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We’re in dilemma! Nigerians in India lament as COVID-19 ravages Asian country

• Migrants fear returning home because of insecurity  • Relations back at home fret, fear for loved ones  • Africans shun hospitals, fear they could be injected with virus • Why we can’t evacuate citizens – FG

By Innocent Duru

Palpable fear rules the camp of more than 55,000 Nigerians resident in India following the exponential spike in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 and dying from it in the Asian country.

India, home of some notable manufacturers and exporters of COVID-19 vaccines, has been recording more than 200,000 cases daily since April 15, well past its peak last year when it averaged about 93,000 cases daily.  The country has consequently overtaken Brazil and other nations to become the second worst hit country globally.

Following the rate at which the pandemic was spreading, curfews were initially announced in some areas but when the plague would not abate, many states went into lockdown.

The ugly development, according to findings made by our correspondent, is making Nigerians and other Africans resident in the country to panic. And they face ugly prospects because they are not entitled to palliatives and also cannot go out to earn a living.

Malik Ali Paul, a Nigerian resident in India, said: “The major challenge now is that there has been a total lockdown for two to three weeks in Delhi, which is the capital of India, and also in Pune City of Maharashtra state, and there is no movement.

“The implementation of the directive is very, very strict. We don’t even have the ability to move out of our homes. People are always indoors, and if you need anything, it has to be brought to you.

“The whole situation is disturbing. A lot of Indians are dying like fowls. The death rate has gone up tremendously. I have some brothers here who have also gone for the COVID-19 test and came out positive.

“They just went for check-up, got tested and came out positive. As a result of that, a lot of them are scared. In all this, we thank God that there is no African that has been reported to have died of the pandemic.”

Mrs Janefrances Fortune, who operates a restaurant in India, bemoaned the ravaging effects of the pandemic on their businesses, saying: “This COVID-19 is on the verge of disorganising our businesses and life here in India. It has not been easy for us as business owners. The number of infected people keeps increasing every day. We no longer go out the way we used to, business is very dull.”

She added:  “Some of us who are with kids no longer feel safe again going out with our kids. These days, I leave my kids with their dad at home to take care of them while I run around to get things done in my shop.

“Sometimes, most of our customers prefer home delivery because they don’t also feel safe coming out to a public place. We all pray that with time, this too will pass and things will be normal again.

“We know that people back home are worried about us. They are really worried about us. But about returning home to Nigeria this time, I can’t risk that. We are also concerned about our loved ones over there. We always call to check up on them.

“The Indian government is trying their best to control it. I really commend their efforts. Indian citizens respect their government and always abide by the rules and regulations, unlike we Nigerians.”

Faustina Ebube, a Nursing student, decried the effects of the pandemic on her education.

She said: “We are only doing online classes for now. We don’t have to go to the hospital or school, and because of this, we are not doing practicals; we are only doing theories.

“But they say practice makes perfect. Without the practical aspect, you cannot learn and perfect what you have been taught.

“I am worried about my mum and my dad and siblings. People here at a point took COVID-19 for granted as if it had already gone, but it came back with so much force.

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“Nigerians are putting up the same attitude. If the same thing happens in Nigeria, I don’t think the government will be able to do anything to save the people.

“In spite of the fact that the hospitals here are very big and well equipped, beds are no longer available for patients. I am really worried for my people back at home.”

Also lamenting the effects of the lockdown on the cost of living in India, Ebube said: “Prices of goods have increased because of the pandemic and it is not all the shops that are allowed to open. Only businesses that are into essential services are allowed to operate, and their prices have been very high.

“I don’t eat Indian food and have to buy things from African market to make things for myself.  But most of the things are not coming again from Nigeria because of the surge in the pandemic. The ones available here are very expensive because of the increase in demand, and it is not fair to us as students here in India,

“I am not willing to return home because of the security challenges at home. The only thing that can make me want to come home is my family. Seriously, Nigeria is not safe. I have been reading the news lately. Nigeria is not safe at all.

“I am always checking up on my family to know if they are safe. If I have the power, I will do everything to take them out of Nigeria. Seriously, I am not willing to return to Nigeria.”

Fears spread

A former Public Relations Officer of All India Nigerian Students and Community Association (AINSCA), Samuel Dickson, said   the COVID-19 pandemic in India has been a very horrific experience.

“We fear for our lives each passing day,” he said. “There is huge fear among Nigerians here in India. Our parents are waiting for us back home. So we fear for our lives. We have been following the guidelines in order not to contract the deadly virus.

“As things stand now in India, this second wave has spread very fast. It is spreading wide, but we keep praying that God will help the government to combat the pandemic, because they have been working tirelessly together with their researchers, doctors, scientists, including law enforcement agencies, to stem the tide.

“Here the citizens obey instructions and the law.”

Going down memory lane, he said: “In March 2020, there was a lockdown which lasted for six months before the government started relaxing it. When the second wave started, the government imposed a curfew from 10 pm to 5am.

