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.”


Japan rescuers seek survivors after Typhoon Hagibis kills 35

A woman reacts after she was rescued from a flooded area in the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis, which caused severe floods at the Chikuma River in Nagano Prefecture, Japan, October 14, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 18 min 20 sec ago

Japan rescuers seek survivors after Typhoon Hagibis kills 35

  • Two Rugby World Cup matches were cancelled because of the storm
  • The typhoon will have a maximum gust of 216km per hour

TOKYO: Tens of thousands of rescue workers were searching Monday for survivors of powerful Typhoon Hagibis, two days after the storm slammed into Japan, killing at least 35 people.
Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, but brought hours of heavy rains even before it arrived, causing landslides and filling rivers until they burst their banks.
The destruction forced the Rugby World Cup being hosted by Japan to cancel several games, but the “Brave Blossoms,” as the national team is known, lifted spirits with a stunning 28-21 victory over Scotland on Sunday that put them into the quarter-finals of the tournament for the first time.
More than 110,000 rescuers, including 31,000 troops, worked through the night and into Monday, a national holiday, searching for people trapped by the disaster.
Local media said at least 35 people had been killed, with the Kyodo news agency reporting nearly 20 people were missing. Government figures from Sunday night were lower, though updates were expected on Monday.
While Hagibis, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Tokyo area in decades, packed wind gusts of up to 216 kilometers per hours (134 miles per hour), it was the heavy rains that caused most damage, with 21 rivers bursting their banks.
In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighborhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.
Military and fire department helicopters winched survivors from roofs and balconies in several locations, but in Fukushima one operation went tragically awry when a woman died after falling while being rescued.

Elsewhere, rescuers used boats during an hours-long operation to retrieve hundreds of people trapped in a retirement home in Kawagoe, northwest of Tokyo, when floodwaters inundated the building.
One elderly woman wearing an orange life vest was carried from a boat on the back of a rescuer. Others were hoisted into wheelchairs and pushed along a muddy shore after arriving by boat.
Rescue efforts were continuing on Monday morning, with local television showing soldiers rowing a rubber rescue dingy through floodwaters in Fukushima, while elsewhere workers removed dirt with a digger.
The death toll mounted throughout the day Sunday as bodies were recovered from flooded homes and cars, buildings caught in landslides, and swollen rivers.
The dead included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least five Chinese crew members aboard a boat that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night.
“Twelve crew were on board. Five Chinese have been found dead,” a coast guard official told AFP.
He said four other crew, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, had been rescued and search operations resumed at daybreak for the remaining three members.
“We plan to dispatch 11 boats, two helicopters and a dozen divers to the site. We are trying our best,” he added.

On Monday morning, some 57,500 households remained without power, with 120,000 experiencing water outages.
The disaster left tens of thousands of people in shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.
“Everything from my house was washed away before my eyes, I wasn’t sure if it was a dream or real,” a woman in Nagoya told national broadcaster NHK.
“I feel lucky I’m still alive.”
The storm brought travel chaos over the holiday weekend, grounding flights and halting commuter and bullet train services.
By Monday, most subway trains had resumed service, along with many bullet train lines, and flights had also restarted.
The storm also brought havoc to the sporting world, forcing the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and the cancelation of three Rugby World Cup matches.
But a crucial decider pitting Japan against Scotland went ahead, with the hosts dedicating their win to the victims of the disaster.
“To everyone that’s suffering from the typhoon, this game was for you guys,” said Japan captain Michael Leitch.