After escaping from the pit of hell in Libya, where they were subjected to 21st-century slavery, Joseph Ushigiale who just travelled to Oristano, Italy where some of the migrants are camped, narrates how it is gradually dawning on them that indeed the pastures in Europe are no longer greener
About 98 per cent of immigrants who successfully make it to Libya are having a hard time settling down in Italy. The reason is quite simple: they are unwanted immigrants and a nuisance to their host country. Today, even those who finally secure resident permits are finding out rather at the 11th hour that Europe, after all, is not a bed of roses as they initially dreamt. The stark reality is that majority of them are on the streets without jobs, homeless and begging for survival.
Most immigrants believe that once they set foot on Italy, Italian authorities would graciously grant them resident permits to stay in their country. Regrettably, the reverse is the case. Today, immigrants rescued by sea are profiled and sent to camps which are spread across different Italian cities including Oristano.
Once an immigrant is profiled and sent to a designated camp, and because none of them arrived Italy with passports, they decide to apply for asylum. The procedure in Italy is that immigrants through an Italian lawyer assigned to them have to apply to the court for hearing of your application for asylum.
This is usually the beginning of their ordeals because sometimes, it takes more a year and sometimes two years before your matter comes up for hearing. There are only in very few instances like health, pregnancy and other reasons, that hearings are expedited within six months.
Once a date is secured, you appear before an Italian judge alongside your Italian lawyer. At this point, you are yet to learn the language and neither can speak nor understand except through an interpreter. If the judge turns down your application, you have the right to appeal the ruling and in the event that in your second appearance, the appeal fails, from thereon you are on your own.
You will be given a quit notice at the camp where you reside after 30 days of grace to find alternative accommodation for yourself. Meanwhile, all the time that you are awaiting a date for your hearing, you are not allowed to work and cannot stay or sleep out of the camp. If you flout the rules, you are given a quit notice.
Thus, African immigrants who roam the streets of Italy today are victims of these self-inflicted sufferings because most of them have no justifiable reasons to be there. Apart from the ladies, most young men undertaking this perilous journey are graduates, established shop owners or business owners and or workers in banks and FMCG companies.
Yet, they jettison a bird at hand choosing to pursue an uncertain future fraught with danger and sometimes death. Those who are alive to tell their stories are full of lamentations and regrets vowing never to gamble with their lives in this manner in future.
It has also emerged that the immigrant business has become another multi-billion Euro business across Italy at the expense of the immigrants. It was learnt that following the ‘exodus’ of immigrants from Africa to Italy, the European Union (EU) decided to weigh in by providing Italy with funds to contain the influx of these illegal immigrants.
THISDAY investigation reveals that each illegal immigrant is allocated 250 Euro per day and domiciled with caterers who run bread and breakfast facilities to cater for the number of illegal immigrants in their care. Out of the 3,500 Euro paid the caterer every two weeks, the illegal immigrant receives a paltry 37.5 Euro for his or her upkeep or 75 Euro per month. From the money, he or she has to cater for your toiletries, buy train or bus tickets to move around looking for jobs.
From the judiciary angle, the lawyers are paid hefty sums by the government to represent the illegal immigrants in their asylum applications as required by Italian law. But the delay in allocating early hearing dates to the asylum applicants’ benefits the lawyers and judges who make more money as long as the cases linger in court.
Although statistics on the number of Africans who have, out of ignorance, fallen victims to human traffickers are unknown, according to 2016 Global Slavery Index Report, there are 875, 500 Nigerians who are victims of modern slavery and Nigeria is among the countries that have the highest number of human trafficking victims.
On a global basis, an estimated 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery. Of these, 16 million (64 per cent) were exploited for labour, 4.8 million (19 per cent) were sexually exploited, and 4.1 million (17 per cent) were exploited in state-imposed forced labour.