“Later on, they introduced a fresh lockdown for 10 days starting from April 26. But when the cases kept rising in thousands, they extended the lockdown till May 2 with a probability that there may be complete lockdown subsequently. Now there are a huge number of deaths and new cases coming up every day. For me, I fear for my life, those of my friends, and others. The experience is very horrific.

“Social and economic life has not been the same again. Imagine yourself staying at home during this lockdown. We have bills to pay. This is not our fatherland. Here we live in rented apartments. We buy food and water and pay for electricity.

“It hasn’t been easy. It has been a very tough one. As Nigerians, we can no longer socialise as we used to.  As it stands now, not more than 58 people are expected to be in any gathering. For now, there is no gathering of Nigerians.

“We don’t even go to church or go out for the purpose of earning livelihood. It has affected us enormously.  There is a shortage of beds and oxygen because of the large number of cases they are having every day.”

Like other respondents before him, Dickson said:  “There is possibly no way for us to come back home. We also fear for our families back home because of insecurity. There is also the problem of high cost of living in Nigeria, which is highly uncalled for. It stresses the citizens. It is just so frustrating for us.

READ  30 trafficked Nigerians due home from Lebanon August 12, 16 - NAPTIP DG

“In terms of the vaccines, they are made available to everyone by the Indian government. Last year, our association gave palliatives to Africans in different states in India. The Nigeria High Commission also gave out palliatives with few individuals making contributions to that effect.”

One of the leaders of the Nigerian community in India, who identified himself simply as Bakare, said they didn’t expect what is happening in the Asian country now.

Bakare said: “This second wave of the pandemic here in India was unexpected. It is spreading like wildfire and people are dying.

“It is really affecting the Indians because of their population and because of the way they gather together during their festivals. In our own case, we have stopped going to church or mosque and even meetings.

“Our people back home are worried and we are also worried. Because of the situation back at home, we are scared of coming.

“In spite of the situation here, this place is more peaceful. Nigeria is not worth coming back to for now with the unpleasant stories we are hearing about insecurity and scarcity of food, among others.”

Nigerians shun hospitals, fear they could be injected with virus

For many Africans resident in India, particularly Nigerians, going to hospital to complain about any kind of ailment is out of it for now. Some of them fear that any African that goes to the hospital may be injected with the virus as they have grown envious that the black communities are not affected by the pandemic.

Licoln, a business man said: “We are scared of going to some hospitals because they are not happy that blacks are not contracting the virus. No black person, from my findings, has contracted it.  It is just that any black person that is sick should just be careful because they can be labeled as carriers of the virus.

“Anybody that dies right now of either kidney failure or whatever, they see them as Coronavirus patients and would have their bodies cremated. It is a dicey situation. We are all at a standstill.

“We are calling on the Nigerian government to see what they can do.  Our embassy is not working properly. The new ambassador that has been posted here is still in London because of the pandemic. We are just in the hands of God.”

He further said: “When the second wave started, you would see people walking on the street and falling down. The opposition party is saying that they should go on full lockdown but the prime minister is begging and asking that they should see how they can administer the vaccines which they have been selling to other parts of the world to enable their economy to thrive.

“Their economy was badly affected in 2020. Now the pandemic is growing at an alarming rate.

“Our family members and friends back at home and other places are calling to check on us. But there is no case of a black person or Nigerian contracting the virus. The Nigerian government has to look into the area of getting its citizens protected.”

Asked if he would be willing to return to the country, which has a very low record of the pandemic, Lincoln shared pictures and videos of killings and news of kidnappers asking for ransom in Nigerian with our reporter and asked: “Is this where you want us to return to?  If we are asked to return home, I don’t think any Nigerian will be willing to go back.

“I have been seeing some gory pictures, some horrible videos from Nigeria. The situation in our country is so pathetic. Nigeria is not safe, my brother. People are not willing to come; I will not lie to you.”

READ  Over 6,000 stranded migrants assisted back home through EU support

Another respondent, Ann, also nurses the fear of being infected with the virus if she goes to any hospital over there.

“I am also scared of going to the hospital because I don’t want them to infect me with coronavirus. They restrict us from doing so many things here because we are Africans. I have financial problems because it is not easy getting money from Nigeria.”

Nigerians shun vaccines, resort to local measures

Africans in India, aside from adhering to the COVID-19 preventive protocols, are said to be depending more on local preventive measures to avoid the deadly virus.

Malik, a resident, said: “We are actually taking preventive measures as African communities here. We are always enlightening ourselves on what to do whenever we feel any symptom.

“If we decide to go to the hospital, you know what it means. We are also applying our local measures. We use dogoyaro leaves with ginger and garlic. We boil them together and consume them for prevention purposes.

“Pune City has a high rate of COVID-19 infection rate, yet they are the ones producing the vaccines. Many are actually taking the vaccines but they are still dying. I don’t think the vaccines are working.

