By Chioma Obinna and foluso ajibulu

 

 

For many years now, there have increasing cases of Nigerians' illegal migration to Europe via the desert as victims of human trafficking and sex slavery.

Despite the fact that only a few of the thousands that embark on the journey come back to tell their stories, the misinformation and the desperation for economic empowerment which Europe may represent have continued to lure more Nigerian youths and their counterparts from other African countries to continuously fall into the trap of a cartel said to be involved in the dastardly act.

Over 2,000 Nigerian youths who embark on this journey every month, according to reports, face near death situations while some die after being stranded in the desert and the women among them forced into prostitution.

Many who make it to Europe work in exploitative conditions while others take on menial jobs under despicable conditions just to survive.

Recently, one of the victims, Mr. Osita Osemene, a graduate of industrial mathematics and a native of Ubulukwu, Aniocha South, Local Government area of Delta State, narrated his ordeal to Sunday Vanguard as part of the activities to mark one year anniversary of his return and that of his organisation, Patriotic Citizen Initiative, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) focusing on discouraging youths from desert traveling.

It all started when Osita could not secure employment three years after graduation from the University of Benin and the car business he was introduced to collapsed in the hands of debtors. As a young man desperately dreaming to have a better life, he decided to go to Europe for greener pastures through any available means without any inclination of what such journey holds in store for him.

The facilitators made him to believe that, through the desert, he and his seven other colleagues would make the trip to Europe in five days. But the journey lasted 91 days and, apart from Osita, no one seems to know the whereabouts of the seven others till date.

According to Osita, the emotional trauma he experienced when he lost his car business to debtors and visa racketeers were nothing to compare with the desert journey.

Before he met his desert migration link-man, Osita paid N250, 000 to a visa racketeer for two years London visa but the visa was discovered to be fake by security agents at the Lagos airport.

Osita was still in the heat of the crisis when a friend told him that his brother in Spain could help him get a job in Europe since he was determined to leave the country. He was able to recover some of the money he paid to the visa agent and, with the help of his family members, he got a little above N200,000 for the journey.

Osita said from the Kano connecting house, they travelled all through the deserts of Zindern, Agadez, Douruku in Niger Republic and Tegery to Gatron and finally to Tehrinmata in Libya.

Throughout the journey, he said, scores of people were dropping dead from the ramshackle truck in which they were travelling in.

When they eventually ran out of water, they were forced to beg for urine from women they met and that of camel for survival.Nigerians stranded

According to him, many Nigerians are stranded in the desert because "once you get to Kano, you are stripped off all your money. I am alive today, because I refused to give them all my money when we got to Kano. Once they collect your money, you may end up stranded in the desert of Niger Republic without food or water. It was there I got the clue that it was pure business. There is no job anywhere."

Osita, who explained that the cartel has a very strong network along the desert routes, said that at each connecting border, there is a connecting house and inside it not less than 2,000 Nigerians had been left stranded. Asked to hazard a guess on the number of Nigerians in all the connecting houses, he said they may not be less than 50,000 excluding the numbers that die on daily basis.

Osita, claiming to have become inquisitive at one of the connecting houses at Agadez, a transit route, said many stranded Nigerians whom he spoke to told him they were stranded as their link-men abandoned them.

"We spent seven days in Agadez and many Nigerians stranded there had lost hopes of returning home. Many were dying on daily basis due to attacks by rebels. I was supposed to go to Morocco but we were told that rebels were killing a lot of people along the route; so we diverted to Libya."

On how he was able to keep his money, he said: "It was an experience I can never forget. I inserted my money into my anus and passed it out through faeces anytime I needed it".

He said the worst happened when the truck conveying them from Douruku to Libya got spoilt in the desert. According to him, they trekked day and night for four days before they got to a place called Tegery where he said 250 Nigerians had died due to lack of water.

"While on our way from Tegery to Gatron, we were attacked. We finally made it to Tripoli but I could not muster the courage to travel through the Mediterranean sea in a ramshackle boat to Europe. At this point, I spoke to four other Nigerians that we should return home and they agreed. I was able to pay their way to Kano where they put a call to their families."

Asked about the lesson learnt, he said human trafficking has devastating effects on the victim. "We drank our urine and that of a camel for survival while in the desert on our way to a non-existing Europe. Many of us who survived it were forced to do all kinds of menial jobs for survival".

Osita called on the Federal Government to check desert migration by young Nigerians even as he urged government to urgently commence the rehabilitation of the 1,750 returnees from Libya.

He hinted that the UK government was in the process of bringing back about 16,000 illegal Nigerian immigrants back to the country.

@GREATAFRICA 2013