Nigeria continues to be among the top five countries of origin of migrants entering the European Union. Statistics from relevant international agencies on migration show that not less than 70,000 Nigerian girls are currently detained in Italian detention camps. In 2018, the International Organisation for Migration, (IOM), said 60,000 Nigerians were identified in Libya with majority hailing from Edo State.
The figures highlight how illegal migration and human trafficking are negatively affecting the lives of Nigerians and nobody would consider the alarming specifics and agree less that there is a huge problem facing the nation.
To this end, stakeholders from the public and private sector, civil society, development agencies and the clergy converged on Abuja to seek solutions to illegal and human trafficking. The conference, International Action on Illegal Migration and Trafficking, was convened to strengthen the partnership in curbing illegal migration and human trafficking.
With participants drawn from international and local agencies working on human trafficking and illegal migration, the forum organised by the Nigerian Young Professionals Forum (NYPF), was an avenue to hear first-hand gory tales about the crisis.
At the event chaired by Captain Idahosa Okunbor, chairman, Ocean Marine Solutions, various speakers dissected the problem, its patterns, actors, geographical spread, and demeaning impact on humanity. Consequently, they agreed that it is a growing threat to Nigerians that should be urgently addressed through multi-stakeholder partnerships.
Chairman of NYPF, Mr. Moses Siasia, told of his experience with a young man, who wanted to embark on a journey abroad, which he considered dangerous, planted the idea for the conference in him: “I took an UBER taxi to an embassy and was discussing on the phone.
“On our way, the taxi driver told me that he is a graduate who wants to travel to America. He claimed to have saved N1.5 million, pleading that I should assist him with N1 million. I advised him against travelling, but he insisted, saying he would earn $1000 monthly as an UBER taxi driver in the US.”
He said the encounter reminded him about the young men and women, who are as desperate as the UBER driver in the quest to embark on dangerous trips abroad: “There are so many people like him who embark on such journeys and end up being trafficked for sexual exploitation and organ harvesting. It gives me a lot of concern that my generation suffers the impact of the menace.
“Those affected most are between the ages of 18 and 25. The youths embark on these trips without knowing the dangers ahead. They are deceived and in the process, their organs are harvested. Some organs are sold as high as N250,000. For instance, one harvested heart sells for N250,000.”
Deputy Head of the EU Delegation in Nigeria, Mr. Richard Young, said the illegal migration situation demands an urgent response from Nigeria: “One in every 10 illegal immigrants who entered Europe between 2015 and 2016 was a Nigerian. About 20,532 persons entered Europe illegally in those years, while 2,084 were Nigerians, representing 10 percent.
“There is a reduction in the figures of victims since 2016 but we have to be tough on the crime. There are the good, bad and ugly sides of migration. We have to promote the good, eliminate the bad and the ugly. This is a problem Nigeria needs to fight.”
Head of Public Enlightenment, National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Mr. Arinze Orakwe, who represented the Director General, Juli Okah-Donli, shared his experience combating human trafficking. He told stories underscored the extent to which traffickers could go to lure victims: “Oyo and Osun states have taken over from Edo as the major sources of potential victims.
“Mali which the traffickers named ‘Maliasia’ is now the number one destination for those trafficked into prostitution. Some of them we rescued said they were paid an equivalent of N140 for a round of sex and they would have to be doing that until they realise the equivalent of N2 million to secure their freedom. Some of them were trafficked when they were 13. Human trafficking has become multidimensional to the extent that some Nigerian girls harvest their ovaries and sell to fertility clinics for N140,000.
“Every December, NAPTIP organises voluntarily return for trafficked victims, who want to return. Some of them would register for it and by the time we bring them home, they recruit young women and men, who they eventually sell into prostitution. Some are sold to organ hunters. NAPTIP arrested 5,923 suspected human traffickers and rescued 13,950 victims in its 15 years of existence.”
Rev. Monica Chikwe of the Sisters of Mercy and Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation (RENATE) shared first-hand experiences with traffickers, their victims and Italian farm owners, who exploit migrants: “My job involves travelling around the world. Most times, I feel ashamed hearing at conferences that Nigerians are most of the victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Europe.
“The girls practice their prostitution on the roads and bushes along the roads. You would feel bad seeing these semi-naked girls standing on the highways as they market their bodies. A victim we rescued was so angry at her traffickers that she exclaimed: ‘If na prostitution una want make person do, na for house them dey do am, no be for road or bush.’
“Some of them who refused to engage in prostitution after being trafficked are starved and beaten until they agree. They sleep with different men for just €5 and pay £70,000 to secure freedom
‘’They have to make about £70,000 to secure their freedom. In Italian detention camps, there are about 60,000 Nigerian girls. Some of them didn’t know they were being trafficked. Some of the victims of human trafficking are working in plantations in Europe where they are being exploited by farm owners. They work for years in the farms under harsh conditions without being paid. We have handled cases where we took some of the farm owners to court and got justice.
“There was a farm owner who eventually paid €16,000 to his Nigerian worker, who he earlier refused to pay after many years. When the workers demand their wages, the farm owners threaten to report them to the authorities. Since they are undocumented, they remain in the farms to avoid being deported to Nigeria.
“These workers often go to the farms as early as 3 am under harsh climatic conditions. There was a time the Italian Government gave the farm owners the opportunity of regularising the documents of their workers, they refused because they want to evade tax. Many people talk about the victims and hardly talk about what makes the trade to flourish.
“The demand is driving the supply. That is why the trade is flourishing and the traffickers are becoming daring. I had once asked at a conference if Nigerians or other blacks are the ones patronising the Nigerian prostitutes in Europe. The patronage comes from those countries, not African countries.”
There was the launch of a programme titled: Skill and Entrepreneurship Development Programme (SED-P). Siasia disclosed that the scheme would rehabilitate, develop capacities, empower, mentor and provide hope for returnees: “When the returnees are dropped at the airport, nobody cares about what they later do in life.
“Everyone just moves on and forgets the victims. We are going to monitor and train them for the next five years. We are going to bring them out to showcase what they have been able to achieve from the initiative.”