“Meanwhile some Africans are not taking it.”

Maik added: “What we are hearing in the news is that beginning from May, they will embark on a strategic plan to make sure that everybody takes it. So many people have taken it already.

“The pandemic wiped out three Indian families in just one week in the same Pune City where the vaccine is produced. The safety of the vaccine is minus 100 per cent in my own view.

“I don’t know what the plan is now for May 1 when they will be embarking on a very serious vaccination exercise.

“Many Africans are not going to take it; I am sure of that. If that would be the case, many would just have to go back to their country.”

As part of Nigerians’ strategy for staying safe, Bakare, a leader of the Nigerian community in India, said: The elders and the executive of Nigerian communalities always caution our people against going out anyhow. We have stopped meetings in all our communities. I don’t think any African community is having problems with the pandemic. It is only the Indians that are facing it.”

Why we can’t evacuate citizens yet – FG

The Nigerian authorities said they cannot evacuate the citizens until there is a request to that effect.

The spokesman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Rahman Balogun, said: “Evacuation of Nigerians is a policy matter. You have to ask the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is when it is decided that Nigerians are under threat that the ministry would direct us to work out the modalities for evacuation.”

Contacted, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ferdinand Nwoye, said: “Evacuation is done on request. It is when the people there indicate that they are helpless in most cases. It is not like the federal government goes out to evacuate; we just coordinate it.

“They will pay for their tickets and, through the embassy, we profile them. I don’t think there is any request, to my knowledge.”

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Investigation

Inside Italian farms where Nigerian migrants, others are dehumanised

  • Victims lament living conditions in European country
  • Migrants suffer mental health, skin, respiratory problems -Italian NGO
  • Govt, labour unions working to address challenges- NIDO’s spokesperson

Many citizens of Nigerian and other African countries have walked their ways back into slavery decades after the trans-Atlantic slave trade through which their forebears were dehumanised ended. In Italy, many of them are living like slaves in agricultural farms where they are exploited at will and left to live like destitute, INNOCENT DURU reports.

A good number of undocumented migrants from Nigeria and other parts of Africa who survive the herculean task of passing through the Sahara Desert and crossing the Mediterranean Sea end up in Italy from where some of them migrate to other European countries.

To survive in the European country, many of them take up menial jobs they would ordinarily not accept in their own countries. They work in agricultural farms where they pick tomatoes, oranges, grapes and other fruits for daily pay.

And as strenuous and demeaning as the job is, the migrants don’t get it on a platter of gold. “Many of them are illegally employed by mafias. It is called caporalato here. It is a form of illegal hiring and exploitation of manpower through an intermediary. It spreads across Italy and it is particularly frequent in the agricultural and farm sector,” said Jerome, a Nigerian migrant

“When it is not harvest time, the migrant workers get between two to four Euros per hour, compared to Italy’s standard of more than seven Euros per hour stipulated in agricultural minimum wage. And they pay the mafia middleman five to 10 Euros before they can secure working fields,” he added

Ibe, another Nigerian based in Italy, said some cruel mafia sometimes drug the migrants while Aboubarcar Soumahoro, an Ivorian who formerly worked in the farms but  is now an activist, decried the migrants’ inability to achieve their dreams.

Soumahoro said on his Facebook page: “We want a decent job and a roof over our heads where we can raise our children.  These pictures (displayed on his page) tell us this desire is not allowed to labourers engaged in harvesting agricultural products that end on our tables. As long as our communities accept this kind of injustice, our humanity will be defeated.”

He also alleged in a documentary that the migrant workers are paid low wage because of the colour of their skin. “If you refuse what they offer, you won’t get a contract. So the workers are squeezed to accept the conditions. There are no rights and there is no dignity. They are just workers exploited and enslaved,” he said.

 

Recently, a 27-year-old from Mali reportedly collapsed and died in the southeastern Apulia region after working a day in the fields in temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius.

“You may work 28 days, but they’ll mark only four on your pay slip, so at the end of the month you may get 200, 300 euros,” Marco Omizzolo, a rights activist told AFP.

READ  Over 6,000 stranded migrants assisted back home through EU support

“Formally, it is all by the book,” he added.

An Italy based freelance journalist, Gioacomo Zandonini, told our correspondent that the farms  are places of marginalisation and abuses.

He said: “Fruits and vegetables picked up here are reaching countries all over Europe, where their prices are competitive because of this very complex system of exploitation, that goes from the bit distribution companies, setting prices, to local land owners and workers that are paying such a high toll for trying to survive in Italy.”

Francessco, a freelance photographer also based in Italy, told The Nation that in Italy, the exploitation of migrants is useful and functional to the economy. “So there is no interest in stopping the phenomenon. Moreover, the rampant corruption in southern Italy means that there are no controls in the companies where workers, both Italian and foreign, are exploited.

“Migrants, as always, are useful to politics both for propaganda and for the Italian and European economies which function thanks to the work and sweat of people exploited at work.