The allure is always the money and the quest to get rich quickly through illegal means remains the main motivation. While identifying human trafficking as a multibillion-dollar trade, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that human trafficking generates $150.2 billion in illegal profits each year. More than one-third of these profits are from forced labour exploitation and the remaining two-thirds from sexual exploitation.
In addition, the United Nations on Drug and Crime identified exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs as some of the ways this multi-billion dollar trade thrives.
There are different approaches devised by traffickers to manipulate and seduce their victims whom they eventually recruit. Mostly taking advantage of their gullibility, naivety and desperation, these victims who are vulnerable young girls and boys are given a rosy outlook to their destined countries providing fake pictures to reinforce the stories and offering them a good life abroad and a gateway out of poverty for their parents and family members.
There are different recruitment patterns for male and female. For the female, once you contact an agent and a deal is consummated, the ‘Madam’ in Italy bears the cost of your movement from Benin to Italy because you are already under oath to work and repay her a specific sum. For the male, he needs to identify a reliable trafficker in either Libya with direct access to Italy. A fee of N350,000 is charged and to be paid into a designated account in Nigeria in full. Once the full payment is made, a date is given for the movement with others to Italy through the desert. The person has to get his additional pocket money for his upkeep throughout the duration of the trip.
A recent report published by The Victims and Traffickers put together by the Polaris project explained that traffickers lure and ensnare people into forced labour and sex trafficking by manipulating and exploiting their vulnerabilities. Human traffickers recruit, transport, harbour, obtain, and exploit victims – often using force, threats, lies, or other psychological coercion.
Providing a greater insight into how the traffickers operate, a non-profit outfit – Devatop Centre for Africa Development with special focus on combating human trafficking explained that “an important characteristic of the Nigerian sex trafficking system is the use by the traffickers of threats of voodoo curses to control Nigerian victims and force them into situations of prostitution.
“During the ritual, in which body parts such as fingernails, blood and/or pubic hairs are recollected, the woman is made to swear an oath to repay her debt, never to report her situation to the police or reveal the identities of her traffickers. Fear of breaking the pact is so strong that it creates a powerful hold over the victims and impedes them to seek help. According to the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons about 90 per cent of girls that are being trafficked to Europe are taken to shrines to take ‘oaths of secrecy’.
Victims narrate ordeals
Corroborating the story told above, THISDAY encountered two victims in Oristano who were lucky to survive to narrate their individual heart-rending near death gripping stories.
Ese (not real name) pregnant and due for delivery presently is a 25-year-old Edo State female. She told THISDAY that “because of suffering at home and nobody to take care of me, I told my girlfriend whose mother was an agent that I am interested in going to Italy. She connected me to her mother who then connected me to someone taking people abroad.
“She said it would take two weeks to ferry me abroad. I was happy. They called the Italian Madam and she charged me fifty thousand Euro and I offered her twenty and she said no. We finally agreed on twenty-five thousand Euro.
“This woman who connected me whom I got to know through her daughter who was my friend then took me to a native doctor. The native doctor administered an oath and said if I call the police for my Madam or refuse to pay her, I will die. The native doctor said my payment to him would be a thousand Euro, 10 pieces of Hollandis wrappers and two sets of gold. The connecting lady charged me 500k and five Hollandis wrappers. All these negotiations were without my parents’ consent.”
When asked if she was told what sort of job she was going for, she answered in the affirmative acknowledging that she had no other choice and her mind was already made up to get out of the country no matter what it took her.
“I was told that once I get here I will live with the Madam in Italy and hustle by the roadside at night time (prostitution). So I already knew that I was coming to prostitute in Italy. After swearing at the native doctor’s place, the Italian Madam paid her agent in Nigeria to cross us through Libya. We were about 16 girls that left Benin August 3, 2016, to begin our journey to Kano with the agent.
“We got to Kano same day, slept and set out from Kano through a route leading to Agadez on a pickup truck. We arrived Agadez after three days about 40 of us. We spent three weeks waiting for a connecting vehicle to Libya. While there, our agent said we had to wait for transport to Libya. Finally, a small vehicle was arranged and we were divided into five persons per vehicle and covered with jute bags and pots and warned to remain in our position during police checks.
