Data made available by the International Organisation for Migration, IOM, showed that between January and May, 29,000 people of sub-Saharan African origin went to Europe through the Central Mediterranean route, mainly in search of greener pastures.
Unfortunately, their fate is uncertain, as they may end up as sex slaves, victims of organ theft, among others. Most of the irregular migrants were not aware of dangers ahead.
Aside those who ‘successfully’ made it, over 761 others died in the quest to cross, about 13,000 were pushed back by the Libyan Coast Guard, while thousands of others are languishing in detention facilities.
However, the tale is not only bleak in Europe, irregular migrants within Africa also suffer similar fate of forced labour and sex slavery.
According to a 2018 report by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), there were over 20,000 Nigerian girls working as sex slaves in Mali.
According to Frantz Celestin, Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, migration to Europe is mostly captured in the media space whereas a higher number of migrants remain within Africa.
“Most people look at the media report of migrants trying to get across to Europe, but the fact is that the vast majority of migrants who decide to move from one place of habitual residence, they decide to do so within the African continent.
“In fact, less than five per cent of those on the move go to Europe, the vast majority of them stay within the continent.
“If you look at ECOWAS citizens, more than 90 per cent of them stay within the ECOWAS space.
“Giving the number of people on the move and knowing how vulnerable people tend to be if they are migrating irregularly, the chances of them being trafficked or abused during their journey is quite high.
“So, if so many people are moving within the ECOWAS space, it is safe to conclude that a lot of them are being trafficked with the ECOWAS space,” he said.
He said that from the study which had been carried out by the IOM, Mali remained top of the list of locations for Nigerian girls trafficked within Africa.
“If we know all of these and if ECOWAS tends to reason that there might be a lot of women trafficked within its space, what do we do?
“It is to make sure we understand the pattern, look at the trends, see where they are going – and Mali has quite a number of young Nigerian women as sex workers in the Gold Mine District.
“So if I were to say, given the numbers that we have seen, Mali is the number one destination in West Africa for Nigerian women who were trafficked.
“But there are trafficking going on throughout the ECOWAS space.’’
Celestin who interacted with the media recently to advance the activities of the UN agency, pointed out that a sizeable number of the 29,000 persons who made it to Europe were Nigerians.
The IOM chief who did not give specific figures pointed out that in spite of its campaign and sensitisation across Nigeria, many still opt to move as they are driven by many factors that must be addressed.
Celestin said that “the drivers could be conflict, social-economic pressures, population pressures, it could be disasters, climate induces phenomenon and we have seen quite a number of them with the severity and frequency going up and up.
“There are a lot of push factors out there and we only see that they are increasing.
“So how do we step forward to mitigate the number of people migrating as well as the level of suffering we see in that process.?
“It is not going to stop unless the drivers are removed or mitigated, and these drivers are hardship, conflict, disasters and the fact that we have more people looking for work and a lot of people under-employed.
“So the combination of unemployment and under- employment will definitely push people forward.
“You can tell them as much as you want, but if you don’t find something to keep them in place, they will migrate.
“All of the work that we do is to prevent, reduce and address the drivers of migration,” he said.
Celestine however clarified that the work of IOM was not to discourage migration, as he insists that it is necessary for migration to take place, stressing that the import was for migration to be done the right way.
It is perhaps in its bid to drive home the message of migration across Nigeria that the IOM had continually sought partnerships with the Nigerian media.
At one of such dialogue held recently in Abuja, Celestin appealed to the media, as indispensable partners to help in getting the right message of migration across Nigeria.
“IOM would like to use this dialogue to facilitate your direct involvement in the dissemination of credible information on migration in support of its efforts to ensure orderly, dignified, and safe migration.
“Maintaining good media relation is indispensable and contribute to IOM’s daily work.
“IOM will continue to work with you to shed light on the plight of the people, and the often-hidden opportunities that arise from migration.
“Governments, migrants, potential migrants, and average citizens are much more likely to hear about IOM’s work through the media than through official reports.
“The role of media in achieving IOM’s objectives is crucial. Hence, the need for information flow built on cordial relationship between media outlets and IOM Nigeria.
“IOM is committed to working with journalists who will act as conduits of the organisation’s message,” he said.
Stakeholders believe that the ultimate solution to irregular migration lies in mitigating the drivers of migration, which will in turn mitigate trafficking, sex slavery, organ theft, among others.
Celestin believes that the $150 billion trafficking industry which has been identified to have high yields and low risks to the perpetrators, can only end with concerted efforts.
With specific reference to Africa, he said: “What is required is a coordinated response by all the member states and what we would call proper guidance by ECOWAS to effectively identify these networks and disrupt their criminal activity.
“What we are going to do is to systematically create bilateral relationships with these governments.
“Last month, IOM Nigeria and IOM Niger had a 10-day conference where we were with NAPTIP and immigration officials from Nigeria and their counterpart in Niger.
“We brought them together to get these two agencies, Nigeria Immigration Service on the border part controlling who is going and then NAPTIP and their counterpart in Niger to coordinate and share information to disrupt these networks that are putting people in bondage and selling them as cattle and abusing them.
“So coordinated efforts, bilateral relationship and sharing of information are extremely important in stemming the flow of people and preventing these criminals from using people as commodity.
“No agency, no country, no one person can do it by him or herself, it requires a whole lot of society approach, a coordinated approach and putting the necessary mechanism in place to get this done.
“IOM is a solid partner; we offer our support to our member states, to the governments and support direct assistance to those who have been victimised by these criminals,” he said.
Indeed it remains an arduous task to convince people to stay back in their home countries rather that migrate irregularly, especially when hunger, unemployment and insecurity continue unabated.
It is thus a clarion call for governments, particularly in Africa to live up to its responsibilities, take advantage of its human and material resources and harness them to the betterment of its people.
In the words of an economist Amarachukwu Nwosu “Africa has more that the potential needed to be better than Europe and America. That potential should be harnessed.