By Evelyn Usman
Nigerians, especially youths, left the shores of the country in search of better living conditions, owing mostly to unemployment. Unfortunately, in their desperation, most of them fell prey to agents who sweet talked them into believing that they could get to their dream countries if they were able to raise between N150,000 and N600,000.
At times, these agents assured their gullible clients of job opportunities on arrival and even undertook responsibilities for the travel expenses, with an agreement to get more than thrice the amount from their clients. But unknown to many who chose to embark on the voyage to Europe through Libya, the trip was not as easy as envisaged.
In most cases, it turned out to be a death trap in disguise, as a good number of them died in the desert and in the Mediterranean sea, without reaching their destinations.
Many of those who were alive, ended up in Libya, where they were turned into sex slaves, especially females and subjected to indescribable dehumanizing treatment overseas. Some of the lucky ones who cried out to the Federal Government for help were brought back home with horrible tales.
Records show that over 16,000 Nigerians have been repatriated from Europe, Libya and other African countries, in the last three years. Most of these returnees were usually sighted in popular churches in Lagos, where they were given stipends to transport themselves back to their respective hometown.
However, on arrival, they were only welcomed in the first two weeks by relatives, who thereafter, left them to begin the struggle for survival from where they stopped. Some of these returnees who took loans for the journey, were faced with the challenges of paying back, with many of them finding it difficult to establish any business that would keep body and soul together owing to lack of finance
Tackling the challenge
Edo state was said to have the highest number of irregular migrants, followed by Ondo, Oyo, Delta and Ekiti states. At least over 6,000 returnees from Libya, Europe and other parts of the world have been received by the Edo State government so far. The latest returnees received on August 15, 2020, were 17 young girls and a year-old baby who were stranded in Mali.
As part of the state government’s Rehabilitation Programme, the returnees as gathered, were provided temporary accommodation before being reunited with their families, while most of them were enlisted in the entrepreneurship and farm initiatives of the state government.
To prepare the ground work for this programme, Governor Godwin Obaseki, set up the Edo State Taskforce Against Human Trafficking, ETAHT with the collaboration of the Palace of the Oba of Benin. The TaskForce is charged with the responsibility of providing an effective and comprehensive legal and institutional framework for the prohibition, prevention, detection, prosecution and punishment of human trafficking and related offenses in the state.
The State Government in collaboration with the International Organisation for Migration, IOM has also opened a pineapple factory operated by a business cooperative, consisting of returnees and unemployed youths and the private sector, as part of the IOM’s integrated approach to sustainable reintegration.
Forty-two Nigerian returnees and local youths as gathered, were employed in the facility after undergoing a technical and vocational training under a project funded by GIZ.
Another cassava factory launched in Ehor town also provided job opportunities for 25 returning migrants and youths, and indirectly benefiting 150 individuals in the community.
This plant which, as explained, was aimed at involving returning migrants in income-generating activities with their home communities, as well as to promote inclusive local development thereby reducing socio-economic challenges.
Receiving the latest batch of irregular migrants and victims of human trafficking recently in Benin city, the Edo state capital, the Commissioner for Justice, Prof Yinka Omorogbe, disclosed that in the last three years and eight months, the Obaseki-led administration had stemmed the scourge of illegal migration through massive investment in the education sector, in addition to creating various empowerment programmes for the youths.
She said: “These are girls that were trafficked out of Nigeria to Mali where they were rescued. They spent some months with the High Commission in Mali before being transported back to Nigeria, by the Edo State Task Force Against Human Trafficking. Since we started operation in November 2017, the task force has been on the ground to receive every Edo indigene brought back into the country.
“We have taken and stored their information in our database. Thereafter, they will be incorporated into our numerous programmes initiated by the Obaseki-led administration to make them independent and employable. We will be seeing to their needs and ensure that they are fully reintegrated into the society,” the commissioner added.
Omorogbe, who is also the Chairperson of Edo State Taskforce Against Human Trafficking, ETAHT disclosed that the state government had so far spent N300 million for the upkeep of the returnees and other logistics within the period.
Also, Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr Crusoe Osagie, disclosed that a permanent shelters were being constructed to accommodate returnee Edo indigenes, who were trapped abroad as victims of human trafficking and irregular migration, to strengthen the state government’s rehabilitation and reintegration programme.
Osagie said, “the facilities will enable the state government fast-track short, medium and long-term objectives of rehabilitating and reintegrating the returnees.
One of the returnees who is physically challenged, Frank Obeahon, applauded the state government for the gesture, noting that if youths were engaged, they would not seek greener pastures anywhere in the globe. Obeahon who shared his close shave with death experience in Libya, was full of gratitude to God for seeing him through.
He said: “People travel out of the country because of the frustration they faced in the country. If they were engaged, many of them would jettison the idea of travelling out for greener pastures. Travelling through these routes is an issue of life and death and the chances of getting to the destination are 50-50 because a lot of people died in the process”.
Another returnee from Libya and a beneficiary of the Edo State government reintegration programme, Rescue Esosa, said, “I am glad to return home to start a new life after all the troubles I went through in Libya, in my search for greener pastures. The pain and experience I went through in trying to cross over to Italy were unbearable. I lost my friends in the desert and at sea. I will rather stay and invest in my country than risk my life in the hands of smugglers. I am glad to have something doing now,” she said excitedly.
Others who would not want their names mentioned in prints disclosed that they were beaten to coma and most times starved for days, for refusing to attend to the men that were brought to the houses they were kept as prostitutes.