Government must address the socio-economic issues that give rise to the crisis

No fewer than 150 stranded Nigerian migrants were last week brought home under the auspices of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in collaboration with Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) and the federal government. At a period when there is an increasing number of fatal shipwrecks on the Mediterranean Sea, relevant authorities in Nigeria should be concerned about this recurring tragedy. As we continue to reiterate on this page, the current migration crisis is a cruel twist of the logic of the transatlantic slave trade. Under the ancient regime, 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 modern ‘trade’ that started about three decades ago, Africans are willingly subjecting and submitting themselves as fodder and merchandise for enslavement across the Mediterranean just to reach countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Driven mostly by economic desperation, thousands of able-bodied young men and women are, almost daily, embarking on suicide missions in the bid to migrate towards the northern hemisphere in search of opportunities that are no longer readily available even in those societies. While only a small fraction eventually gets to their destinations where they face disappointments and frustrations, majority of them usually perish on the way. Indeed, the stories being told by Nigerians who are increasingly being deported after their failed efforts to cross to Europe or other parts of the world are harrowing. While many of them have become destitute, some nurse terminal diseases like cancer without any support. For these unfortunate Nigerians whose quest for a better life ended in disappointments, the future seems bleak. Meanwhile, many who make it to Europe, or the Middle East are usually forced into prostitution (especially the women), used as mercenaries, deployed as household servants, factory workers, drug couriers and even as organ donors.

However, we must also 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. For years, factories have been closing down and selling their warehouses to religious organisations while several businesses have had to shut down 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 either in the Sahara Desert or on the Mediterranean Sea.

There is also a criminal dimension to the problem that is also local. Some unscrupulous Nigerians now recruit young girls from rural communities with the promise of securing for them good jobs abroad only to turn them to prostitutes. Chilling statistics 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.

One of the challenges is that of mind-set 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. But that is not correct. Irregular migrants are merely compounding their miseries because what await them on the other shores are no longer opportunities but detention, most often under subhuman conditions. Therefore, apart from addressing the socio-economic issues of our country, government must also embark on a campaign to disabuse the minds of our teeming population of young people. The grass is not always greener on the other side.

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