No fewer than 10,000 Nigerians have died between January and May 2017 while trying to illegally migrate through the Mediterranean Sea and the deserts, the Nigeria Immigration Service has said.
NIS Assistant Comptroller-General, in charge of training, manpower and development, Mr. Maroof Giwa, said that 4,900 Nigerians died in the Mediterranean Sea while the rest died while going through the deserts in their bid to cross to Europe.
He spoke in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital on Friday on the sidelines of a training on ‘trafficking in persons/smuggling of migrants at various borders,’ organised by the NIS.
This is just as the Kwara State Comptroller, NIS, Mrs. Abiodun Abimbola-Ojo, said the command rescued no fewer than 36 victims of trafficking from 2015 till date. She also urged people to provide NIS with useful information that would aid the agency to effectively combat trafficking.
Giwa said Nigeria is a member of many international instruments and had signed a number of agreements and treaties, particularly regarding trafficking in persons and smuggling of illegal migrants.
He noted that there is therefore the obligation for the country to implement such agreements, adding that illegal migrants and traffickers (from Nigeria) go through Niger Republic, Mali, Libya and Morocco.
He said, “Smuggling of migrants is taking a front burner in world affairs today. Almost every day, you hear stories of boat capsizing and people trying to reach Europe. Nigerians are dying almost every day.
“This year alone, 4,900 Nigerians died on the Mediterranean route to Europe. There are countless others who died on their way through the deserts; we have even lost count. Many more perished on that route.
“In fact over 10,000 people have died on the Mediterranean route and the deserts. Those who died in the deserts are far more than the dead victims along the Mediterranean route. There is the need to create awareness within our community that going to Europe is not an option, particularly if it is through irregular routes.
“Apart from that, a lot of people are profiting from the venture. Last week, about 4,000 Nigerians were deported from Libya. Those ones were intercepted when they were about to enter the Mediterranean Sea.”
Giwa said NIS had been working towards forestalling trafficking; adding that the agency had commenced an initiative through which intending migrants would be intercepted even before they set out.
Describing Nigerian borders as bad and with rugged terrains, Giwa lamented the challenges posed to NIS officials by the vast and porous state of Nigerian borders.
He, however, vowed that the agency would deal with the challenges with the use of technology.
He said, “Nigerian borders are very bad. We cannot cover all and the terrains are rugged. The vastness and porosity of the borders are huge challenges. Some borders are designated while some are not designated and so are illegal routes. These traffickers are aware of the illegal routes, so they try to use them.
“In order to have effective surveillance, you need technology. If we have drones that we can use to patrol the borders very well, that will help us a great deal. We used to have air-border patrol but the aircraft has been grounded. It will be resuscitated and the aircraft will soon be put to use.
“Very soon, we will be patrolling the borders by air. That will increase our capability of also fighting terrorism. Most of the terrorist activities take place around the borders. Traffickers should desist as NIS is more prepared to tackle them. We have a new law to deal with smugglers.”
According to Abimbola-Ojo, victims trafficking are often forced to go through inhuman and dehumanising conditions devoid of adequate health care.
She said some of them ended up contacting infections and dying in the process while some ladies were sexually abused and died from health complications arising from moves to abort unwanted pregnancies.
She, therefore, pleaded with parents and guardians to dissuade their children and wards from embarking on illegal migration.
Abimbola-Ojo said, “The public should assist us in the job. They should give us information on trafficking and smuggling of persons. Prevention is necessary.
“Smuggling and trafficking are two major things. The major aim of a trafficker is to exploit, but a smuggler wants to exploit just now and go his way. He procures the documents, whether regular or not regular, all he wants is his money.”
In his reaction, NIS Public Relations Officer, Sunday James, said the agency had been discouraging Nigerians without cogent reasons from travelling abroad.
James noted that a huge number of those applying for the national passport had no compelling reason for leaving the country.
He also explained that the service would soon deploy three surveillance helicopters to track down citizens using illegal routes to leave the country.
The spokesman said that the choppers were being overhauled, adding that they would soon be operational to track down and stop illegal migration by Nigerians.
