Stakeholders warn youths against desperate overland journeys to North Africa, Italy, Spain
By Cosmas Omegoh
There is a recent photograph believed to be that of migrants hounded in an inflated boat as they were trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. The picture is trending on social media alongside that of several bodies floating on the water and believed to be those of migrants who perished at sea after their boat had capsized.
The latter brings straight home the flipside of the desperation for illegal migration to Europe through the African land borders and the Mediterranean Sea.
Indeed, an overland journey to Europe via the patched Sahara Desert can be one deadly adventure. Yet, all that is being said about this trip, according to some observers, seems to fall on deaf ears, with many youths ever willing to defy the voice of reason.
First, they slip into Niger Republic. Then they make their way through Mali to Libya or Morocco, daring to cross the big, blue and bullish Mediterranean Sea to enter Italy or Spain.
Experts say that the migrants are usually driven by certain push factors, chiefly the harsh economic challenges buffeting most parts of the continent. They want to go to Europe where the streets are reportedly made of gold. So, with the very little money they lay their hands on, they hit the roads and refuse to count the cost.
But that is only where the story begins. Those who know the road through the desert to North Africa say that it is not the average one. Chances of survival on it are slim. The adventurers must fight the sand, the searing heat and stinging cold, the marauding Tuaregs bandits, hunger and thirst at their peak. The lucky ones who manage to reach any of the Maghreb countries do so with lots of bruises.
When the migrants eventually reach North Africa, another phase of troubles begins. If they are lucky, they hike a ride, hounded into one dingy collapsible boat sailing for Europe. Such boats have clear potential of sinking at every approach of the least strand of misfortune – needless to say that thousands drown every month. They are wholly at the mercy of the elements and the angry sea waves which lash at them without mercy as they rock along, enduring hours of numbness while praying to avoid vicious guards parading the waters for irritant migrants determined to reach Europe.
As the tale of Nigerian migrants streaming to Europe through the land borders continue to turn sour, some stakeholders over time have been doing their level best to stem the tide of this exodus. Recently, for instance, an initiative was launched to spread more awareness on the dangers inherent in this suicidal journey. The progenitors called the initiative Migration Enlightenment Project in Nigeria (MEPN), with the support of the German Information office. At its launch in Lagos, one of its directors, Femi Awoniyi, said: “The initiative seeks to raise fresh awareness about the dangers and risks of irregular migration to Europe and explain the legal requirement for regular migration with the overall objective of promoting safe migration.
“Most people who travel to Europe end up as irregular migrants. One boy wrote me from Spain complaining how he was imprisoned because he was accused of crimes he did not commit, all because he was an irregular migrant who didn’t have any papers.
“Every now and then, we receive news of African migrants who died at sea while trying to cross to Europe to seek opportunities. The number is heartrending.
“Last year alone about 2,500 of such migrants who entered Europe were repatriated. This number is scary enough, but might be higher because Europe will not give us the right figures. We are sick of hearing of these calamities.
“The matter gets worse when we hear that parents close their businesses to finance their children’s irregular migration. That is why the objective of this initiative is to increase public awareness on how to migrate to Europe legally. We want to make it clear that it is easy to get visas and there are other opportunities which Nigerians should know.”
He regretted that some migrants were enticed with non-existent job offers, warning that it was better that people knew about the dangers involved in their actions before taking a leap. In his words, according to reports, 21,461 Nigerians were refused asylum in 2016 alone while 12,000 in Germany were awaiting repatriation.
“Unfortunately, those who fail to get their stay don’t wish to return home. They take to crime and prostitution.”
While at the forum, Sadiat Hassan, a Deputy Comptroller of Immigration, who worked at Nigerian Embassy in Germany for five and half years, painted a sorry picture of the plight of Nigerians who migrated to Germany illegally.
“While I was in Germany, part of my job was issuing passports to Nigerians and visas to visitors.
“But I didn’t enjoy supervising the deportation of Nigerian illegal migrants. Then, I used to take a lot of painkillers because of some of the pathetic cases I used to encounter. As a mother, most times I wept when German officials invited me to come and see what some of our youths were passing through.
“If you are living there without permit, that is illegal. One of the options is for you to marry their citizens. Because of this, some of our youths kept going from one woman to another. Often, they went into trouble; the girls among them were regularly raped. For God’s sake, these were youths whose parents were here in this country.
“I’m not a lawyer, so I couldn’t defend them. But I saw the Germans coming out to defend their own.
“To be honest with you, so many Nigerians are in prison there. But I couldn’t help them. Some would tell me: ‘Ma, I’m tired; I want to go home; I’m married with kids!’ Each time I heard that, my heart always broke. That was how I started buying tickets for as many of them as I cannot now remember.
“Some couldn’t even go home because of shame. They told me they sold everything they had to travel to Germany. And when they arrived, the story changed.
“Each time I visited the prisons, I felt sad. I always wept like a baby seeing lots of Nigerians and listening to their tales of suffering. Then, I concluded that it was not about going to Germany or any other European country that mattered.
“When they got there the story always changed. Germany, I know, no longer gives asylum to anyone. They have closed that policy a long time ago. So our youths need to go there now with dignity so that when they are returning, their dignity will remain intact.
“There was a Nigerian lady who was a prostitute. She was arrested 36 times by the German police. Each time I asked her to go home, she would say to me: ‘Madam make I work small.’”
Former ‘Mr Nigeria,’ Deji Bakare, who was the compere on the occasion, recalled how he narrowly escaped going to Europe across the borders at the very last minute.
He said: “Fifteen years ago, some of my friends persuaded me to join them on their overland journey to Europe. I had prepared to travel with them; I had bought new clothes; I had N10, 000 on me.
“But when I met them at Ojuelegba, Lagos, I changed my mind; I gave them my new clothes and left.
“Out of the number that embarked on that trip, it was only one that came back alive. Two died at sea, others perished in the desert.
“But here I am today. I have won the ‘Mr Nigeria’ contest once; I’m doing a whole lot of things with my life. What that means is that there are a lot of opportunities here in the country,” he said.