Wednesday, December 6, 2017 9:41 am
Apart from escaping death by the whiskers from Libya, residents raise concern over security implications, as deported illegal migrants flood Edo state
By Jethro Ibileke
The phrase, “Libya Returnees,” which is gradually finding a place in Nigeria’s lexicon, is made popular by the return of illegal migrants from Edo state who attempted to cross the North African dessert to Europe through the open sea, under dangerous conditions. According to figures released by the UN, hundreds of thousands of Africans have migrated through that route, to Europe, especially Italy and Spain, in search of greener pastures in the past one decade. It is also on record that Nigeria contributes the highest number to these figures, and Edo State, in turn, accounts for the lion share. In the last three years, the number of illegal migrants from Nigeria have plummeted astronomically. The worrisome trend, however, is the means by which they travel abroad. The Sahara desert has been made popular as route to Europe, via Libya or Morocco, from where they cross the Mediterranean sea in dug-out boats or rafts. Many of the voyagers who have no protective gears like live jackets, are also not good swimmers.
Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo state, recently disclosed that about 10,000 indigenes of the state left the shores of Nigeria, illegally in most cases, in the last one year. According to him, about 3000 out of them lost their lives in the process of crossing the desert and the sea. Many of these illegal migrants, especially young girls in their late teens and early 20s, were trafficked by professional traffickers called ‘trolley’ in Edo parlance, (in conaiviance with their parents) who promised them lucrative jobs abroad. Those who failed to cross to Europe but finally returned to Nigeria, gave birth to the phrase, ‘Libya Returnees.’
Most illegal migrants of recent have not been as luck as in previous times. Aside from being subjected to hostile weather conditions both in the desert and on the sea, they have been confronted by hostile Libyans who molested, tortured, raped, maimed and gruesomely murdered thousands of these ill-adventured travellers. Thousands others have languished in prison cells across the country.
The most recent ‘innovation’ treatment meted to the illegal migrants by the hostile Libyans is the alleged sales of their victims in open slave markets for as low as $400. This has elicited the condemnation of the international communities, culminating in the intervention of the International Organization for Migration, IOM, and the European, Union EU, which eventually secured the release from prison camps and deportation of thousands of illegal migrants from various African countries to their respective homelands. Many have also volunteered to return home after being stranded for several months in the north African country.
In the last three weeks, Edo State government has received over 600 Libya returnees: 169 were received on 17 November, 15 of the female returnees were pregnant while out of the 153 that were received on 18 November, eight were pregnant and many were said to have returned with various sexually transmitted infections. There were others who came with their children born to unknown fathers, and more are still being expected. Several bus loads of these deportees arrive the Benin Plaza Motel-camp set up by the state government, where they are received and hosted for three nights at the expense of the state government. According to Solomon Okoduwa, a member of the state’s Task Force Against Human Trafficking and Illegal Migration, who himself is a Returnee, disclose to journalists in Benin that more are still being expected.
According to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), in a recent report, a total of 1,295 Nigerians voluntarily returned from Libya in November after being stranded in the volatile North African country enroute Europe. The Nigerians returned in various batches between Nov. 6 and Nov. 30 with the assistance of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the European Union (EU). The Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Alhaji Mustapha Maihajja, made the disclosure while receiving a fresh batch of 150 Nigerians who arrived the country on last Thursday.
The returnees comprised of 13 female adults and one teenage girl while the male were 133 adults, two teenage boys and one baby boy.
Journey into slavery
Investigation revealed that greed on the part of many parents is the underlaying reason for their sojourn into slavery abroad. An average Edo family without a child abroad, mostly in Italy, has not yet arrived. That is why most of the victims were trafficked in connivance with their parents?, even while many of them knew that their children, especially the girls, (most of who were either secondary school dropouts or are not skilled in anyway), will end up in prostitution and life of servitude, instead of the lucrative jobs at shopping malls and other establishments that the traffickers promised their victims.
As result of this, many parents who are desirous of sending their children for greener pasture but cannot afford the fee for the trip, went into some form of agreement with the sponsor (Trolly), where oath of secrecy and allegiance would be administer to the victims by powerful witch doctors known as Ayelala.
