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.”
Edo goes after assets, properties of traffickers
The Edo State Government plans to go after the assets and properties of persons behind the wanton trafficking of indigenes of the state.
Governor Godwin Obaseki told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja yesterday that proceeds from such properties would be ploughed into the rehabilitation and reintegration of returnees.
Convicting the perpetrators and liquidating their assets, according to the governor, will serve as a deterrent to others who are still scouting for vulnerable Nigerians to traffic.
The governor, who was among guests at an event held at the British High Commission in Abuja on Thursday, however, said that the state had been hindered by delays in prosecution.
He said whereas government had recruited competent prosecutors, judicial processes, long adjournments and handling of victims’ testimonies were delaying government’s move to get convictions.
He said: “We have been able to intensify investigation and prosecution. But unfortunately, we have not been able to get any conviction.
“Not because the prosecutors are not doing their utmost best, but because of the very nature of our legal system.
“We are working very hard with the high courts and NAPTIP to ensure that we get convictions.
“This can serve as a deterrent and punishment to the perpetrators, ensuring that they lose property and they lose assets with which we will now use in supporting the rehabilitation of victims.
“We will work with the judiciary to try and reduce the long adjournments and also the way they treat evidences from victims.
“Many of these victims are afraid of revealing information on their traffickers because of threats, but we are taking measures to provide safe houses for them and to provide cover for them until we are able to get prosecutions.”
The governor said that in the last four years under his watch, the number of persons trafficked from the state had reduced with rehabilitation and reintegration of over 6,500 returnees.
He said that the focus for the government, working with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), is to re-humanise the victims and restore their dignity.
He added that the government also, in the process of rehabilitation, extracts information from the victims in a bid to understand the scope and nature of the network.
“We have rehabilitated over 6,500 victims of trafficking and irregular migration working with partners like the IOM.
“We have also used the opportunity to extract a lot of data to understand the nature and scope of all these trafficking network and crisis.
“With that information, we now understand what drives people and what have driven people to be trafficked, the areas they come from, their social situation and economic situations.
“That has helped us to put strategies in place to combat trafficking in Edo state.
“You would see from records available that the incidence of trafficking and irregular migration in Edo state over the last three years has dropped dramatically,” he said.
JIFORM to African leaders: give youths social security to combat human trafficking
As the world marks the 2021 Day Against Trafficking In Persons on July 30, the Journalists International Forum For Migration (JIFORM) has urged government in Africa to pay more attention to the social security schemes to stem the tide of human trafficking on the continent.
The global media body with over 300 journalists covering migration across the continents is hosting its 3rd global migration summit in partnership with the Altec Global Inc, Toronto Canada and others at the Niagara Falls in the country between November 29 to December 6, this year.
The President of JIFORM, Ajibola Abayomi in a statement noted that “the major pull factor of human trafficking in Africa is poverty. The youths being trafficked need jobs, shelter, security and empowerment. Before we can ensure that the victims’ voices lead the way as the theme of the 2021 anti-human trafficking day implies, every government on the continent must not pretend on the relevance of improved socio- economic status for their citizens. Time to do needful is now by being honest and set aside undue semantics and theories.
“We salute the doggedness of the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP) in Nigeria. The law establishing the agency should be reviewed to mandate the leadership of the agency to be totally professional and hierarchically structured as uniformed organization.
“NAPTIP needs more funding to recruit more hands and have its presence in the 774 local governments in Nigeria. The agency should be more strategically involved in the migration process of mostly young Nigerian ladies to be sure of their mission at the airports through collaboration with the Nigeria Immigration Service.
“Youth empowerment is very key to any preventive measure. Poverty, economic hardship and ignorance are the major weapons being used by the traffickers to sway victims in Africa especially Nigeria.
“Therefore, for the theme of this year’s anti-human trafficking day to be meaningful in Nigeria and Africa, JIFORM agrees totally that listening to and learning from survivors of human trafficking are very important. Survivors are key actors in the fight against human trafficking.
“But how well have we re-integrate many of them into the society? The victims play a crucial role in establishing effective measures to prevent this crime, identifying and rescuing victims and supporting them on their road to rehabilitation.
“We cannot agree less with the United Nations that many victims of human trafficking have experienced ignorance or misunderstanding in their attempts to get help. They have had traumatic post-rescue experiences during identification interviews and legal proceedings. Some have faced revictimization and punishment for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers. Others have been subjected to stigmatization or received inadequate support. So, we must rise to implement the preventive measures and defend the victims.
“Learning from victims’ experiences and turning their suggestions into concrete actions will lead to a more victim-centered and effective approach in combating human trafficking. The media too must play its roles to carry out more campaigns to complement what is expected from the government” Ajibola added.
IOM rushes to help refugees as deadly monsoon rains wreak havoc in Bangladesh
Cox’s Bazar – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said today many of the more than 13,000 Rohingya refugees forced out of their camps by flooding in Cox’s Bazar which has killed at least six people were returning to their shelters to salvage belongings after a break in heavy rains, but the risk of more casualties remained high.
IOM said a total of more than 21,000 refugees had been affected and almost 4,000 shelters were destroyed. Food distribution centres, health facilities and water points have been damaged during three days of non-stop rain.
The six confirmed dead were killed in landslides or drowned in two IOM-managed camps and officials fear more flooding and landslides will prevent help reaching others among the total of 884,000 Rohingya refugees in the country.
Access to the camps is hazardous as constant landslides block the main roads leading to the camps, and major routes used by refugees and humanitarian actors are under water.
Up to 2,000 people have been evacuated from landslide-prone areas in Teknaf upazila (sub-district).
“Heavy rainfall is expected during the next few days, and as such, challenges are likely to increase,” said Manuel Marques Pereira, IOM Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangladesh.
“Over the past few months, IOM has been assessing the risk of landslides, strengthening drainage networks, installing slope protection measures and upgrading key pathways. However, despite multiple disaster risk reduction measures being implemented, the camp congestion, excessive rain and poor soil quality, make it extremely difficult to cope with the elements,” Pereira said.
One hundred Rohingya Disaster Management Unit (DMU) volunteers trained in each camp have been working around the clock and focusing on helping the most vulnerable, including the elderly and pregnant women. IOM teams are assessing the damage and working closely with the different sectors to refer those affected for relevant assistance. Mobile medical teams have been deployed and the protection emergency response unit has been activated.
Staff on the ground are clearing drainage pipes, repairing damage and distributing emergency shelter kits, core relief items, and aquatabs to prevent waterborne diseases.
IOM has sent in Cyclone Preparedness Programme volunteers to urgently assist host community members.
Families have taken refuge in six different multi-purpose cyclone shelters where they are currently being assisted with relief items, protection and medical support. Since 2019, IOM has been supporting the rehabilitation of MPCS so community members can take shelter in case of disasters.
The current flood emergency further exacerbates the massive humanitarian needs of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. After almost four years since the latest influx of Rohingya refugees who arrived in Bangladesh from neighbouring Myanmar, IOM is relying on its partners to continue to support the response.
Additional support is needed to enable teams to continue to assist those affected, as well as the rest of the refugees currently residing in the camps. As always, IOM advocates for the continuation of a comprehensive humanitarian assistance for refugees across all camps.
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