“In addition, many Italians no longer want to do the most menial jobs. Thus, agricultural entrepreneurs often use migrants living in reception centres, because they are blackmailable and because they are satisfied with little money.”

He added. “There is also a ‘work tour’, where migrants move around various regions in southern Italy according to the seasonality of the fruit harvest.

“Agriculture and the mafia are often linked either through land ownership or through distribution abroad or in supermarkets. The mafia also has ‘caporali’, who are intermediaries between the workers and the boss. Often, the mafia finds migrants in reception centres and uses them to make them work where the mafia wants.”

Urmila Bhoola, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, reported that the “caporalato” system consists both of labour brokers who supply irregular and regular migrants to farms and a network of criminal syndicates and mafia groups who benefit from the exploitation of the slavery-like conditions of migrant workers.

According to the report, most of the workers are from Sub-Saharan Africa. In the province of Latina, though, about 30,000 Sikh workers from India are subjected to extreme forms of coercion, including being forced to take performance-enhancing drugs, which are prohibited by their religion.

Workers are often victims of physical assault and sexual violence, withholding of wages and documents, and threats to their families if they refuse to work.

A recent police investigation offered fresh evidence of widespread abuse among the Indian community. That operation led to the arrest of a doctor in the beach town of Sabaudia. He was accused of illegally prescribing more than 1,500 boxes of Depalgos, a powerful painkiller containing Oxycodone and given to cancer patients, to 222 Indian farm workers.

“The drug presumably allowed them to work longer in the fields by relieving pain and fatigue,” Latina chief prosecutor Giuseppe De Falco told AFP. Migrants lament living conditions

READ  Migrant Return and Reintegration: Complex, Challenging, Crucial

A documentary of the living conditions of the migrants obtained by our correspondent spoke volumes of how meaningless the lives of migrants are to their hosts.  After working for 13 years in Italy’s fields, all that a Nigerian female farm worker could show for it was a room apartment tucked in a shanty. The building has no electricity supply, running water or other basic amenities.

Before she could drink the water, she would have to boil it with herbs. “If we don’t boil the water with herbs before drinking it, we would fall sick every day. In my country, I have never lived in this kind of environment,” she said.

Ismail, a Ghanaian who went to Italy hoping for a better life, was seen in the documentary lamenting the condition he was living in.

“I always feel ashamed when anybody back home calls to do video chat with me. I feel uncomfortable to do that because the place I am living in is very shameful,” he said.

Sadio, a Senegalese based in Italy, said: “Life here is inhuman. Look around, many people living here are living in terrible conditions.”

The ghettos where the migrants live in, according to Francessco, are usually full of rubbish.

He said: “They are pieces of uncultivated land which arise in the suburbs or under motorways where there are many tents and huts where migrants live. In these ghettos there are no services such as water or toilets. So there are no human hygienic conditions and no services of any kind. In this way, migrants are increasingly isolated and live in very poor conditions.”

 

Why migrants suffer mental health, respiratory problems among others – Italian NGO

An Italian non-governmental organisation, Medici per i Diritti Umani – MEDU (Doctors for Human Rights – Italy) shared with The Nation their experience helping the migrants over the years as follows: “The migrants from Nigeria that the mobile clinic team meets within the informal settlements in Rome (railway stations, squats) are people who live in Italy permanently and have been here for some years. It’s not uncommon that they live under uncertain legal conditions because their request of asylum have been declined or/and they are in the process of appealing.

“Their life situation is extremely precarious from various points of view. Very often, they do not have a job or they can only get seasonal work. For this reason, in certain periods of the year, they move to the regions of Southern Italy to work in the citrus harvest.

“When they don’t have work to do, they return to big cities like Rome and live on the street or in precarious settlements, shacks, etc.”

On the types of health challenges the migrants face, MEDU said: “In most situations, the health problems they have are linked to the precarious conditions in which they are forced to live, which very often also have consequences on their mental health.

“In winter time, the diseases they suffer from are linked to the respiratory system, due to the environmental conditions or diseases of the osteo-muscular system, due to the condition of sleeping on the street; skin diseases due to poor hygienic conditions and diseases of the digestive system linked to incorrect nutrition but also to the somatization of stress.”

READ  How Nigeria 'imports, spreads' COVID-19

The organisation lamented that the Italian system does not treat the migrants well. “As for the people we meet as MEDU, unfortunately we have to say that the system does not treat them with dignity. Very often, these are people forced to live on the margins of society and are not given any opportunity to integrate.”

A number of the migrants, according to the organization, are serving various jail terms. “For the few known cases, we can say that the crime for which some of them are incarcerated is above all for the trafficking and sale of drugs.”

A former Edo State Commissioner for Arts, Culture, Tourism and Diaspora Affairs, Osaze Osemwingie-Ero, in a recent  interview with The Nation, said over 300 Nigerian youths are ‘illegally’ detained in Italian prisons for contrived charges on mafia-related offences.