James could not confirm the figure of desperate Nigerians killed while leaving the country illegally as stated by Giwa.
He, however, described the ACG as an immigration expert who had been involved in migration issues for a long time.
He said, “Some of the people embarking on illegal migration often use routes that are not officially recognised by the service. But as part of measures to discourage this, we are overhauling our surveillance aircraft which would be deployed around the borders to track down and stop these individuals from travelling abroad illegally.”
In March, the spokesperson of the United Nations Migration agency, International Organisation on Migration, Flavio Di Giacomo, had said 26,589 migrants and refugees entered Europe between January and March, 2017, with over 80 per cent arriving in Italy and the rest in Spain and Greece. Di Giacomo said the number was, however, lower compared with 163,895 recorded through the first 86 days of 2016.
The European Union had also disclosed that 22,500 Nigerian illegal migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe between January and September 2016.
Deputy Head of EU delegation to Nigeria, Mr. Richard Young, who had expressed concern on the increase in the number of migrants travelling to Europe illegally, said the number increased from 280,000 in 2014 to 1.8 million in 2015.
“In 2014 the number of people travelling illegally into Europe was 280,000 people; in 2015, it rose to 1.8 million,” he had said.
Young had also disclosed that 420,000 persons had illegally crossed to Europe between January and September 2016, and that the number was expected to rise to 800,000 by the end of 2016.
“Within this number, people coming from Nigeria (to Europe) in 2012 were 800; in 2013, the number was 2,900. In 2014, the number was 8,700; in 2015, the number was 23,000 and between January and September 2016, the number is 22, 500,” he had said.
Blame it on government’s failure – CSOs
The President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, who expressed sadness over the matter, blamed it on poverty and bad governance.
Ugwummadu noted that apart from those who die in the process of fleeing the country, Nigerian migrants are also targeted for persecution and execution in foreign lands.
He said, “If a government has given its citizens such desperation to survive to the extent that it is recording up to 10,000 deaths, it already qualifies as genocide. It is a serious war against humanity in another form. It is not only when acts of war are executed that you talk of genocide, if you starve your people to death and record such a number, that is already crime against humanity.
“The underlying factor driving this unholy search for greener pasture, with the belief that the grass is greener on the other side, is the failure of leadership in the Nigerian state, which has occasioned insecurity, joblessness and even hopelessness.
“Nigerians do not just die in the Mediterranean Sea, now Nigerians go to the Third Mainland Bridge and jump into the Lagos lagoon. This clearly underscores the level of poverty involved in the situation.”
CDHR, therefore, called on the “government to rise to the occasion and tackle the social and economic conditions that created the desperation of the Nigerian people to seek better lives outside the shores of this country.”
Also, the Executive Director of the International Centre for Peace Charities and Human Development, Mr. Clement Iornongu, blamed the situation on the harsh economy of the country.
He tasked the Federal Government to provide good governance and social welfare for the people in order to prevent more Nigerians from taking “risky trips.”
He said, “The people died because they were trying to leave the harsh Nigerian economy for greener pastures. It’s the failure of the Federal Government to provide them with the basic needs of life that made them embark on dangerous trips.
“We will see more Nigerians risking their lives to travel abroad if the government fails to provide social welfare and good governance for the people.”
South Africa deports 90 Nigerians
In another development, the South African government on Friday deported 90 Nigerians for committing immigration-related offences.
The spokesman for the Lagos Airport Police Command, DSP Joseph Alabi, confirmed the development to the News Agency of Nigeria in Lagos.
Alabi said the deportees, who are all men, landed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos at about 3.30pm.
He said they were brought back to Nigeria aboard a South African Airways aircraft with registration number BBB712 from Johannesburg.
“This (Friday) afternoon, about 3.30pm, 90 Nigerians were deported from South Africa for committing immigration-related offences.
“Some of them were alleged to have been living in the country without valid documents.
“They were received by the appropriate agencies including the police and profiled before being allowed to depart to their respective destinations,” Alabi said.
South Africa had also on February 28 sent 97 Nigerians back home for committing various offences.
The deportees were made up of 95 males and two females.