The bitter they return
Congregating in a manhole constructed for that purpose on the outskirts of Tripoli, there were over
250,000 ZmigrZs from different agents. They lived like nocturnal animals, coming out only at night to scrub hotel dustbins for food. After about a year of pure hardship, they were finally discovered, smoked out and sent to detention camps to await court trial and by luck, deportation.
Many could not make it alive. But Tobor did and was finally deported last month to Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, looking disheveled, skinny and pale-white, with boils as big as peas from head to toe. He swore never to travel abroad again even legally.
The number of deportees from different countries is swelling by the day. It is compounding the high rate of unemployment in the country and the hardship that the citizenry have been subjected to by the government.
In the last one year, the number of Nigerian deportees has risen to over 15,000, with Libya topping the list of countries that has not taken kindly to illegal migration. The United Kingdom (UK), United States (U.S.), Ireland, Scotland, Spain, France and others are also counting.
Even lesser endowed countries such as Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, Gabon, Angola, among others have also been deporting Nigerians.
As usual, it is the same pathetic tales of woe from the deportees, some of them young girls with ravishing beauty.
The harsh economic reality is driving the citizenry into taking menial jobs outside the shores of the country; just as good paying jobs are no longer guaranteed and non-available. The future indeed looks bleak.
Many of those working are under-employed, as under 45 million Nigerians are employed. Many are homeless. In the urban areas, many sleep under bridges, in uncompleted buildings at street corners.
With the situation at home, many prefer to seek asylum in countries like The Gambia, Togo, Cameroun, and Ghana.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) data released in 2008 grouped Nigeria with Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe as nations that top the chart of asylum seekers.
The report shows that about 5,343 Nigerians sought asylum in Italy, 1,006 in Ireland, 970 in the UK, 500 in Germany and hundreds of others in many other European nations.
While some are granted asylum for political reasons, there are others who leave the shores of Nigeria in search of the proverbial Golden Fleece. Very worrisome is the daily deportation of Nigerians from Libya.
While many are lucky to be deported, others are on death row, awaiting the hangman to come for them any moment.
Their offences include drugs, armed robbery, fraud, fake papers and prostitution.
Nigeria’s Ambassador to Libya, Alhaji Muhammed Ibrahim was quoted recently as saying that 90 per cent of prisoners in Libya were Nigerians who also constitute the highest number of prostitutes in the country.
“The closeness of Libya to both Italy and the Mediterranean Sea is the major attraction” to Nigerians who are always desirous of going abroad, he said.
According to the ambassador, most Nigerians in Libya come through the Sahara Desert to the northern African country and “by the time they arrive here, they soon realize that it is almost a dead end and, by this time, it is too late for them to go back.”
He added that rather than go back home, they opt for drug peddling, armed robbery and other crimes for the men.
“For the ladies, prostitution is the only way out,” he said, adding that most male Nigerians arrested in Libya were in possession of substances suspected to be heroine.
“They also carry fake international passports,” he said.
The ambassador suggested that the National Assembly should pass a law restricting young men and women without genuine reasons from migrating out of the country.
“I am worried about the way our youths move outside of the country,” he said, adding that, “thousands of our youths are being swallowed by the desert everyday, all in the name of traveling abroad by any means.”
He said the Nigerian government “must restrict their movement to prevent them from embarking on self-destruct journeys.”
Libya in particular has been singled out as one of the most notorious countries that allegedly takes joy in summarily killing most of the Africans who are said to be illegal immigrants, while those who escape death are dehumanized, tortured.
An immigration source who spoke to The Guardian on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the deportees are mainly from the Zamwia Zamzu Prison in Tripoli, adding that after months of detention in the prison, among other centres, the Libyan authorities move the illegal immigrants to Zahba camp, from where they are deported.
The camp houses both Nigerians and non-Nigerians already condemned by the Libyan authorities.
Some of the deportees who spoke to The Guardian last week after over 600 of them were deported in three days corroborated the fact, just as they showed the reporter marks of torture from the Libyan security operatives.
The females painted a gory picture of how they were raped by some of the Libyan security personnel, while others wept profusely for allegedly losing large sums of money in foreign currencies to the security personnel, whom they alleged confiscated their money and other belongings.
Some of them said that they were picked up on the streets of Libya, adding that they were traders in the Megreb region.
They explained that the situation is daily painting Nigeria in bad light as a country of lost hope, country full of wealth, but where majority of its citizenry are wallowing in abject poverty.
“The Libyan Police are very brutal as some of them rape some of the Nigerian ladies and collect their money before deporting them.
“For me, I was caught for prostitution in February this year and sentenced to three years, but before the expiration of my jail sentence, I was deported today (Wednesday). They called us on Monday and told us to be ready for deportation back to our country. We were shocked to hear that. They told us to prepare our luggage for deportation to our country.
“We wept bitterly because we didn’t want to come face the shame back home. Our parents will be heart-broken if they see us”, a pretty female of about 24 years said amid sobs.
The Guardian learnt that some of the deportees had served various jail terms in the Libyan capital, after they were convicted of offences ranging from passport falsification, illegal entry and drug trafficking among other crimes.
The female deportee said all efforts to justify that she entered Libya legally proved abortive as she was clamped in detention for two months before her deportation.
She decried the attitude of Nigerian embassy officials towards its nationals in Libya, alleging that the country abandoned them when they needed them most.
The deportee argued that not everybody deported was a prostitute, adding that some were gainfully employed.
Lamenting further, she said some of them were caught in hidings, as they attempted to find their way to Europe from Libya.
“You see, this country (Nigeria) is very tough. There is no job for us to do here at home, no good infrastructure, with so much of corruption on a daily basis. People are embezzling money that is supposed to be used in building the country”.
“About 120 of us were put in a very small, sweltering room. We have suffered enough. Regardless of the business you have come to do in Libya, they see you as illegal immigrant that must be destroyed by all means”.
She reiterated that some of them are ready to live in the country, provided there are jobs to do.
Another female deportee who simply gave her name as Paulina was bitter about what she termed “embarrassment” from the Libyan authority, lamenting that all she had worked in her life in the past years had vanished.
According to her, “I was doing a menial job in one firm in Tripoli. I was arrested on the street of Tripoli by the Libyan police in concert with the Libyan Immigration Service after my failure to provide my papers. All pleas to them that I was not an illegal alien proved abortive”, she said amid wailing.
She admitted that some Nigerians, particularly young ladies are engaged in prostitution, financial crimes, forgery and murder.
She called on the Nigerian embassy in Libya to assist Nigerians with genuine cases, instead of grouping everybody, adding that the embassy was not doing enough to protect the interest of genuine Nigerians in that country.
President of Libya, Maummar Ghadafi had come under intense criticisms in view of his position as the Chairman of African Union (AU), which they said should make him to be more tolerant of other African nationals.
On September 9, 2009, the Africa Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights said it was seriously concerned about the allegations that several Nigerians are held on death row, while others are held in detention under humiliating and degrading conditions in Libya.
The body called on the Libyan strong man to intervene in the situation to prevent tension and irreparable damage being caused to the victims.