Osaze who spent 18 months in an Italian prison for an offence he claimed not to have committed, says his case was as a result of racial discrimination and manipulation of the Italian justice system, and not the offence that was alleged against him.

“I was alleged to be a Mafia kingpin and on that course was detained. Upon demand for evidence, a manual called the ‘Green Bible’ was presented, which was obviously forged,” he said, adding that some Nigerians have been sentenced to 140 years imprisonment for the same Nigerian mafia accusation citing article 416b of Italian Mafia law.

Govt, labour unions working to address challenges – NIDO’s spokesperson

A former Vice Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation, NIDO Europe, (Italy chapter) and current Public Relations Officer/Assistaant  General Secretary, NIDO, Europe Continental,  Fidel Wilson, told The Nation that the plight of migrant workers were being addressed by the government and the labour unions.

“The main reason most of them are exploited is desperation. No papers and quest for survival. But the government and labour unions are working on how their conditions can be improved,” he said.

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Investigation

Why Nigerian ladies may continue to be lured to Middle-East

Migrants at the Tripoli Airport preparing to board the flight home. Photo: IOM

 

By Gbenga Aderanti

 

For the Nigerian ladies who work in both the Middle East and Arab countries, it has always been one story of woe or the other.

But, despite the stories being told and the human degradation being faced by these Nigerian ladies, some of them still find it difficult to ignore the allure of Arab countries; even when they are not sure of what awaits them in these foreign lands.

Though the reports from the returnees from these countries are chilling and scary, many of the ladies are not dissuaded on their resolve to still go to places like Lebanon, Libya and Oman, Libya.

In some instances, many parents aid the movement of their wards on this perilous journey.

Recently, the Niger State Police Command rescued five victims from being taken to Libya by human traffickers. Two suspects were arrested during the rescue operation while the police said they were on the trail of other members of the syndicate.

The two suspects arrested Osaruwumen Ewodaru (49) and Olaoluwa Adebanjo (43), were caught with female victims, aged between 18 and 23 years, en route Libya.

Further investigation revealed that parents of the victims were in cahoots with the suspected traffickers.

One of the suspects, Osaruwumen claimed it was not his first time he was taking ladies to Libya.

Narrating how she got caught up in the journey, one of the victims, who was with Osaruwumen, said she was told to follow him to Libya where she would find her way to Italy to meet her uncle who works and lives there.

She said: “Osaruwumen lives in my area. He is a bricklayer. When he told my mother he was travelling, my mother asked me to follow him to Libya, and that when I got to Libya, I would cross to Italy to meet my Uncle in Italy.”

She claimed that it was not her decision to go, but her mother assured her that she would make a lot of money if she did.

Another victim, a 300 level student, said that a woman in her neighbourhood told her mother that her daughter in Libya said that workers were needed and they should go for the jobs.

“That was why my mother allowed me to go on the trip. They told us we would work as housemaids or cleaners, taking care of animals on the farm or cleaning old people’s homes.”

Another Nigerian lady, Adetutu, a Mass Communication graduate, who has had the misfortune of travelling to Oman, while narrating her experience to The Nation revealed that if not for her boyfriend, she would have died in Oman. “It was my boyfriend that facilitated my traveling to Oman and when I couldn’t cope with the work there, he was asked to pay N400, 000 before I could be allowed to come back to the country. She revealed that while she was lucky to come back, there are other Nigeria ladies that have been perpetually signed into slavery.

Though Adedutu has found her groove back as she is now married with two kids, she is still haunted by the unpalatable experience in the Middle east.

According to her, the first thing her sponsors in Oman did was to seize her phone and was told point blank that she would not be able to talk to her family members in Nigeria for the two years she would be staying with her ‘Master’.

“I would wake up daily at 5am and would not sleep until 11pm or midnight as I would be busy performing all manner of house chores. I was never offered breakfast until about 4 pm. Many times I would steal bread from the fridge and take it to the bathroom to eat.”

She was lucky as her rebellious attitude and her nagging made her employer reject her and sent her back to her agent’s office.

She returned to Nigeria without a dime. She was happy that she got her sanity back.

Adetutu blamed both the Nigerian ‘agents’ and radio presenters who, probably out of ignorance “allow criminals to use their air time to advertise this modern slavery.”

Another Nigerian lady, 22-year-old Damilola Falodun, in a report, said her stay in the oil rich Oman will continue to cause her nightmare.

According to her, most Oman men regard black women as sex objects just to satisfy their pleasure.

READ  IOM calls for end to pushbacks and violence against migrants at EU external borders

She lost her parents and her life and education were in shambles. She needed to travel out of the country in order to escape from poverty. Unfortunately,

her initial plan was to go to Canada but this was not to be.

She was convinced by a pastor to take the option of Oman, ‘which was in need of workers,’ she took the option.

She was neither privy to the nature of the job nor her wages. All lines of communication had been severed.

