those who have successfully returned home, they have returned to a country where there is no work or where there has been a lull in economic activities because of the covid pandemic. Now add to that, extreme poverty, non-reponsiveness of people in government who have the responsibility to create an enabling environment for these citizens to thrive.
“What we have on our hand is that many more are going to try to leave again. Unfortunately, this time, more desperately because the Nigeria they left has become worse. If you add to that the #Endsars protest and the arsons, and the lootings that have happened over the weeks we have on our hand a very serious situation because there are no jobs. A lot of businesses have been destroyed. Families need to feed and people need to get education and so they will look in the direction of any opportunity that is dangled before them.
Advising the authorities, she said: “My counsel is that the government and its agencies should be more proactive in providing migrant information to people in low income communities so that they can verify their options.
“We had a lady who we brought back in April. Only last week, she reached out to me saying that she knew that I brought her back from Lebanon but that ‘someone is offering me an opportunity to go to Australia’ and that she thinks it is a good opportunity. She said they told her it is just 19 hours from Nigeria and that she could come back anytime she likes.
I said we should ask the person what he is offering. She said they told her she would be a sales girl in Australia. I asked why can’t she be a sales girl in Nigeria and she said well, that she has been back for a couple of months, learnt a couple of skills ( I know she has worked as a cobbler and we have sent her recently to learn hair dressing and a couple of vocational skills for a week) but she believes that she doesn’t have a market to sell and so this opportunity of a sales girl seems to be a good idea and she is willing to go.
“I sent her a couple of questions to ask this supposed recruiter. I said she should tell me who this recruiter is and ask him what city in Australia they are taking her to and what company she would be working with. What came out of it was very powerful. The moment she started asking questions, the recruiter was very offended and he sent abusive words in the voice note that came after. He questioned her for asking too many questions. He said if she knew that much then why asking him too many questions.”
Omotola regretted that: “We frustrate a culture of enquiry by shooting it down by making people feel that when they ask questions they are confronting authorities. But it is not. It is to clarify. People need to come out of a space that limits one. They need to come to a space of light, a space of advancement, a space of enquiry where they can have mental engagement. The government needs to provide an environment where people to ask questions. If they say they are being recruited to a particular country, where can they get information about that. A lot of them will never make it to the embassy so they cannot ask question from the nationals of those countries.
“So there needs to be a migrant information centre. I am aware that there is one in Lagos State but a lot of these recruitments are happening outside Lagos. Can we have migrants’ information centres across local governments where people can go to and ask questions?”
Following the attitude of the Nigerian government to the developments in the country, President of Initiative for Youth Awareness on Migration, immigration Development and Re-integration (IYAMIDR) , Comrade Solomon Okoduwa, said: “with what is currently going on in Nigeria now, coupled with the jail break in Edo state, people are already on their way to Libya enroute Europe. They want to find alternative means for their lives. Irregular migration has just been encouraged.
“Nigerian youths are not lazy at all, they must find a way to live a happier and a better life when they feel neglected by those they elected. With the level of hunger in the land, unemployment on the increase, insecurity and other factors will surely fuel irregular migration in the coming days.”
The federal government earlier on had advised Nigerians who are planning to migrate to make use of the newly created Migrant Resource Centres (MRC) to get adequate information relating to their destination countries.
The government said the centres were established in collaboration with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to stem the tide of irregular migration by Nigerians.
The National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) also said it has been working round the clock with relevant government and international organisations to assist stranded Nigerians abroad.
Head of Intelligence and International Cooperation Unit NAPTIP, Angela Aleakhue Agbayekhai, said the agency has directly been engaging the victims via telephone call/whatsapp chats, to interview them, learn first-hand their situation and location, transmitting information to the victims on location of Nigerian Mission(s) in that country as well as foreign partners (NGOs) they could contact for immediate assistance.
She added that the agency has also been transmitting victims’ information to relevant authorities like MFA, IOM, NIA, NIDCOM etc) for urgent intervention. “We have been contacting victims’ family members to establish the circumstances that led to their being trafficked apprehending those culpable in their movement abroad (traffickers) for prosecution.”
