Nigerian migrants struggle to reintegrate after Libya ordeal

More than 14,000 young Nigerians have returned to their home country through the United Nations Voluntary Return programme, after living in hell in Libya. (AFP)
Updated 17 September 2019

Nigerian migrants struggle to reintegrate after Libya ordeal

  • In Libya, prospects of crossing the Mediterranean vanished, after a tightening of European Union immigration policies
  • Many suffer long-term mental and physical health problems as well as social stigma on returning to Nigeria

BENIN CITY: Emerging from her ordeal, Gloria considers herself “privileged.” Last year, the 26-year-old left Nigeria with four other women, dreaming of a better life in Europe.
On a tortuous journey, three of the five friends died before reaching Libya, where the two survivors were stranded for almost a year. Now only Gloria is back home in Nigeria.
She dreamed of being a fashion designer but now sews synthetic tracksuits in a shabby workshop in Benin City, southern Nigeria, for 15,000 naira a month ($41.50, 38 euros).
“After transport, the money is almost finished,” she says.
Still, she adds quickly, she “thanks God for having a job.”
Her employment is part of a training program, set up by southern Edo State, the departure point for most Nigerian migrants.
Gloria is one of nearly 14,000 young Nigerians to have returned from Libya since 2017 under a United Nations voluntary repatriation program.
She and the other returnees quoted in this story asked not to be identified by their real names.
She is “not asking for too much,” just a roof over her head and to be able to eat, Gloria tells AFP.
But she blames herself for daring to dream that life could be better elsewhere and believing the smugglers’ promises that they would reach Europe within two weeks.
In Libya, prospects of crossing the Mediterranean vanished, after a tightening of European Union immigration policies.
Many spend months, even years stranded in Libya, sold as slaves by their smugglers.
But once back home in Nigeria, life is even more difficult than before: saddled with debt, struggling to find work, broken by their treatment at the hands of the traffickers and by their failed dreams.
Human Rights Watch highlighted the “continuing anguish” that returnees face.
Many suffer long-term mental and physical health problems as well as social stigma on returning to Nigeria, the report released last month said.
Government-run centers tasked with looking after them are poorly funded and “unable to meet survivors’ multiple needs for long-term comprehensive assistance,” it added.
Edo State has set up a support program which is rare in Nigeria.
The state hosts some 4,800 of the nearly 14,000 returnees — most aged 17 to 35 and with no diploma or formal qualifications.
Under the scheme, they can travel for free to Benin City, Edo’s capital, stay two nights in a hotel, receive an hour of psychological support and an about 1,000-euro allowance.
It barely moves the needle for those starting again but is enough to stoke envy in a country where state aid is scarce and 83 million people live in extreme poverty.
Showing potential students around, Ukinebo Dare, of the Edo Innovates vocational training program, says many youngsters grumble that returnees get “preferential treatment.”
In modern classrooms in Benin City, a few hundred students learn to “code,” do photography, start a small business and learn marketing in courses open to all.
“Classes are both for the youth and returnees, (be)cause we don’t want the stigma to affect them,” Dare said.
“It’s a priority for us to give youth, who are potential migrants, opportunities in jobs they can be interested in.”
According to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, 55 percent of the under-35s were unemployed at the end of last year.
Tike had a low paying job before leaving Nigeria in February 2017 but since returning from Libya says his life is “more, more, more harder than before.”
Although he returned “physically” in December 2017 he says his “mindset was fully corrupted.”
“I got paranoid. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t sleep, always looking out if there is any danger,” he said, at the tiny flat he shares with his girlfriend, also back from Libya, and their four-month-old daughter.
A few months after returning, and with no psychological support, Tike decided to train to be a butcher.
But, more than a year since he registered for help with reintegration programs, including one run by the International Organization for Migration, he has not found a job and has no money to start his own business.
“We, the youth, we have no job. What we have is cultism (occult gangs),” Tike says.
“People see it as a way of getting money, an excuse for getting into crime.”
Since last year, when Nigeria was still in its longest economic recession in decades, crime has increased in the state of Edo, according to official data.
“Returnees are seen as people who are coming to cause problems in the community,” laments Lilian Garuba, of the Special Force against Illegal Migration.
“They see them as failure, and not for what they are: victims.”
Peter, 24, was arrested a few days after his return.
His mother had borrowed money from a neighborhood lender to raise the 1,000 euros needed to pay his smuggler.
“As soon as he heard I was back, he came to see her. She couldn’t pay (the debt), so I was arrested by the police,” he told AFP, still shaking.
Financially crippled, his mother had to borrow more money from another lender to pay off her debts.
Peter’s last trip was already his second attempt.
“When I first came back from Libya, I thought I was going to try another country. I tried, but in Morocco it was even worse and thank God I was able to return to Nigeria,” he said, three weeks after getting back.
“Now I have nothing, nothing,” he said, his voice breaking.
“All I think about is ‘kill yourself’, but what would I gain from it? I can’t do that to my mother.”


