The tragedy exposes the monumental ills in our economy

The stories being told by Nigerians who are increasingly being deported from Libya after their failed efforts to cross to Europe are harrowing. While many of them have become destitute upon return home, some nurse terminal diseases like cancer and HIV without any support. For these unfortunate Nigerians whose quest for a better life across the Mediterranean Sea ended in disappointment, the future seems bleak, except the authorities can come to their aid.

Ironically, the current migration crisis is a cruel twist of the logic of the transatlantic slave trade. In the old trade, African agents of European slave traders hunted men and women and forcibly sold them off to be transported across the Atlantic to the new world. In the new ‘trade’, Africans are willingly subjecting and submitting themselves as fodder and merchandise for enslavement across the Mediterranean.

Driven by economic desperation and sometimes laziness, thousands of able-bodied young men and women are, almost on a daily basis, embarking on suicide missions in the bid to migrate towards the northern hemisphere in search of opportunities that have since disappeared in those very societies. While only a small fraction eventually reach their destinations where they face disappointment and frustration, majority of them usually perish on the way.

From the accounts of some of the returnees, many who made it to Europe or the Middle East were usually forced into prostitution, used as mercenaries, deployed as household servants, factory workers, drug couriers and even as organ donors. And they would be beaten, starved and subjected to other forms of torture if they tried to resist.

However, as we have argued in the past, it is important to interrogate the conditions that create the desperation to leave the country for unknown destinations. Today, we live in a country where many are not only poor but cannot find jobs. Factories are closing down and selling their warehouses to promoters of religious organisations while several businesses are shut down or moving out of the country due to lack of electricity. In the circumstance, vibrant young men and women are leaving the country to embark on journeys which for many of them tragically end at sea.

There is also a criminal dimension to the problem with some unscrupulous Nigerians now recruiting from their villages and towns young girls with the promise of securing for them good jobs abroad only to turn them to prostitutes. There are chilling statistics which suggest that human trafficking has become one of the biggest money making businesses after drug trafficking. Today, our country is regarded not only as a transit route for this illegal trade but also a source as well as a destination with children and young adults, especially of the womenfolk, now becoming merchandise for what has become a cross-border crime.

The Deputy Head of European Union (EU) Delegation in Nigeria, Mr. Richard Young, has repeatedly expressed concerns over the increasing number of illegal migrants from Nigeria to Europe. Yet, many of those people are merely compounding their miseries because what await them on the other shores are no longer opportunities but detention, most often under subhuman conditions. In urging Nigeria to grow its economy and tackle the challenge of poverty, Young also warned that if the immigration issue was not addressed, it might have long term impact on the EU-Nigerian relations.

The biggest challenge is a mind-set issue as there are many young men and women who believe they can only make it abroad and will do anything to travel outside the shores of the country. So, apart from remaking the socio-economic structures of our country, that is also an issue the authorities must deal with. But the first task is to provide opportunities at home for our teeming population of young people.