“Under the contract agreement signed here in Nigeria by the agents, unknown to us, communication or the use of the phone was not allowed; hence it would be taken away from us. It was a two year arrangement contracted by Nigerians in collaboration with their Omanis counterparts there.

“The contracts were signed by the two parties secretly. The Omani agents would pay about N700, 000 to agents in Nigeria which would be used to facilitate our tickets, visas and traveling documents.

“But the dubious Nigerian agents would also demand about N600, 000 from us for the same purpose already paid for by the Omani agents. They told us that our own money was what they needed to facilitate the traveling documentation which was a lie. The moment you are gone, they signed you off,” she said in a report.

In Oman, she became a slave.

“In Oman, we were told by the Omani lords in a simple language, “You are our property. We have bought you for two years and you don’t own yourself until you finish the contract.”

“Now, the irony is that, the so-called masters would apply some tricks that would make you not to last for three months in a place.

The moment you became frustrated and wanted to change from your home to another home, the entire contract would be canceled, and you would start all over again. Under these conditions, many girls were inhumanly treated. Some died in the process while some became perpetual slaves to the masters. The job description was horrible. As a maid, you have no rest for a whole year.

We must serve an extended home of about six to seven families. In Oman, they keep nuclear homes and each housemaid serves the entire home without rest or any holiday. Other inhuman treatments include sexual harassment, violent physical attack by wicked masters, while some would push you out to make sure you did not complete your contract.

Moreover, every salary you work for before the completion of the contract would be paid in advance to the agents in Oman. You can only have access to your salary when you complete a contract with a house. Information about work conditions was kept secret and you dare not use their phone in their absence. The experience was horrible.”

According to her, all Arab countries treat young black girls the same way. They will not let them have any decent job even when you are qualified for it. They see us as objects for sex and maltreatment.

 

Nigerian ladies‘ll continue to emigrate to Arab countries

But despite the slavish treatment being meted to Nigerian ladies, it will be difficult for them to ignore the allure of the Middle- East and the Arab countries.

Speaking to The Nation, an agent who has been in Egypt for more than 15 years disclosed that many Nigerian ladies would continue to travel to Arab countries, irrespective of the chilling stories from these, they would continue to be taking their chances.

According to him, it is better out there for ladies who desire better lives for themselves.

He acknowledged that some of the ladies face lots of challenges, but insisted that some of them are still doing well for themselves and their families in Nigeria.

The agent, Ibrahim, pleaded that he would not like his full name in print and said, he had not done any other job outside getting jobs for the Nigerian ladies.

He confessed that the agency he operates is not registered but “there is nothing illegal about our activities.”

The agent blamed poverty in the land as the main reason Nigerian girls would continue to try their luck in the Arab countries.

“And until the situation of the country improves, Nigerian ladies will continue to explore other countries for better prospects.

“There is always a steady order for housekeeping jobs because there are so many families.”

Many of the ladies working in the middle east have complained that the work there is strenuous, Ibrahim told The Nation that while this may be true to a certain extent, he said some of the ladies are lazy to the extent that they cannot do simple house chores.

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Many of the ladies who had been lucky to return to Nigeria warned other ladies who wanted to embark on dangerous ventures of going to places like Oman and Lebanon, Ibrahim said he is always cautious about the country to take the ladies to.

Many of the returnee ladies have accused agents of taking ladies to do prostitution; he explained that for the ladies that are hard-working, the jobs of maids and housekeeping are available in Egypt.

“The Majority of those ladies who come to Oman do menial jobs, such as house- keeping jobs, only few do professional jobs and it depends on the agent that took you to the place.”

He warned ladies who are coming with the mindset of coming to Egypt to prostitute should perish the thought as they would be disappointed.

“You must not be caught prostituting in Egypt because the consequence of being caught is grave. Many of these ladies had been deported because they were caught engaging in prostitution.

While it may be true that some of the girls who are taken to other countries do prostitution, in Egypt, it may be a bit difficult as prostitution is not profitable here. This is because Nigerian men who are supposed to be their clients do not earn much to allow for such excesses.

He described Egypt as a home away from home because foreigners enjoy certain liberties there that are scarce in other countries.

Ibrahim revealed probably because of the way these Middle East are configured, they will continue to be attractive to ladies.

 

Why ladies get into trouble

While not discountenancing the activities of some Shylock employment agents, he explained that most of these ladies get into trouble because of their fraudulent behaviors.

According to him, most of the ladies even before they arrived in these countries had a game plan. “Instead of these ladies focusing on their jobs, they often try to play fast one on their employers, that is when they usually get into trouble.”

“I would advise the ladies coming to Egypt, to respect their culture. You have to be decent with the way you dress.

Don’t think you will make money from prostitution, stay away from it.

“As long as you are not tempted to steal from your employer, you are not likely to get into trouble. The money you are going to earn is enough to take care of you and your family.

“I always tell the ladies I give jobs not to follow men because it is the unemployed Nigerian men that would finish their earnings.