IOM, UNHCR: Latest Caribbean shipwreck tragedy underscores need for safe pathways
Geneva – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency are deeply saddened by the latest loss of at least two lives after a boat capsized off Venezuela’s shores on Thursday 22 April.
According to local authorities, at least 24 people including several children are believed to have been on board the boat heading towards the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Seven people were rescued by commercial Venezuelan vessels, and two bodies have so far been recovered, while rescue operations are ongoing to find other survivors among the 15 Venezuelans that are still unaccounted for according to authorities.
“The waters of the Caribbean Sea continue to claim the lives of Venezuelans,” said Eduardo Stein, Joint Special Representative of UNHCR and IOM for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants. “As the conditions in the country continue to deteriorate – all worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic – people continue to undertake life-threatening journeys.”
This is the latest of several incidents involving the capsizing of boats carrying Venezuelan refugees and migrants towards Caribbean islands, the most recent reported near the Venezuelan city of Guiria in December last year.
With land and maritime borders still closed to limit COVID-19 transmission, these journeys take place mainly through irregular routes, heightening the dangers as well as health and protection risks.
“Shipwrecks, tragic deaths at border crossings and further suffering are avoidable, but only if immediate and concerted international action is mobilized to find pragmatic solutions that put saving lives and protecting human rights at the forefront of any response,” added Stein.
“The establishment of regular and safe pathways, including through humanitarian visas and family reunification, as well as the implementation of protection-sensitive entry systems and adequate reception mechanisms, can prevent the use of irregular routes, smuggling and trafficking.”
UNHCR and IOM reiterate their readiness to lend support and technical expertise in exploring practical solutions to provide regular pathways that also take into account COVID-19 prevention measures. UNHCR and IOM, as co-leaders of the Interagency Coordination Platform for refugees and migrants from Venezuela (R4V), work with at least 24 other partners and governments across the Caribbean to meet the needs of refugees and migrants in the sub-region.
There are over 5 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants around the world, 200,000 of whom are estimated to be hosted in the Caribbean.
Searching for closure: New study examines challenges facing families of missing migrants in the UK
Berlin – When a person goes missing, the existing laws, procedures and inter-state cooperation enable families to make the necessary arrangements and reach closure about the loss of their loved ones.
A new report from the International Organization of Migration (IOM)’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre and Missing Migrants Project shows this is not the case for people across the United Kingdom who have missing migrant relatives.
“The families who participated in the research in the UK are some of the tens of thousands of people living worldwide with the pain of not knowing the fate of their loved ones who went missing or died during migration journeys,” said Frank Laczko, Director of IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) in Berlin.
Over the past two years, IOM GMDAC has carried out qualitative research funded by Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs with families searching for missing migrants in several countries. The twin aims of the research are to amplify the voices of the families of missing migrants and develop a series of recommendations to drive action to support them.
This new report shows that cases of missing migrants in the UK extend far beyond the English Channel.
Nearly 300 people are known to have died since 1999 along the northern coast of France, Belgium and the Netherlands, in the English Channel or shortly after crossing into the United Kingdom, according to records collected by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project and the Institute of Race Relations. But the number of missing migrants en route to the UK is likely to be much higher. Many of the families involved in the research did not know the whereabouts or fate of their relatives in the Mediterranean Sea crossing and elsewhere.
“Besides the emotional toll, we know that the lives of people related to missing migrants may be forever marked by the many psychosocial, legal and financial impacts,” said Dipti Pardeshi, Chief of Mission of IOM in the UK.
“When I came here… I would cry every morning… I was crying over my loss and also because the future was uncertain then. I did not know what was going to happen,” said Emeka, a Nigerian woman living in the UK who is looking for her husband.
“I didn’t know if I would get residence here, or if I was going to be deported. That was what I was facing then apart from the loss of family,” she continued.
With the exception of the tracing service offered by the British Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in the United Kingdom there are no agencies or policies specifically dedicated to help report, locate or identify cases involving migrants who went missing while in transit to the country. As a result, families primarily seek information about the missing and rely on support from informal channels and networks, members of the diaspora abroad, and community-based associations.
The research, carried out in collaboration with Dr. Samuel Okyere at the University of Bristol and IOM UK, found that families of missing migrants in the UK may be migrants themselves with fears that searching for their loved ones could lead to being prosecuted due to their uncertain immigration status.