“There were uncountable police checkpoints along the way to Libya and if you were caught, you would be returned to your country. We succeeded in evading them until we got to Libya the following day and when we did a head count, out of the 40 that left Kano, only 20 could be accounted for, the rest we were told were kidnapped for ransoms by the Arab drivers who will, in turn, sell them to the connection Madam in Libya.”
She told THISDAY that what they encountered along the route to Libya was a child’s play when compared to what awaited them in Libya. According to her, their arrival coincided with the outbreak of full hostilities between Libyan and rebel forces and the country was in shambles.
“It was in Libya that my ordeal began. I spent eight months in Libya in the thick of the war and we were running from one ghetto to another and the Libyans were chasing us to go back to our countries. Whenever I called my Madam in Italy, she would ask that I shouldn’t call her that the Italian authorities are monitoring her line and that I should sort myself out if I survive and get to Italy, all well and good if not, it’s rather unfortunate.
“I now turned to an old boyfriend who had already made it to Italy; he was the one who now started sending me money through Nigeria to Libya in an unconventional route. When the time finally came for me to move to Italy after my madam had made the necessary arrangements, the Arabs took us to the bank of the Mediterranean Sea and a tarpaulin boat was brought out, inflated and 142 of us were loaded into the inflated boat in addition to plastic containers holding 500 litres of fuel.”
She said before the boat with its human cargo departed Libya around 2 a.m, “the Arab told us that on this trip we should not spit into the sea, no dropping of blood and that when we arrived Italy and were asked how the boat got there we should feign ignorance. One of us was taught how to handle the boat and another was given a compass to sit behind the boatman and give him direction to Italy.
“Along the way, our boat stopped in the middle of the sea and started leaking from overweight. We were given numbers of Italian rescue ships and out of fear we called the Italian rescue team for assistance. We were told to wait. But as minutes turned to hours and our boat was fast sinking and we could not bailout water anymore and almost lost hope when suddenly we sighted a German rescue team and raised the alarm for help. The team threw us a lifeline and anchored us with directives to wait for the Italian rescue team to arrive.
“Unknown to us, the boat that left before us had capsized and over 50 persons had drowned. The delay to come to our rescue quickly was occasioned by the team rescuing the first boat passengers. When rescue came the next day around 5 p.m, we had already lost hope. We were finally rescued, given life jackets, food, clothes and medication and moved in smaller boats to Lampedusa and next day to Cagliari by cruise ship and here we are today in Oristano,” she stated.
Also narrating his ordeal on the trip to Italy Oredo, not a real name, is from Ishan Southeast in Edo State. A professional welder who plied his trade in Lagos having invested about 15 years including those as an apprentice learning the trade until graduation.
He told THISDAY that “I was trying to build a foundation and future for my family. It was topsy-turvy, work was not constant, sometimes two months no work. One day, we went to a site to work in Abeokuta and were building tanker and container body and there was an accident on site. My assistant was seriously injured and he eventually died. His family now accused me of using him for money rituals because I didn’t inform them about our movement and developments thereafter.
“I decided to leave the country with my little savings of N350,000 which I paid to the agent that will cross me to Italy through Libya because the boy’s parents hung their child’s death upon me. But little did I know that the road we were travelling through was strewn with danger and slow death. We left in a full bus from Lagos to Kano. From Kano, we joined another driver in a Hilux truck heading to Niger and we arrived in Niger the following day. The following day, 35 of us left for Agadez (I spent a month in Agadez) with another driver on a Hilux and slept in the desert and were threatened by hyena, wolves and wild animals but our sheer numbers drove them away.
“The next day, we landed Duruku which is along the road, slept for a night and headed straight for the desert aiming to reach Libya quickly. From this point, we drove in the desert for several weeks and days until we met an army barracks where we were given little quantity of water to drink. After which we headed right into Libya arriving Monsul where we stayed for three weeks. As we were about to leave Monsul, by this time I had expended all the pocket money with which I began the trip from Nigeria with.
