Monday, July 4, 2022 6:00 am
By Ademola Adegbamigbe
Mrs. Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, Commissioner, Ministry of Regional Integration and Diaspora Relations, Ondo State, has advised political office holders at all levels to work hard and rule well. This is so that young Nigerians would not emigrate to Europe through the perilous routes of the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean sea.
Her concern came through her recollections from migrants with whom she had spoken. They told her that the migrant road network “ends at Agadez; the rest is an ocean of endless dunes!”
The trip has become more perilous than before. A man whose brother-in-law travelled to Italy and was able to ferry six other siblings over told TheNEWS that migrants would find their way from Kano through Agadez in the Niger Republic and the dunes of the Sahara (praying not to fall victims to bandits), to Libya. They would spend about three months in the coastal areas, waiting for information about when vessels of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement would be patrolling the sea. Once they had the information, they would set sail on inflatable dinghies or big boats to make the over six-hour trip on the sea. “Some of the boats with 200 passenger capacity would carry 500,” he explained. If they were lucky, according to him, they would run into the Red Cross’ frigates which would carry them to their camps where they would be well taken care of. “It is there that they are expected to prove why they should be given asylum in Europe,” he added.
Unfortunately, it is no longer a smooth matter. The recent killings of African migrants in Morocco, a case that attracted global condemnation, has put this in bold relief. In November 2021, some Nigerians were among African and Asian migrants that died at the Libyan coastal city of Zawarain when they wanted to travel to Europe by boat via the Mediterranean sea. The same year, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) reported 3,077 people as dead or missing, a Reuters report stated.
“We are seeing the increases soar,” UNHCR’s Shabia Mantoo told a news briefing, describing it as “alarming.”
“We have been urging that there needs to be humanitarian and development action that needs to be strengthened to address these drivers that force people to move in the first place,” she added.
“This year’s figure is up from 1,544 recorded in 2020, with the report showing that for 2021, 1,924 people were reported dead or missing on the Central and Western Mediterranean routes, while another 1,153 perished on the North African maritime route to the Canary Islands.
“Most of the sea crossings took place in packed, unseaworthy, inflatable boats, many of which capsized or were deflated leading to the loss of life,” Mantoo said.
“Many boats drifted off course or otherwise went missing without a trace in these waters,” she added. The UNHCR report cautioned that land routes were also “highly dangerous”.
“Even greater numbers may have died on journeys through the Sahara Desert and remote border areas, in detention centres, or while in the captivity of smugglers or traffickers,” the UN said.
“UNHCR is appealing for support to help provide meaningful alternatives to these dangerous journeys and prevent people from becoming victims of traffickers,” Mantoo said.
For these reasons, Ademola-Olateju advised: “And to us in leadership, we must commit to working harder, to stop feeding our young men and women to the Sahara and the Mediterranean. We must think anew, plan anew and look for creative ways to solve our economic problems. We can’t continue to ignore this youth bulge and pretend we are okay. We are not okay! We must embrace selfless leadership, embrace new thinking that can create jobs and give opportunities and hope to young men and women in this land. May God help us think beyond ourselves and work for the present and the future.”
She warned those who are still nursing the ambition of venturing through the routes: “I will like to state it here unequivocally, it is a perilous journey for which many perish for a chance at freedom and dignity. We all know the harsh realities in Nigeria. We know economic opportunities and social mobility for young people have become a mirage. Personally, I know, understand, appreciate and share the feeling of not having a future to look up to. I get the despondency but please, if you get to read this, don’t journey through the desert. Don’t look to sail the Mediterranean in a rickety boat. Travelling through the Sahara desert as economic migrants is a perilous and unworthy risk. The Sahara is unforgiving. It has retained its state of nature, where might is king. The journey will drag you through several layers of hell with an AK-47 assault rifle constantly in your face.”
Below is her piece:
From Libya to Europe: Crossing The Mediterranean
By Bamidele Ademola-Olateju
The journey from Nigeria to Tripoli in Libya is called the central route. People have different reasons for fleeing their countries. Some people think they’ll find a better life in Europe, others just want to get away from a war zone. The curious thing for all who have chosen to dare the Sahara is that they all felt they have no other option. For Nigerians who embark on the journey to Libya, it is mainly for economic reasons. Libya serves as a portal to the Mediterranean and the promise of a haven in Europe. For those who made it into Europe, those who died in the desert, those who drowned in the Mediterranean, those sold into slavery and those who braved it or found their way home, Libya is purgatory. It is the deadliest undertaking of a lifetime.