It was learnt the fees by the migrants for the journey range between N200,000, N250,000, N300,000 and N500,000, depending on the comfort and luxury each immigrant wants? to enjoy during the journey.
Even with the obvious dangers and risks associated with the trip and in spite of the much sensitization done by various government agencies, illegal migration still thrive in the state due to greed and the desire to get rich quick. A source who spoke with the magazine disclosed that “most of the returnees who already have contacts? in Libya are the one making it to thrive. They will paint [a pleasant] scenario to the youths and collect money from them, but the reality will Dawn on the people while on the journey. This is the reason the youths are still fighting to go.”
One of the returnees, Tony Jimoh, 38, volunteered that the road to Libya is full of thorns and many obstacles which eventually lead to death of many Nigerians. “We move from Nigeria and stop over at Agades in Niger Republic, where we meet citizens from other Africans country also travelling to Libya. From there, we entered either a hilux van or truck to Duruku, a transit camp and spent about two or three days before getting a vehicle to Libya,” Jimoh said.
On why many died on the way, Jimoh disclosed that most of the people and the drivers taking them to Libya are rebels and bandits. “If people fall into their hands, they will, rape women and and kill those travellers who have no money to give them.
“Secondly, these rebel and bandits sometimes abandoned their vehicles and travellers on the pretence that they want to get water for them. After waiting for days the people would resort to trekking. Most of them die while trekking because there is no food and water in the desert.”
He said the journey to Libya which ought to take about two weeks if there are no obstacles on the way, may takes over three months due to activities of rebels and bandit.
“I was in Libya during Maumar Gadafi, but it was on my second journey after rebel took over the entire country that I experienced torture at the camp in Libya. When we got there, they asked? us to pay 2000 Cefa, but those of us who didn’t have the money were asked? to break stone into pieces which they used in building houses and you know what it takes to break truck load of stones,” he siad, adding that the most risky part of the jiurney is crossing the Mediterranean sea to Italy because if the boat or balloon used in transporting them sinks, everyone is at the mercy of the wild sea and lurking sharks.
“The life jacket they gave us is of no use because it takes? a speed boat 18 hours to travel from Tripoli to Italy and how can one swim for such hours?”
On his part, Daniel Osaro 35, who spent over seven years in Libya, said “the journey is 50-50, as one is not sure of making it alive to Libya because of rebel and militants’ activities. He said, “We can spend 11 days in a truck with over 100 people. If the bandits are operating on the way, you know what that means for such number of people in a vehicle.”
Osaro who gave reason why many people experience torture on the way, said the Arabs hate deceitful and dishonest people. “When dealing with Arabs?, you must be straight-forward and truthful, but when they discover you are not, they will treat you badly. So if you say our people are tortured, they are one way or the other involved in bad things.”
Also speaking, 22-year-old fashion designer who gave her name simply as Favour, said that she abandoned her work to travel to Libya in search of greener pasture. “My sister assisted me to get to Libya February this year. I don’t know how much she paid, but When I got there I was unable to reach her as she was no longer picking my calls.
“The journey was an unpleasant experience because we could stay for a day without food and most of the time, we were living on a loaf of bread. I saw dead bodies on my way to Libya. You see people dying while crying for water, but we have to move on. I was able to survive because my mom used? to send money to me,” she said.
I saw hell
Mr. Sylvester Agho, a father of five children and a transporter, is among the 531 Edo indigenes of illegal migrants deported from Libya so far, who described his five-month stay in the country as hell. Because of the unpleasantness of what he went through, he has promised to join the fight against illegal migration to save his fellow indigenes who might still be nursing the idea of traveling abroad through the dessert, without proper documentation.
Agho narrated his ordeal in Libya while responding to questions from journalists at Moat Wing of Benin Plaza Motel, in Benin. He said he was happy to have made it back to the country alive. He said that he lost his freedom the moment he left the shores of Nigeria. “There is no other country that could be likened to Nigeria. There is freedom in Nigeria.