“I had to hustle for money to pay to the Nigerian agent based in Monsul called Moses. He receives N350,000 from Nigerians and then hands them over to Aminu an Arab, after paying them between N80,000 to N100,000 for crossing each person thereby making a profit of over N200,000. He was the person who established camps in Monsul and Brak all holding Nigerians for onward movement to Italy. I had to call my people to send me pocket money for my upkeep on my way to Sabah, Brak and finally to the seaside.
“There are different camps with defined routes. If you go to White House camp, the route will not cross Monsul; but Subrata which is the final camp at the seaside controlled by Aminu and Undertaker determines your fate. But the movement from Monsul to the Seaside camp is the most trying moment for all the immigrants crossing to Italy. Inside Libya with the war raging, the movement is highly curtailed, therefore, immigrants are pack like a sardine, any movement that would amount to you giving them away will spell doom for the individual. Sometimes we are packed into a container and locked up without air for transportation to the seaside. One of us was hit by a stray bullet as we were just hanging around the ghetto camp.
“We heard they were planning to bust the camp and Libya was the most dangerous place to be at that time because guns were everywhere in the hands of all manner of people including kids and bullets were measured and sold in cups for peanuts. Human life meant nothing to the Arabs and they killed foreigners especially Nigerians with relish.
“At the seaside, we were there for two months packed like a sardine into a room the size of a cupboard. No air, no food and no toilet. Many people died and once you die, you are dumped or thrown away like thrash. Yet, the agents would still call the deceased parents in Nigeria to send money, when a parent asks to speak with his child, they would say the person can’t be reached because he has no phone.
“On D-Day, over 155 of us piled into the Lapalapa (the name for an inflatable boat) and were ushered on to the sea to Italy. The boat driver was Senegalese and the compass reader was Gambian, the boat travelled all through the night until the next day when we met the German rescue team which asked where we were coming from; but because we were told not to tell them, we kept quiet. Our silence infuriated the team and instead of rescuing us, we were abandoned and left to our fate. At dawn, we now saw Italian rescue teams that begin rescuing us and as people started rushing to be rescued first, the boat capsized and some people died,” he explained.
Long road to residency
Giving an insight into what they are passing through now in their host country, Ese said on arrival in Italy, the only available options for them are to seek social persecution, war, political and religion asylum. An immigrant applies to a Commission handled by either three chief Judge/Magistrate from the Ministry of Justice and a prosecutor from the Immigration Police of Italian Ministry of Interior. After eight months, a date is given for hearing at the first commission. It is this first commission that an immigrant’s fate is sealed.
She also pointed out that at the first commission, a lawyer who is paid by the state is assigned to the immigrant to defend the application for asylum. The current trend shows that over 98 per cent of these applications fail at the first commission for lack of evidence or insufficient facts. When the first appeal fails, an immigrant remains in the camp waiting for a new date to appear at the second commission. This could take about two years to happen.
Meanwhile, she said the immigrant is given a renewable permisso d’ soggiorno (Permit to Stay) for three months; during this time, you can’t work and are paid 75 Euro (N11,000) monthly for upkeep rather than the 200 Euro daily allowance that agents bandy around that they would be entitled to once they set their feet in Italy. From the N11,000 stipend, the immigrant buys a bus/train ticket from his camp that is in the outskirt of town to go to town, buys toiletries at the end of the day you are left without money. Yet, the camp rules are very strict, you can’t sleep out of camp else you lose every right in the camp and will be thrown out.
The camps which are bread and breakfast facilities are catered for by the government and THISDAY investigations reveal that government pays people who run the camps two hundred and fifty Euro for each immigrant daily from where 2.5 Euro is given per day to the immigrant. Yet, the main course meals are pasta, pane (bread) and potatoes and they live under very harsh and unbearable conditions.