Five dead from strong quake in southern Philippines

Updated 50 min 6 sec ago

Five dead from strong quake in southern Philippines

  • More than 200 aftershocks from the 6.3 magnitude tremor have also been recorded
  • Another 5.3 magnitude quake rocked Davao Oriental around 4:53 a.m. on Thursday  

MANILA: Five people were reported killed and dozens injured after a strong 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck southern Philippines Wednesday evening, sending people scurrying out of their residences, buildings and shopping malls.

Information released by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) showed the shallow quake of tectonic origin occurred 7:37 p.m. 22 km southeast of Tulunan town in North Cotabato.

It was felt at intensity 7, described as destructive under the Phivolcs Earthquake Intensity Scale (PEIS), in Kidapawan City, and in Tulunan and M’Lang towns, North Cotabato.

Intensity 6 was reported in Digos City, Davao Del Sur; Sto. Niño, South Cotabato; and Tacurong City.

President Duterte’s home city of Davao experienced intensity 5, as well as, in Alabel and Malungon, Sarangani; Lake Sebu, Palomok, Tampakan and Tupi in South Cotabato; Koronadal City; Roxas and Pikit in North Cotabato; General Santos (GenSan) City; and Kalamansig, Lebak and Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat.

Intensity 4 was felt in Sarangani, Agusan Del Sur, Bukidnon, Compostela Valley, Cotabato City, and Maguindanao; intensity 3 in Iligan City and Dipolog City; intensity 2 in Butuan City and Zamboanga City; and intensity 1 in Hinatuan, Surigao Del Sur.

Reports showed the fatalities, three of them children, were from Datu Paglas in Maguindanao, M’lang in Cotabato, and Magsaysay town in Davao del Sur.

The victim from Datu Paglas was a young girl who died due to injuries sustained when the wall of their house collapsed and hit her. In M’lang town, Cotabato, a man succumbed to heart attack, while a two-year-old boy, who was then sleeping, was killed after a block of cement from a fallen wall hit him.

At a far-flung village also in Magsaysay town, a mother and her nine-month old son were killed after an earthquake-induced landslide buried their house.

The mother was reported to be still cuddling her infant when their bodies were retrieved. Rescuers managed to save the father and the couple’s two other children.

While authorities continue to assess structural damage caused by the earthquake, reports placed the number of injured at around 60, many of them hit by falling objects and debris.

Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista said over the radio it felt like a steamroller was passing by when the quake struck. He described the shake as very strong.

Evangelista said he has ordered the forced evacuation of residents at a village situated at the foot of Mount Apo following reports of landslides and rockslides.

Patients in hospitals in some of the affected areas were also evacuated, while some residents, still shocked and traumatized by the strong quake, have chosen to temporarily stay by the roadside outside their homes.

Schools have been shut in the damaged areas, which are being seen unsafe for use. Many houses and government buildings were also severely damaged by the strong quake.

In General Santos City, firefighters continue to battle the fire that hit the Gaisano Mall after the earthquake struck. 70 to 80 percent of the mall have already been gutted by the fire, according to the Bureau of Fire Protections.

Some 2,000 employees of the Gaisano mall now fear losing their jobs due to the blaze, according to reports.

Meanwhile, another earthquake with 5.3 magnitude rocked Davao Oriental around 4:53 a.m. Thursday. No damages or casualties have been reported so far, but aftershocks are expected.

More than 200 aftershocks from the 6.3 magnitude tremor have also been recorded.

In the wake of the strong earthquake, the country’s chief state seismologist Renato Solidum said this should serve as a “wake up call” to local government units that do not take earthquake drills seriously.

These drills, he said, are intended to orient local government what to do when a big earthquake occurs.

Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, as it is located along a typhoon belt and the Pacific “Ring of Fire.”