Egypt is far better than places like Oman. One of the ladies who left Cairo for Oman told me that her three years in Oman was a disaster.

“In Cairo, you don’t feel you are not in Nigeria, you are free, you visit people unlike Oman, it is work, work and work from morning to night it is work 24/7 there she told me that was her experience. Those in Oman do not have freedom like those in Egypt.

“In Egypt, Nigerians brings artises, we go for shows, we do naming ceremony and wedding just the way we do it in Nigeria, people do take aso ebi anytime there is naming ceremony or wedding, but you can’t do that in Oman. Egypt is liberal.

What the Nigerian ladies go through in the Middle East, according to Ibrahim, are exaggerated.

Commenting on a video released by some Nigerian ladies about their plight in Oman, he insisted that it could not have been the true reflection about what is happening in the country. “The question is why is it that most of them still prefer to stay there?

“The truth is that most ladies do not have the power to do these odd jobs that is why they complain a lot. I think the freedom they don’t have is what is making them complain. Imagine a person who was not doing house chores before leaving Nigeria and found herself being ordered around by some people?”

 

 

Win- win situation for all

For the good employment agents, it is a win-win situation for the ladies, sponsors and their agents.

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“In all honesty, it is the ladies who benefit more from the deal, not the agents and the sponsors.

“There is always an agreement between the sponsors and the ladies, they agree on the number of years the ladies would work to pay back on the money spent in facilitating the travelling abroad and the cost of getting jobs for these ladies.

The job of the agents abroad ends after collecting his commission after securing a house maid job for the Nigerian lady.

“But the sponsors benefit more. In most cases, they pay their sponsors for a year or more before they start earning money for themselves. But then the ladies collect stipends and upkeeps, part of which the lady sends back home to their families.

“The sponsor is expected to be responsible for her medical bills during the time she is paying back what was spent to bring her into the Middle- East or some of these area countries.

“Some of these girls have medical issues before leaving Nigeria; the sponsors are responsible for their medical well-being.

But after the 18 months when the lady must have finished paying back, some of them stay five to seven years, working and earning money on their own. I know of 10 girls that have stayed five- 10 years after 18 months. If truly the ladies are being exploited, they won’t get a dime.”

Ibrahim argued that if it were so bad as being painted in certain quarters, how come some of them come to Nigeria for holidays and still return to their place of work. Some of them do come home for holidays or leave.

“The employment agents like me are just brokers between the maids, agents and the employers. The maids may not be able to contact me directly, but they contact me via their sponsors.

“Anytime there is a vacancy, I would contact the sponsors, can you do it? This is the amount they are willing to pay, these are the terms and conditions, then I get my commission.”

 

Before you travel to Middle-East

There had been several instances where parents had been approached by agents that they would help in securing employment for ladies; Ibrahim warned parents should be wary of such offers as it could end in a disaster.

According to him, it is very difficult to get to a place like Egypt by road. “If anybody says they are is going to Egypt by road that means that person has fake visa and there is no way he would be able to enter Egypt

“Egyptian visas are difficult to get. That is why agents charge so much to facilitate travelling to Egypt.”

He disclosed that this is why those who are sponsoring these girls ask for big money and that is why they put a clause that the ladies would pay for 18 months.

The Nation gathered that some sponsors ask for between N400, 000-N450, 000 for visa fees from these ladies, excluding ticketing and other fees.

While there are many nationalities in places like Egypt, the only Africans, according to investigations, that can enter Egypt by road are the Sudanese, because the Egyptians see them as refugees and when these Sudanese enter Egypt, they don’t go to the cities, they head straight for the camps.

According to a source, “there are always housekeeping jobs/maids jobs readily available for ladies. Nigerians are not the only people doing their jobs, there are many Asians competing for the same job—including Indians, Pakistanis, and Filipinos.

He said he has not had an issue with his client, I always tell them that if they have a problem with a worker I tell them to call me first and I would settle it before it degenerates. I always make sure that those ladies have guarantors too before I can connect them with Egypt and that they need
them.

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Investigation

I’m not old enough to be a woman: a Burundi child’s protest ignored

“After raping me, he told me that I was still a child, and he threw me outside to sleep. This is the first time I have told anyone because I was scared to say something before.” And so, 12-year-old Elisabeth’s childhood was forever changed.

It had never been a happy, care-free upbringing after her stepfather forced her to live with her grandparents.

“Life was difficult with my grandparents, there was no food to eat. I left to stay with a friend whose neighbours said there was a woman in the village offering to take her to Tanzania,” says Elisabeth.

She knew she wouldn’t get a salary there, but it meant food on the table and a bed – for a while.

“The woman started to ask me to steal bananas from neighbours’ crops and threatened to kick me out if I refused. Another family in the village offered for me to go their friend’s house to work instead. They introduced me to a man that was to be my new husband. I refused and told them, ‘I did not come here to marry’. They laughed and took me to a bar nearby.”

