Osemene: It was 91 days of hell on Libya route

Osita Osemene is a former immigrant in Libya but now the project coordinator, Patriotic Citizens Initiatives, an NGO that seeks to tackle challenges associated with immigrants. In a round table discussion held recently in Abuja, he shared his experiences with the audience. ABDULRAHMAN A. ABDULRAUF was there and he reports.

Experience, they say, is the best teacher; therefore for Osita Osemene, an ex immigrant, rushing out through irregular route to Europe in search of greener pasture, is not only demeaning but unrewarding.

Having travelled the tortuous road before, Osemene, who is now project coordinator, Patriotic Citizen Initiatives, a non governmental organisation that counsels intending immigrants, shared his experience with an audience in a paper he presented on ‘Migration: Current Trends’ put together by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, in Abuja.

Specifically, Osemene’s paper dwelt on assessing the risk of irregular migration along the Central Mediterranean Route using Nigeria as a case study.

The event drew participants from the media, civil society, Nigeria Immigration Service and National Agency for the Prohibition of Human Trafficking, among others.

Holding the audience spell bound, Osemene narrated that upon his eventual arrival in Libya about 14 years, he was told to get something to do before his onward journey to Europe can continue.

He recalled, “In Gatrin where I was to be for five days, I was told that I needed to do something to survive. I looked up and found that there was no job around there.

“Thereafter, I was told straight away that there was a job to do which was that at night, we would go out and burgle houses. And you know during Gaddafi, they were not keeping money in the banks because you could n’t keep more than $1,000 in your account, so they had to keep their money at home. The question that readily came to my mind was to ask myself what I was really doing there.

“The people whose money were being burgled were mostly old women and old people. Nigerians will now go and burgle their houses and cart away these old people’s hard-earned money.

“In fact, some of our people were into drugs and when asked why, they would say it is to help alleviate pains. Nigerians were really being maltreated; they killed our people for no just cause. Youths were tortured to the point that they became toughened; some returned home with mental challenges because of the odd life they had lived in Libya.

“When I got to the seaside, I reminded myself that I am a king in Nigeria, therefore there was no point going through the needless stress. Indeed, for me, it was 91 days of hell in Sahara Desert. It was more than slavery. It took us three weeks to find our way back to Nigeria, and at every point we got to, they bade us bye”,  Osemene told the bewildered audience.

Counselling intending migrants

He counselled those wishing to travel to do it the right way, saying, “We need to change the mindset that moving to Europe is the only way to make it. Parents need to stop giving away their children to traffickers.

 “We should tell Nigerians that the grass is not greener over there as they think. Let them stay back and make a living here in our country. Today, many youths have been lost and human capacity destroyed through human trafficking and irregular migration.

“Many youths fall victims of traffickers who place adverts of fictitious job offers abroad and promises of easy visa. On the internet and on the streets, you will see adverts promising free visa to Europe, Dubai and others. These are all temptations. These people capitalise on our youths who are poor and unemployed. We need to understand that these are all fake”, he cautioned.

Scary figures of failed irregular migrants   

Reeling out figures of those who migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea in 2015, he said over 1million youths took the risk while 3,777 of them died in transit.

Similarly, 341,055 also arrived the EU countries with 4, 271 Nigerians and others from the West African countries losing their lives during the trip.

“In 2015, over 1 million migrants entered the EU through the Mediterranean Sea, and 3,777 migrants lost their lives in attempt to do so. As at November 13, 2016, the figure even proved deadlier. In this year, 341,055 migrants arrived European shores and 4,271 migrants lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea,” he recalled.

Dangers on the route

Describing his 91 days journey in the desert, which he described as hell, he said, “There are also reports of worsening exploitation and abuse during migrant journeys, particularly in Libya. The demography of migrant flows to Europe are also changing with a greater representation of more vulnerable groups such as women and children.”

According to him, “Migrants rush into  EU countries to flee from conflict areas, political instability, violence, poverty, studies/employment opportunities or out of desires to reunite with family members already abroad.

“Faced with limited channels to migrate regularly, migrants and asylum seekers often embark on irregular and dangerous journeys during which they often become extremely vulnerable.”

On risks related to the migration, Osemene, who is now also a consultant with the International Organisation for Migrations, said this can be classified into four categories.

“Those present during the movement from origin to the Sahel (within the Economic Community of West African States); the risks present during the movement from the Sahel to North Africa; the risks associated with North Africa and the risks at destination”, he said.

While saying the exit from Nigeria is relatively straightforward for the most part and generally the part of the journey with least  risk, he said, within the ECOWAS, most migrants move irregularly.

“While the rates of trafficking for women (for sexual exploitation) are high and increasing, there is also a prevalence of migrants being sold in Libya in the context of modern slavery.

“Other risks for women folks include rape and prostitution out of desperation, extortion, death at sea and in the desert as other risks for Nigerians”, he said.

Risks in Libya     

On the risks, the resource person said, “The risks in Libya include arbitrary arrest and detention, harassment, bonded labour and exploitation. While in 2014, it was generally understood that militia groups in Libya maintained detention centres to create a market for their illicit human trade, it has been found out that those centres are now hotspots for the trafficking of migrants”, he said.

Continuing further, he said, “There are generally three main stages to a migrant’s experience in Libya. This include being held hostage on arrival and asked for ransom. However, if unable to pay, the migrant is put to work. Sometimes, after working in slavery, the migrant is taken to the port and put on a boat to Europe”, explained.

Osemene to play another role

Commending the presentation, the chairman, House of Representatives Committee on  IDPs, Refugees and North-east Initiative, Hon. Sani Zoro, who was present at the event, urged that people like Osemene, should be saddled with the task of handling the challenges of migrant returnees.

The lawmaker acknowledged that it was the first time he would be listening to an ex-immigrant relaying personal experiences and lamented the frightening number of Nigerians exiting the country in search of greener pastures.

“Although he has turned his woes to success after a one-year self-rehabilitation and now forging on with life, nonetheless, Osemene deserves a higher responsibility from his fatherland, having seen it all and emerged from the wilderness that has become a route for irregular migrants to Europe”, he said.

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