Charmed by tales of fantasy, Nigerians are migrating to Europe in droves, seeking the proverbial greener pastures. A few manage to squeeze through the maze, but for many others, the journey often ends in disaster. In a tragic toss of the coin, the corpses of 26 Nigerian “women” were recovered on Monday aboard a vessel at the coastal town of Salerno, Italy. The victims were actually, mainly minors, aged between 14 and 18. At such an early age, they had tempted fate too far; for it is a grand misconception among youths in Nigeria to think that the only way to succeed in life is by embarking on a fatal adventure to Europe.
The international media stated that 23 of the dead women were rescued on a rubber boat that contained 64 others, before they were taken aboard Cantabria, a Spanish warship. In all, 375 illegal migrants from Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, the Gambia and Sudan survived the ordeal while the dead Nigerians were sequestered in the ship’s refrigerated section. For them, the false allure that the streets of Europe are paved with gold has become their undoing.
As is the vogue among misguided youths, their dream is to undertake the hazardous voyage to Europe, particularly to Italy, Spain and Germany through unconventional means. Their real mission is prostitution. Without travel documents by many of them, all they are armed with is the hope of selling their bodies in return for money.
The illegal migrants, who are lured by organised sex rings with extensive networks in Nigeria, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom, often meet a brutal fate. The first leg of their tortuous adventure from Nigeria goes through North Africa. Many are sexually abused, while others perish in the desert. Libya, which is in the throes of a civil war, is filled with landmines for the sojourners. “Most of the victims go by land,” an official said. “They take buses from Edo, Kano and others and it takes approximately five days on land to get to Libya, from where most of them want to cross the sea.”
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, in October 2016, rescued 57 victims of human trafficking (aged 12 to 38) in Katsina State, though their traffickers escaped the dragnet. In all, NAPTIP rescued 263 victims – 173 females and 90 males – between January and October last year. NAPTIP says that 5,000 Nigerian girls were engaged in prostitution in Mali, as of March this year.
For others, bondage, couched in promises of Eldorado by sex rings, and death, are their rewards. Anyone that makes it to Europe is forced into prostitution. A 2016 investigation by the BBC discovered that the most notorious sex slave rings of Nigerian origin in Europe, the Supreme Eiye Confraternity (or the Air Lords), operating through their ibakkas (sub-leaders), recruit young Nigerian girls for the European sex trade.
A report by the International Herald Tribune a few years ago found that there were at least 15,000 Nigerian prostitutes on the streets of Italy. A majority of them were tricked into the obnoxious trade, though others were willing partners, seduced by the false sense of riches in Europe. Some were pushed into it by their greedy parents.
The journey to Europe is not cheap. NAPTIP says that the sponsors pay up to N250,000 for each victim to recruiters. Others cough up between $4,000 and $6,500. A hefty part of the sum is paid to traffickers at camps in Libya and at the point of crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Italy, Spain, Yemen or Greece. In Europe, the victims go to work as sex workers to make returns to their sex slave madams before they can gain their freedom. However, anybody who can raise thousands of dollars has no excuse to undertake the perilous voyage in the name of escaping from the economic hardship in the country. This sum, properly invested, could change a life.
Pain, despair and death stalk the adventurers. A group, RARDUJA International, quoting United Nations statistics, claimed 602,000 Nigerians attempted the illegal journey to Europe in 2016, out of which 27,000 died. This is alarming. Nigerians have a right to travel out of the country, but not under the circumstances these women do. It is even worse for those who do so early in life without job skills to survive in Europe. Nigerians should know that it is a futile exercise. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Matters, says that the government has brought back 5,000 illegal emigrants to the country in the past six months.
Although Dabiri-Erewa says a policy is on the way to address illegal migration, government across the three tiers have a lot of work to do to stop the menace. Apart from deepening good governance, there should be a holistic campaign to discourage Nigerians from illegal migration. To dissuade Senegalese from undertaking this hazardous trip, the government there has recruited returnees to campaign against the illegality. The returnees counsel the young that it is an exercise in futility. Furthermore, returnees are given a chance to restart their lives through a community farming project in the hinterland. Nigeria should take a cue from this, while also revamping NAPTIP with human and financial resources and technology.
Without a demand for their services in Europe, there will not be cheap supply from Africa. At the highest levels of diplomacy, Abuja should deepen cooperation with Italy, Spain, the UK, Germany and Greece to take action against the sex rings smuggling Nigerian girls to that continent. A special security task force team should investigate the networks operating at home, dismantle their fake document rackets and cut their tentacles to European. Those caught should be prosecuted. The Nigerian Immigration Service, which issues passports to these minors, should be put under the searchlight.