“My coming back to Edo State, I am happy, because there is no place like home. When you are in Nigeria, you have the freedom to move about without molestation, but the moment you step out of the shore of Nigeria, you have lost your freedom. There is a great discrimination over there, but in Nigeria, there is nothing like that. You can walk freely, but over there, there is nothing like that.
“I will advise those still thinking of leaving the country to have a rethink and look for something meaningful to do to earn a better livelihood rather than endangering their lives in a foreign land. I left this country on June 15, this year and am back today which means that I spent five months and some weeks? there, but through out that period, I was in hell.
“There is nothing good over there. Nothing on earth that will make me say that I want to travel by land to Europe. For those going back, I advise them not to go but stay in Nigeria and look for something else to do,” he said.
Another returnee, Mr. Destiny Gabriel, who expressed similar sentiment, is happy to be back home to freedom. He described his deportation as freedom from the cruel treatment meted to them by the Libyans. He said he is overwhelmed with joy to back in Nigeria.
“When I returned to Nigeria last night, I was happy am back to freedom because we lived? in a place where there is no freedom. They do not have respect for human beings at all.
Destiny appealed to the federal and state governments to provide a means of livelihood for the returnees to enable them get back their lives and also prevent them from taking into crime. “Many of us spent our last money, sold our properties before leaving this country to earn a better life. I believe if Nigeria was good and our government planned well for us, that sense of travelling would not have arrived. The federal and state governments should do something. They should not sleep. They should not allow the youths to enter the streets. They should do something that will encourage us to know that our governments are really there for us. They should give us money.
“We are in December period now and there is nothing we will do to take care of our families in this December. How are we going to make money to take care of our families in this December? We need money to buy clothes for ourselves, to buy clothes for our families, to buy foods at home like some of us do not even have money to rent an apartment.
“I appreciate the governor who said we should stay in this hotel for three days and after three days, what then happens? to us? Like some of us, we do not even have a place to stay after that three days, what then happen to us. Where do we go from here? Those are the questions? am asking the governor,” Destiny said.
Journey to death
Getting to Libya is one thing, surviving there is a different ball game. A survivor of the harrowing life in Libya, whom we will simply call Esohe, to conseal her real identity, narrated her experience to the magazine:
“I am 19 years old. I left my village somewhere in Ikpob-Okha local government area for Benin, after finishing my secondary education last year. My parents made arrangements with a woman who’s daughter was in Italy, for me to travel and work there. To cross me, my parents paid about N250,000 to the woman. I spent some weeks with the mother of my would-be Madam. Thereafter, I joined others in a bus to the northern?part of Nigeria.
“I must confess that I didn’t know most of the places we passed. I only saw signposts showing that we were at federal capital territory. We finally arrived our final destination in Nigeria the following morning. Later that evening, we boarded an open truck and headed for the desert. The food I ate before our departure was the last best meal. Thereafter, we were at the mercy of our guides. We changed trucks severally. We were also accosted at several points by people I can only describe as hoodlums. All these while, I didn’t even know where we were or where we were going. At that point, I began regretting my sojourn to Libya.
“Many of about 150 of us who started out in Nigeria died of hunger and thirst in the desert. There was no water. There was no food. The bottle water I bought where I ate my last meal in Nigeria got finished the following day. Somehow, about half of our group finally arrived where we were told was Libya territory after several weeks. That very night, we were somewhere in a village, when we were told that some men invaded the village and we’re looking for us. We all ran in different directions. I was unlucky as I was among 12 girls and five men caught by the men. They loaded us like chickens in an open truck and drove off. We finally arrived somewhere when it was very dark. We were again taken deep into the forest.
“At day break, they matched us into an open space, where they divided we the girls into two groups. In my group were seven girls. The other girls were led away and I never see them again till date. Our captors, nine of then, looked like Boko Haram. They lined us up before a bench, with which they raped us serially. I was number four in the row. They told us to knee down and hold the bench. Then, the nine men took turns to rape each of us, in the vagina, the asshole, wherever they chose.
“One of the girls who sat close to me in the bus and in the truck, died while she was being raped. Another who girl was beaten to coma for not responding to their instructions on time. They finally left us after they had their full of us. I never knew I will survive it, because, for several days, I could not stand straight, let alone, to walk.
