AUSTIN OMOS OYIBODE, EDITOR
Returnees from Libya who attempted traveling through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, precisely Italy, have had woeful experiences as they embark on the risky journey. Reports say many have died in detention camps or drowned on the high sea. Others are imprisoned for months or years, forced into slavery while some, especially ladies, are compelled by circumstances beyond their control to embark on prostitution to raise money to either bail themselves from prison or pay their smugglers for survival.
Investigation had shown that most of the smugglers deceive the illegal migrants on the risk in the journey, giving them false assurances of better life in Europe and downplaying the challenges and risks in the tortuous journey through the Sahara Desert to Libya and onward move through the Mediterranean Sea to Italy, their anticipated destination. Available facts indicate that it is only through the sea can illegal migrants get to Italy from Libya.
But the boats with which they travel through the sea for days are usually poorly managed and not maintained by the owners. Besides, the boats are heavily loaded with the migrants, hence predisposing the boats to capsizing on the high sea. And as the boats get into the middle of the sea, heavy waves could hit the boat, at other times, the engines could stop functioning and the consequence is the breaking of the ship and the migrants battling between life and death. Only a few survivors have escaped the sea to tell their woeful experiences.
Investigation by Emeraldng.com revealed that the Mediterranean Sea is a large body of water that separates Europe, Africa and Asia. It is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by a narrow passage called the Strait of Gibraltar. The sea is almost completely surrounded by land, on the north by Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Middle East. It covers around 2.5 million km. It has often been called the incubator of Western civilization.
Every year, thousands of migrants attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe and Libya, the notorious North African country, is a key departure point. Those who make the journey often travel in poorly maintained and overcrowded ships, and many have died. The smugglers or agents who form a big cartel running across the African continent, usually put the migrants in small rickety boats because, as reports reveal, they expect the passengers to be rescued and brought to Europe by the European authorities.
But reports say there are laws in Libya banning smuggling persons to Europe. Hence, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get on a boat in Libya as the beaches are being patrolled, a development which has led to constant arrest of migrants and hailing them into detention camps. With support from the European Union, there is an increasing number of Libyan coastguards trained to stop smuggling boats in the Mediterranean Sea. Once they are at sea, many boats have to return to Libya, and migrants are arrested and placed in detention camps.
Migrants have reportedly paid money to agents for access to boats, but the agents take their money and disappear. Smugglers often lie about the length of the journey and do not tell migrants that the boats are overcrowded, unsuitable for long sea journeys and are at risk of sinking.
From 2014 till date, not less than 20,000 migrants have died during attempts to cross the high sea. Many of those were Nigerians. Smugglers have also shot migrants on the beach in Libya if they refuse to get on the boat, and the Libyan coastguards have also shot at migrant boats transporting Nigerians on the Mediterranean Sea.
Following the pains and trauma many Nigerians have been exposed to in Libya, the government of Nigeria has had cause to work for the repatriation of the Nigerians in the country. In this regard, a large number of Nigerians has been returned from the North African country. Their stories have been experiences of woes, sufferings, imprisonment, eating excreta and death.
A trending video shows one of them opening her mouth and allowing excreta to be dropped in her mouth and being told to swallow so as to collect 50,000 dollars but reports say the lady couldn’t survive but died. It was a most pathetic scene. Many were imprisoned for months, beaten and seriously tortured by the Arabs in Libya. Many who had no knowledge of warfare were given guns and sent to warfront in Libya.
Sunday Emmanuel, one of the returnees in Delta, gave a sad experience during a rally organized by Delta state taskforce on human trafficking and illegal migration in Asaba on Thursday, August 7, 2019. He said they traveled through the Sahara desert with three Hilux where over 150 people reportedly died and were pushed away.
He gave gory details of torture in prison, daily flogging, how 210 people were caged in one prison and $1500 for bail, women raped, breast burnt, many beaten to death and thrown away. He explained how Libyans pay Nigerians to flog their fellow Nigerians. Having left prison, he still decided to cross, his boat capsized and 68 persons out 142 died. He said many people, for lack of water in prison, drank water from the toilet.
He said he was taken to 13 prisons in Libya where he passed through untold hardship and torture. His parents borrowed N300,000 to bail him, despite the pains, he was still keen on crossing to Italy. In his presence, a pick up van was used to transport 100 dead bodies and thrown away. He said he witnessed the death of many whose parents are still expecting them but they are no more.
Iyke Nkwor, who was a staff of Zenith bank, was brain-washed by a customer, who made him to abandon his banking job to embark on the tortuous journey to Libya. And when he had a little issue with the bank, he capitalized on that and followed the customer and left for Libya. And that was the beginning of his woes.
Nkwor, from Ika North East of Delta state, explained that the Libyans used the illegal immigrants in fighting their wars. He was drafted into the warfront without knowledge of the use of gun. According to him, some people sold landed properties to travel to Libya with the hope of entering Europe. He left Nigeria in 2015 and came back in 2018 with nothing to show but with a loss of his Zenith Bank job.
Dr. Genevieve Mordi, special assistant to Delta state governor on Diaspora affairs, said the issue at hand was a mind problem. For her, she was not against anybody traveling but traveling should be done following due process. She said one of them was made to eat poo for 50,000 dollars but could not survive the trauma.
The Benin Zonal Commandant of NAPTIP, Nduka Nwawwenne, told the people that the people of human trafficking was not only peculiar to Edo state but also Delta state. He said all Nigerians must come together to say NO to human trafficking and illegal migration.
Commissioner for women affairs and community development, Mrs. Flora Alatan, advised the youths to stay put in Nigeria, saying there is greener pasture in the state. She called on mothers to join hands with government to kick against human trafficking and illegal migration. She blamed parents for abandoning their duties and exposing their children to external influence.
Chairman of Delta state taskforce on human trafficking and illegal migration, Barrister Peter Mrakpor, explained that the issue of human trafficking was a big problem for Nigeria and especially Delta state. He described it as a spirit and an addiction. He leveled the blame squarely on parents. “They believe that sending their children abroad is the solution to their problems. Parents are competing among themselves. It is true that it is difficult to get jobs but there are options. However, illegal migration is never an alternative,” Mrakpor, who is also commissioner for justice, said.
He said the issue of illegal migration is a challenge the government of Delta state must confront with all available arsenal. “It’s a big problem we have across the state, it’s a clear and present danger. I was chatting with somebody in Malaysia, the story is not a good one. She was told she was going to London but abandoned in Malaysia,” Mrakpor further said.
The commissioner, who felt troubled, noted that if proper care is not taken, there will be security crisis, citing the case of those who were forced to use guns and have been sent to warfront. These people, according to him, could become security threats if government fails to handle their cases properly.
For him, the Delta government and more largely the Nigerian government must fight to win or lose out and be ready to face the consequences.