In the event that an immigrant finally gets a second commission appointment, the Judge/Magistrate will consider your appeal and review your case for asylum. If you are able to convince the Judge beyond all reasonable doubt, the immigrant will be granted a permanent stay of two or three years to stabilise. The permit will guarantee access to a job, free movement from city to city.
But in the event that the appeal fails, the Prefettura (Administrator) gives the immigrant a 30-day ultimatum to leave the camp and seek alternative abode. The development where over 98 per cent immigrants suffer failure is the reason why the cities are strewn with homeless immigrants who are now a menace and have turned to hawking and begging in the streets, shops and other places.
Oredo, on the other hand, told THISDAY that since his arrival in Italy, “I have been here for a year and six months and have just gotten my first date for the commission; the government has been providing us with welfare pending when we get our papers.
Oba ‘Finish Work’
Oredo told THISDAY that the pronouncement by the Oba of Benin has certainly put the final nail in the human trafficking especially in Benin. He said today, many girls have been freed by that singular pronouncement and the girls can now breathe some fresh air of freedom.
“The Oba has finished the work with his recent intervention. Today, all those girls who were tied to the apron strings of Madams in Europe have gotten their freedom and the allure in the trade is gone. No one will forever pay anyone to bring him or her to Europe for prostitution. The yoke has finally been broken and these traffickers in humans have been cursed and are suffering the repercussions now,” he enthused.
Corroborating Oredo’s position, Ese saluted the efforts of the Oba and Edo State Government, pointing out that if she had known the journey would be hazardous she would not have taken the risk. She appealed to the Italian government to kindly give every migrant papers as compensation for the sufferings. She pointed out that today, many migrants are on the street, homeless, without work and subjected to the elements because of lack of papers.
Advise to youths, Government back home
In his advice to the youths still angling to come to Europe, Oredo said “my advice is that I can’t advise anyone I know to go this way. If they want to come to Europe, they should go through the right channel rather than risking their lives in the desert. The government should also provide water, electricity, good roads and employment opportunities to keep its youths at home. I lost my dad at age three and I’ve known struggle all my life so it’s because our economy is bad that is why we are here.
“In this our journey, many graduates were among us and most of them perished along the way and it’s a huge waste to the families and country. From my experience in Italy now, I can’t advise any person not even my enemy to go to Europe for greener pastures because even here is not a bed of roses because they also have their own problems.”
Ese said having gotten to Italy, she has discovered that there is no work in Italy as people are told back in Nigeria adding that Italy is no longer a bed of roses. She said the racketeering would be difficult to eliminate because there are no alternatives stressing that government in Nigeria should create opportunities to keep Nigerians back home and prevent them from risking their lives in the desert seeking elusive greener pasture
She pointed out that “In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi provided welfare for his people and Libya was flourishing and very stable. In our own country, there is no social security scheme for the unemployed so it is out of frustration that we are flocking to Europe for greener pasture.
“My advice to government is to provide the Libyan returnees with jobs or let them acquire skills so they can settle down if not, the experiences of these returnees have so hardened them that if they are idle, they have no alternative than to engaged in criminal activities like kidnapping, armed robbery and violent crimes.”
He is called Moses of Africa because of his trafficking ring which spreads right across the continent. He has the strongest and surest connection but his boys are all members of different confraternities and have utilised the Libyan platform to ply their nefarious trades.
They also saluted the efforts of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for offering to return those willing to return from Libya. According to Abrham Tamrat, IOM’s Programme Manager the IOM in 2018 has returned more than 1,102 Nigerian immigrants from Libya to Nigeria, adding that since the launch of the project in the country on May 20, 2017, more than 7,600 Nigerian migrants were returned home.
Speaking about the humanitarian voluntary return and reintegration programme of IOM, Enira Krdzalic the IOM Chief of Mission in Nigeria said, “We cannot put an end to migration, but we can work together to make sure that the migration process is safer and better managed so that migration becomes a genuine, informed choice rather than a desperate leap into the unknown.”