“As providence will have it, a Benin man who lived somewhere in Libya, was told about us. He sent some men to search for us and they finally saw us and took us to a place where we were taken care of. Another girl also died while we were being treated. When we were strong enough to sit down, we were put in a truck and sent back to Nigeria.
“The journey to Italy is a journey to slavery and death. Many of my co travellers died in the desert while I looked helpless. Others were raped to death while we looked on. I regret my journey to Libya. The money my parents invested in the journey could have given me a good start in life. But here I am, treating infections and wears and tears of my privacy. I advise parents who want their children to travel abroad to make money, to have a rethink. Am an example of the sad consequences of illegal trafficking.”
Libyans on vengeful mission
The question on the lips of many Nigerians is, why the sudden turn of events in Libya, where many Nigerians have lived for so long before the war that ravaged the country, without harm to them. The magazine’s investigation revealed that the Libyans embarked on a vengeful mission. Another Libya returnee who crave anonymity, told the magazine that during the pre war years in Libya, Nigerians living in the country took advantage of the generosity and protection of the late Maumar Gadaffy to engage in serious criminal activities. He said they fleeced the Libyans of huge amounts of money and other valuables. But now that Gadaffy is no longer there to protect them, the Libyans are now taking their pounds of flesh from the Nigerians. They now see opportunity to avenge themselves of the misdeeds of Nigerians who rubbed them.
Speaking to the magazine on the futility of traveling for greener pastures abroad, an indigene of Edo state, who lives with his family in Codogno, Italy, Uwa Okojie, said the idea that people pick money on the streets of Italy is false and misleading.
“My people from Edo state think that dollars grows on trees in Italy or that they can come here and pick dollars on the streets of Italy misleading. There is no freedom here if you have no valid documents to live here. Even those of us who have valid documents are not finding it easy.
“Against what people back home think, there is no work as such. That is why those of our people who find their ways here engage in all vices. They engage in robbery, you’ll see them at super markets and on the streets, begging, the same way almajiri children beg in the traffic at home. Honestly, if not for my wife’s health that necessitate my being here, it will not take me 60 seconds to return home,” Okojie said.
Unfortunately, not many are appalled and disgusted by the horrible stories coming from Libya, many are still willing to travel illegally for greener pastures.
A passport officer at the Benin office of Nigeria immigration service (nis), who did not want to be named, told the magazine that the number of Edo indigenes who applied for international passport last year was unprecedented. “The number of those who applied for international passport in the last one year is unprecedented. We have never had it like that in the history of this command, and about 99.9 percent of the applicants are of Edo extraction.
“It was not uncommon to see several children from the same family, and at times, with their parents, coming to apply for travel documents. At a point, I was forced to as some of them, ‘How many of you will now be left behind to be ruled by the Omo n’Oba, if all of you leave the town?’ I think the issue is a big problem that the state government needs to give serious attention to,” he said.
Many have raised concerns over the security implications of the influx of Libya Returnees into the state. They are concerned that if not properly handled, the situation could result in security breakdown in Benin, the state capital and elsewhere, with the Yuletide season around the corner. The Returnees roam freely into the premises of Nigeria Union of Journalists’ Secretariat, located just opposite the Benin Motel Plaza, where they are camped, for haircuts. The unkept appearance of these people has continued to raise fear and apprehension in many.
Others are also worried that if the state government continues to pamper the Libya Returnees, by camping them in hotels and paying them stipends, it could tempt others to want to travel out to neighboring countries, hoping to be brought back home by the government and paid allowances also.
Meanwhile, Governor Godwin Obaseki, has vowed to eradicate trafficking in persons and stem the illegal migration in the state. “Government is taking the problem as its own, We are trying to assist them and be integrated into the society. Those who want to go back to school would be encourage to go back while those who need training in skill acquisition would be trained in their chosen skills,” he said, adding that the state has built formidable structures and systems to receive and re-integrate victims of human trafficking and illegal migration who are indigenes of the state.
He however called for the support of Italy and European Union to sustain its efforts to reintegrate victims of human trafficking into the society.