Heart of the matter with Chioma

December 10, 2017

Slave Trade: The 21st Century menace

Slave Trade: The 21st Century menace

One of the 164 returnees from Libya facilitated by International Organisation on Migration and National Emergency Management Agencyon arrival at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos on Thursday

By Chioma Gabriel

Nearly half a decade ago, the funeral of a promising young man who died in the desert was held somewhere in the southeast. Obumneme, that was his name, was travelling to Europe in search of greener pasture after an HND in Civil Engineering and five years of unemployment in Nigeria. He was the only child of his parents and his death quickly claimed the life of his father. The old man died of a broken heart.

One of the 164 returnees from Libya facilitated by International Organisation on Migration and National Emergency Management Agencyon arrival at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos on Thursday

Obumneme had joined legions of Nigerians heading to Europe through the Sahara Desert but he was not as lucky as they made him believe. The challenges were not as surmountable as they made him believe. So, he died.

He was not the only victim. Stories abound of Nigerians who died in the desert everyday and those who died across the Mediterranean sea. Many of these victims were violated and deliberately killed.

In Nigeria today, many secondary school graduates and University graduates who are frustrated due to inability to either get a job or a good paying job, often, believe that it is better out there. Some do not seek the necessary information before getting out of the country. So, they fall victims to push and pull factors.

Nigerian governments have failed Nigerians and for many, there is very little hope of things improving. This push factor has sent many into their early graves.

It is often believed that reducing public corruption and providing efficient social services will go a long way in reducing the exodus of young Nigerians. A major ‘pull factor’ for many Nigerians leaving the country, especially the financially capable is the efficient infrastructure, governance and orderliness they may enjoy abroad that is lacking in Nigeria. Nigeria has the human and material resources to reproduce this state of affairs but capable and good leadership is required.

Everyday , we hear stories of the suffering of young African migrants seeking better opportunities in Europe through illegal routes. The ordeal that many go through either in the transit countries such as Niger and Libya or during the perilous journeys on rickety boats across the Mediterranean is heart-wrenching.

Only this year, the International Organization for Migration reported that more than 2,500 migrants perished in the Mediterranean. Many more are believed to have died travelling across the Sahara Desert or in the transit countries.

Almost on weekly basis, Nigeria is belaboured with bringing home many of its citizens trapped in Libya. The stories initially were not as horrible as returnees mainly complained of unemployment, hunger and poverty while the women lamented sexual abuse and violation.

But the stories have changed for the worse.

Now, there is the return of slave trade. Who would believe that after several centuries of the abolition of slave trade, it would crop up again and typically, Nigeria is a major beneficiary of such evil.

The International Organization for Migration reported that in Libya, many migrants seeking employment or trapped in transit are exposed to hash living conditions and widespread human rights abuses. Some are traded as slaves for ransom, labour or sex by gangs of human-traffickers and many die in the appalling conditions of detention facilities run by criminals and militias.

But the trading of migrants as slaves appeared under-reported. Now, the issue has exploded from videos posted in the internet and accounts of those who managed to escape and return home.

International organizations have also published credible reports, documenting regular and severe human rights violations of refugees and migrants in official Detention Centres.

From all indications, the truth which those aspiring to travel to Europe by all means haven’t known is that the illegal route to Europe is littered with hardship and death.

Libya is the main transit point for refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe by sea. In each of the last three years, 150,000 people have reportedly made the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya. For four years in a row, over 3,000 refugees have died while attempting the journey, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the U.N.’s migration agency.

The Libyan Coast Guard , supported with funds and resources from the E.U. and more specifically, Italy has cracked down on boats smuggling refugees and migrants to Europe. With estimates of 400,000 to almost one million people now bottled up Libya, detention centers are overrun and there are mounting reports of robbery, rape, and murder among migrants. Conditions in the centers have been described as “horrific,” and among other abuses, migrants are vulnerable to being sold off as labourers in slave auctions.

Aside Libya, about 12,000 Nigerians are reportedly awaiting deportation in Germany as their asylum claims have been rejected because Nigeria is not considered a country where there is political persecution at the moment.

What in God’s name would bring up the issue of slave trade in the 21st Century?

Nigerians, among other Africans are being auctioned for $400 per person and many would rather pass through this ordeal of being sold as slaves than return home. A video of men being sold at auction in Libya for $400 has shocked the world and focused international attention on the exploitation of migrants and refugees the north African country.

As observed, the aching and terrible paradox of globalization, with its associated technological advancement, has created much wealth for some but has enabled the enslavement of others. Rapid increases in science, technology, industry, commerce and trade, considered by many to be signs of progress leading toward a more peaceful future among nations have done nothing to halt, and have rather helped, this horrible crime against humanity.

Recently, the United Nations Security Council condemned reports of the human slave trade in Libya saying the acts amount to “heinous abuses of human rights” and called upon all relevant authorities to investigate such activities without delay to bring the perpetrators to justice and hold those responsible to account.

Libyan authorities has also promised an investigation into the practice, and a number of political leaders offered calls for action to stop the practice. The UN Secretary General Antonio Gutterres said he was horrified by the reports and said they may amount to crimes against humanity.

The security council further underlines the need for coordination of efforts to tackle the root causes of large movements of people, including forced displacement, un-managed migration and trafficking in persons, in a comprehensive and holistic manner, to prevent exploitation of refugees and migrants by smugglers and human traffickers, as well as for implementation of the 2030 agenda.

The UN also urged all countries to do everything they can to end this barbaric practice.

But will that be enough?

Those committing these unspeakable crimes must be brought to justice, and the victims must be treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.

Nigeria should sit up and do something about youth and graduate unemployment in a bid to stem this tide.

Un point à temps en vaut neuf. ( A stitch in time saves nine).