She went along but did not drink. “We came back at night, and they told me I could sleep in the man’s house next door. When I refused, they suggested one of their girls could accompany me, but it was a trap. The man asked the girl to get him a beer and instead she locked the door from the outside, leaving me alone with him.

”’Even if you refuse to marry me, I already paid your dowry in beers tonight’, he told me.

‘I’m not old enough to be a woman’, I told him.”

She struggled and screamed but no one came. “They all could hear and knew what was happening. Eventually, he overpowered me. I was 11 or 12 years old at the time.”

Elisabeth went from house to house, staying with anyone who would take her in. “Some refused my offer of domestic work because I was a minor. Others offered me 30,000 Tanzanian shillings (EUR 11) a month, but I never received it. Each time I asked for it they would reply ‘later’, ‘another time’ or ‘how do you think we pay for your food and bed? That’s already money’.

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Eventually neighbours called a Tanzanian organisation called Kiwohede, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Burundi, which collaborates with the NGO to assist and reunite child victims of trafficking (VoT), stepped in. ” Kiwohede took me into their shelter until IOM came and helped me to find my family and bring me home.”

Now 16 and too old for primary school, Elisabeth is being taught couture. ”I hope that I can be really good at it and become independent with this profession.”

Elisabeth’s disturbing story is all too familiar. Human trafficking is an issue that hangs in the air like smoke in Burundi. It permeates society as it does across the world in at least 148 countries.

Burundi is a source country for children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. According to the United States (US) Bureau of international labour affairs, children are trafficked to Tanzania for work in agriculture and gold mines or domestic work. Burundian girls are trafficked internationally for commercial sexual exploitation in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and countries in the Middle East. In Burundi, trafficking in persons mostly involves forced labour, commonly for domestic work and childcare, along with agriculture, hospitality, construction, begging, and peddling.

 

From victim to survivor

The centre which helped Elisabeth works to identify and shelter girls who have been trafficked in one of the 23 districts and seven regions which they cover. They work with local authorities to conduct door-to-door visits to scout for children who are being exploited and to raise awareness through local radio stations.

“People often call to alert us of children in exploitative situations,” say Tuyizere*, the centre’s manager. The centre identifies child victims of trafficking (VoT), provides them temporary shelter, and it offers psychosocial counselling and life skills training. There are games, toys and an area to play group sports. Often these children are illiterate and are too old for primary school. Professionals teach life skills such as how to sew, to weave baskets, to cook or make soap, among other things. “The children also share their knowledge and talents with other children if they can,” adds Tuyizere.

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According to IOM Burundi’s Survivor Database, 49 per cent of survivors are identified and referred by local NGOs, followed by community leaders (17 per cent), other trafficking survivors (9 per cent), family and friends (7 per cent), IOM missions elsewhere (5 per cent), government officials (5 per cent), and social workers (5 per cent).

IOM conducts its own screening to identify the VoT and provides psychosocial counselling services, in addition to support provided by UNICEF – the leading United Nations actor on child protection. Finding the children’s families, assessing whether it is safe for them to return and helping them to reintegrate within their communities is integral.

 

Burundi ramps up efforts to combat Trafficking in Persons

IOM data show that over 1,000 VoT have been identified and assisted in Burundi since 2017 but this direct assistance is only a fraction of the effort to combat human trafficking in the country. IOM Burundi is engaged in several initiatives to strengthen government capacity to combat TiP, thanks to generous support from the Kingdom of the Netherlands and USAID. These include hosting mass awareness activities throughout the country and training police, magistrates, and immigration officers on TiP, Gender-based Violence and wider protection issues. According to the Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies in Burundi, labour laws are not sufficiently enforced which then encourages the normalization of certain forms of exploitation, such as non-remuneration for economic activities which affects more than a third of women and men between 15 and 49 years.

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Sixteen-year-old Elisabeth* during one of the sewing lessons she has taken up to provide for herself. Photo: IOM/Lauriane Wolfe

The Government of Burundi also plays a leading role in the fight against TiP. Recently, in its 2021 TiP report released on 1 July, the United States Department of State announced that Burundi had moved from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List classification. It is now among the countries whose governments have made considerable efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of TiP.

It has appointed an Inter-ministerial Anti-trafficking Ad hoc Committee made up of key ministries and adopted a 2014 Law on the Prevention and Punishment of Trafficking in Persons and Protection of VoT, in accordance with the 2000 Palermo Protocol.

Despite gains, more needs to be done to enhance prevention, protection, and prosecution in the country. To that end, IOM is collaborating with the Government of Burundi and its Committee to finalize standard operating procedures and develop a national referral mechanism to identify and refer victims to appropriate services – among other actions.

*Names have been changed to protect their identities

Support Voice for African Migrants


Support VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS journalism of integrity and credibility.

Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

For continued free access to the best and latest migration, trafficking, displacement and humanitarian reports including thorough investigative reports in these areas, we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.

By contributing to VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
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