IOM calls for action in the UK, and elsewhere, to support these families. Objective 8 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) specifically calls on states to identify those who have died or gone missing, and to facilitate communication with affected families. The report includes 10 recommendations for how families of missing migrants in the UK can be better supported to trace their relatives and to cope with the impacts of loss.
Find the new report “Families of Missing Migrants: Their Search for Answers, the Impacts of Loss and Recommendations for Improved Support ” here.
“Living Without Them – Stories of families left behind” is a four-part podcast series produced by IOM about the research project with families of missing migrants. Listen to the third episode about the stories of families of missing migrants in the UK here.
IOM’s Emergency Director in Mozambique: Communities uprooted by recent violence in Palma require greater support
Pemba – Nearly 30,500 people displaced by recent violence in northern Mozambique face increased hardship as the humanitarian situation intensifies across Cabo Delgado province. Funds are urgently needed to respond to the emergency, which has displaced nearly 700,000 since the onset of violence in October 2017.
IOM’s Director of Operations and Emergencies, Jeff Labovitz, visited Mozambique this week to express condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones in the recent attacks in Palma, and solidarity with displaced and affected communities in Cabo Delgado.
“Cabo Delgado has seen unprecedented, rapidly increasing levels of displacement over the past year. Displaced people are vulnerable and in need of urgent and comprehensive humanitarian assistance,” said Labovitz.
“IOM is working with UN and non-governmental partners and supports the Government of Mozambique to alleviate the suffering of people who’ve been suddenly driven from their homes and communities.”
Labovitz met with humanitarian partners and government representatives, including from ministries and local authorities in the capital, Maputo, and in Cabo Delgado. He also visited resettlement sites in Metuge District and the Transit Site in Pemba, which hosts people recently displaced from Palma.
He spoke with host families and with displaced people. Many expressed their desire to move to a safer place where they could resettle.
At the Transit Centre Labovitz spoke with Rabia, a woman displaced from Palma who recounted her harrowing experience:
“My husband was killed, but my two children and I survived. We moved between locations for several days without food or money. We made our way to Afungi and from there we boarded a flight to Pemba.”
“I am going to persevere, but the situation is very difficult. I don’t know how I’m going to provide for my children without a space to live or equipment to start farming,” she added.
IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) continues to record, on a daily basis, increased numbers of people displaced from Palma to safer areas. Several days in the last month have seen more than 1,000 arrivals per day. Of the displaced, 75 per cent are women and children – including pregnant women and unaccompanied children – and more than 1,000 of the total have been elderly.
“Remarkably the communities of Cabo Delgado – who themselves have increasing humanitarian needs – host the vast majority of displaced individuals. Support from the international community is needed to relieve some of this pressure and focus more attention and support,” continued Labovitz.
He commended the government’s provision of land for displaced families in resettlement sites, which enable families to cultivate land and restart their lives. IOM-supported efforts to establish these sites aim to ensure more dignified living conditions for residents.
IOM is working together with humanitarian partners to carry out multi-sectoral assessments in order to guide the delivery of humanitarian supplies, including in hard-to-reach areas. The situation in Cabo Delgado remains critical, especially in areas that, due to the security situation, are inaccessible to humanitarian actors.
“Sadly, calls for greater funding for this emergency have gone largely unmet. We need to come together to ensure that people have access to water and sanitation, shelter and food and are protected from gender-based violence and other forms of abuse,” Labovitz said.
IOM continues to provide support to people displaced from Cabo Delgado through the provision of psychosocial support, protection assistance, support and referrals for health services, shelter and non-food items, camp coordination and camp management. The Organization is also tracking populations and their needs through DTM to inform the response. Most recent displacement figures are available here.
In 2021, IOM requires USD 58 million to support emergency and post crisis efforts in Mozambique under IOM Mozambique Crisis Response Plan, which includes USD 21.7 million to respond to immediate lifesaving humanitarian needs in northern Mozambique through this year’s Humanitarian Response Plan.
IOM’s Global Crisis Response Platform provides an overview of IOM’s plans and funding requirements to respond to the evolving needs and aspirations of those impacted by, or at risk of, crisis and displacement in 2021 and beyond.
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