BY now, the message ought to be clear to those who have ears: illegal migration to Europe through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea is almost a certified death sentence. But unfortunately, in spite of the gruesome experiences of those who tried it and were lucky to return alive to tell their stories, more young men and women are still embarking on that journey to Golgotha.
Perhaps what still pushes many intending illegal migrants to try their luck is the perception that the number of people who become victims is much less than those who succeed in their quest. For instance, the United Nations Migration Agency – the International Organisation of Migrants Organisation, IOM – recorded that between January and December 2017, up to 171,365 migrants successfully crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Greece, while 3,116 drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.
In 2016, 363,504 arrived alive in Europe while 5,413 had drowned. This year, more than 2,000 died in the Sea while the number that crossed is not yet known, though it has been shrinking steadily due to tougher anti-migrant measures being taken by countries.
In addition to deaths in the Mediterranean, there is a large amount of annual death toll in the Sahara and other places en-route. A non-governmental organisation, Migration Enlightenment Programme Nigeria, MEPN, quotes Libya’s Foreign Minister, Mohammed al-Taher Siala, as saying that around 30,000 illegal migrants are languishing in Libyan detention centres, while another 750,000 are roaming the deserts.
At least, those in detention can nurse the hope that one day, they will be able to join the lucky 15,000 migrants who have been successfully repatriated to Nigeria alive this year.
It is important for the Federal Government through its National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons, NAPTIP, to work very closely with the governments of states where large numbers of people join the trans-Sahara migration train annually to discourage the risky venture. Traditional rulers, religious and community leaders should assume greater roles in this effort. Even those who succeed in entering Europe are forced into dehumanising and soul-wrenching experiences that make the journey not worth undertaking.
Even as the situation is in Nigeria, anyone willing to survive in the system can always find ways to do so without breaking the law. Our young people should join in efforts to hold our leaders more accountable because they are the ones given the mandate to create economic and employment opportunities for the people.
As we await the general elections, we must avoid toeing party lines and eulogising failed leaders who have nothing more to offer. There are ample opportunities for genuine change, and when leaders are elected they should be strictly held to account.
Nigeria will be great.