The North African migrant route is a slave market tormenting hundreds of young Africans bound for Europe, via Libya. The journey starts in Kano through Agadez in the Niger Republic, a distance of about 700 kilometres. Right from the Nigerian end of the border, border officials exploit them at checkpoints. In Niger, the Nigerien gendarmes take over. That is nothing, as Nigerians long accustomed to suffering do bear it. The real horror of the journey starts manifesting at Agadez. Recollections from migrants with whom I have spoken, the migrant road network ended at Agadez; the rest is an ocean of endless dunes!
The real suicidal desert trip to Libya is from Agadez and it is only on Mondays. Agadez is a slave market where humans are haggled for like merchandise. At this point, migrants begin to have a feel of what awaits them. Hundreds of young men and women from the ECOWAS sub-region are sorted into groups of 20-30 into double-cabin pick-up vans for the trip to Libya. Migrants are advised to hold on to a stick tied to a rope in the cabin, to stop them from falling off during the bumpy ride. The rotting bodies of those who fell asleep or died of exhaustion and were thrown off, litter the distance between Agadez and Qatroun.
Between Qatroun and Sebha in Southwestern Libya is the home of kidnappers. Several male migrants from a dozen countries including Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia are kidnapped, sold into slave labour for $200-$500, forced to join the militias or get killed. Migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder. Women are forced to marry bandits, terrorists or sold as sex slaves to owners of brothels. Many are raped repeatedly. Those who still have support to fall back on at home can buy their freedom if their families can wire funds between N500,000 to N1,000,000 in ransom to desert warlords or militia groups.
In 2021, 3,077 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. As of April 2022, 478 have died. These are the number of recovered bodies. Many were lost to the dunes of the desert and the depths of the Mediterranean Sea and never recovered. The costs of this journey of desperation in human and monetary terms to Africa are huge. Migrants set out without the faintest idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them in Libya. They have no idea of the vagaries of the unforgiving desert and the perils of crossing the Mediterranean in fishing boats overloaded with hundreds of other migrants. Along the journey, they become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value. Those who made it to the beaches of the Mediterranean in Libya pay $250-$400 for smugglers who ferry them in commercial fishing boats too old to sail and not worth the new engines in them or in flimsy polyurethane dinghies hardly suitable for crossing a river, much less a vast sea.
I was told some Captains have not even been to Italy before and some have not captained anything! Every day, I get emails and calls from people seeking advice on a variety of life’s struggles. This story, this account, is from the real-life experiences of two men and a woman who made the journey to Libya. One of the men made it to France, and the lady and the other guy made it to Italy. All three watched their co-travellers die! They are all nursing serious psychological wounds which I cannot reveal for reasons of privacy.
It is important to understand that the journey to Europe does not end when migrants get ashore. Many end up in Lampedusa, Italy. It is noteworthy that Italy is in a crisis of its own. With its citizens leaving to find work in northern Europe. You may think you can move and look for work in other European countries, but not so fast bro. The Dublin treaty says refugees must remain in the country where they landed. I had to address this again for three reasons. One, as Ondo State Commissioner for Regional Integration and Diaspora Relations, people ask me all the time to facilitate their “japa” process. Two, I handled the case of a lady who left her one-year-old to go to Libya yesterday. Three, every intending migrant tells me they will rather die trying, than stay to face a future that does not exist. I don’t know if I can stop them. All I can do is lay the perils of the journey bare. That said, with the help of NIDCOM, NAPTIP and IOM, the ladies enroute is from my constituency, she will be “caught” and sent back.
Finally, I will like to state it here unequivocally, it is a perilous journey for which many perish for a chance at freedom and dignity. We all know the harsh realities in Nigeria. We know economic opportunities and social mobility for young people have become a mirage. Personally, I know, understand, appreciate and share the feeling of not having a future to look up to. I get the despondency but please, if you get to read this, don’t journey through the desert. Don’t look to sail the Mediterranean in a rickety boat. Travelling through the Sahara desert as economic migrants is a perilous and unworthy risk. The Sahara is unforgiving. It has retained its state of nature, where might is king. The journey will drag you through several layers of hell with an AK-47 assault rifle constantly in your face.
And to us in leadership, we must commit to working harder, to stop feeding our young men and women to the Sahara and the Mediterranean. We must think anew, plan anew and look for creative ways to solve our economic problems. We can’t continue to ignore this youth bulge and pretend we are okay. We are not okay! We must embrace selfless leadership, embrace new thinking that can create jobs and give opportunities and hope to young men and women in this land. May God help us think beyond ourselves and work for the present and the future.
* Mrs. Bamidele Ademola Olateju, Commissioner Ministry of Regional Integration and Diaspora Relations, Ondo State