Nigeria’s head of mission in Libya, Iliya Danladi Fanchano, was in Abuja to update the government on the current situation of the Libya slave trade saga and the illegal migration of Africans through Libya to Europe. We bring excerpts of his interview
By Victoria Ojeme
DO you people go there to those camps?
We are not the police, we cannot go there. What they do is that they would inform us that there are Nigerians detained there. We then make a request to the host foreign ministry to provide police escort for us to go and identify those people, register them and bring them to Tripoli and schedule for flight. Each time, people are detained they first inform the international organisation for migration who in turn spread the information to the concerned embassies whose nationals are detained.
Before now police escorts were given to IMO to go and bring them back, but currently they are thinking of what they call alternative to detention of some of the vulnerable migrants such as the sick or children, especially if there is a willing Nigerian that can give accommodation to them. This is a human problem that we live with, we have to manage it right.
It is not only applicable to Nigeria. The Gambia, Cameroon, Niger and Mali are also facing the problem. We talk to the Libyan ministry of foreign affairs, we are always going there and the big function of any embassy there is not high diplomacy. We prepare documents to transport Nigerians back home; this is the big diplomacy we are into, it is not the high one where the Nigerian president will come, no.
At the peak of this issue, these killings and slavery and all that, definitely there should be some deaths also. Has the Nigerian embassy in Tripoli got any record of those who have died there?
We operate on the ground, once we see a dead corpse in front of the embassy we arrange for burial. We have records that deal with Nigerian corpses that we bury. When a Nigerian dies abroad, we need the consent of the relatives back home to bury the body. In some cases relatives of the dead Nigerian would say we should ferry the corpse to them. If they want to bring the body to bury in Nigeria, they are the ones to come to Libya to convey the body back home. We are always in touch with the Nigerian relatives.
That happens when you know the identity of those people; what happens in a situation where you don’t even know their identity?
We don’t know, whether there is mass burial or not. We only know what comes to us.
If they said like about 26 Nigerian teenage girls died in the Mediterranean, the Italian government is burying them, if they don’t tell us we won’t know; if they don’t bury quietly we won’t know.
The dead bodies you picked at the front of the embassy to bury, do you have a record of them?
We do list the bodies because when we see a dead corpse, we definitely want to know the relations of the deceased. What we do is invite the Nigerian community leader to come and see the corpse that has been dumped. We normally don’t know who it is, whether a Libyan or a Nigerian. Sometimes they might have an idea having known the person.
So if they have an idea we trace the residence of the dead, and where there is a phone or contact, they would contact the relatives. Sometimes if we are lucky, we get the phone and we contact. If we don’t have the contact, we bury the dead body like that.
What is the exact figure so far that you have buried?
I don’t have such information at my disposal now. Once somebody dies our immediate concern is to get the body buried with the consent of the relatives if we know them but if we don’t know we bury the corpse.
What do you think should be done to discourage migrants from using Libya as a gate way to Europe?
One, they should tighten the borders, they should also sensitize Nigerians to the dangers of illegal migration. They can tell them that they may not get what they think they will get but would end up getting worse results. But to be realistic, it is up to Nigerians to go there because Nigerians have been sensitized to the dangers of illegal migration to Libya long time ago. Since 2009 a travel advisory on illegal migration to Libya was published by Nigerian embassy and the ambassadors embarked on a visit to all the cities and when I arrived too I talked to the Nigerian community to please talk their people to be law abiding, and to be good ambassadors because the laws in Libya their law are different.
If you steal and you are caught, they cut off your hand, they use sharia. For us it is heinous, we make noise because we don’t have it here. So when you go into a country, ultimately you have accepted to be governed under that law. When you run foul of it you will face the consequence.
Do you think the global community has done enough on this issue?
They have tried, the United Nations secretary general has condemned this thing and he has told the government of Libya to look into it. The African Union chairman condemned it immediately. Countries reacted to the condemnation. Condemnation leads you to better behaviour, you would like to have prestige in the eyes of your colleagues nation. That in the community of nations, if they say you are an outlaw you won’t like it; so that is the role of condemnation and that is one.
The AU has sent a team to talk to the government of Libya with measures to take; we the diplomatic corp we are waiting to be invited to it. I talk to the Dean, we will now what to see what the AU mission, after this video went viral, they have told the government of this and what the government they came to implement. Those are measures; you start gradual before you situate your steps