After an accord with Turkey practically shut down the Aegean route, the EU is eying a raft of deals with African nations to stem an increasing surge across the Central Mediterranean that has led to a record number of migrant deaths at sea.
Following recent visits by the Italian and German foreign ministers, the EU dispatched a delegation this week to the Nigerian capital, Abuja. The reason for the flurry of high-level meetings is no secret.
Nigerians represent the top nationality of migrants arriving by boat to Italy in 2017. Out of 157,000 migrants and refugees who have arrived so far in 2016, 19 per cent were Nigerians according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.
One of the reasons why more Nigerians are leaving for Europe is to find solace. A report published in Tribune newspaper revealed that Nigerians think they can have a better life in Italy.
“I was doing well in Nigeria, working as a hair stylist and I earned enough money for my family,” said 27-year-old Maxwell. “But after my brother and my mother were killed, it became too dangerous for me to stay.”
Maxwell said his brother – a taxi driver – was killed after witnessing a crime and being pressured into giving a police statement that led to the incarceration of a criminal gang leader. “The gang threatened my brother and then one day came to the house and shot him dead in front of me,” said Maxwell.
“Then they came after me. Even though we moved house, they found us and killed my mother and I couldn’t stay in Nigeria after that. This gang had killed all my family and I knew they still wanted to kill me; so I took all the money I had and made the journey to Libya”, he added.
From Libya, he headed to Italy.
Along the roads near the Southern Italian coast, the cruel reality that exposes the smugglers’ empty promises is visible. Young African women are seen wearing unseasonably small clothing, working as prostitutes for passing motorists.
“Our government is not helping us in Nigeria,” said 25-year-old Festus, who alleged huge corruption in the country’s political sphere. “I worked hard and didn’t get money, but all around me I saw people who didn’t work getting money.”
Festus ran a small grocery store, but said his business was ruined by desperate customers begging for credit and then being unable to pay him back. “I worked in Tripoli for three years to pay for this boat crossing. It was so hard in Libya [that] sometimes I thought about going back to Nigeria. But everything is going up in price and life is becoming impossible there,” he said. “I spoke to a friend just last week who told me a bag of rice that used to cost 17,000 naira now costs 20,000. Ordinary people can no longer afford to buy even basic foodstuffs.”
Life in Italy
People are often brainwashed to believe that there is somewhere on earth where anyone can get all the jobs he needs and live like a king or prince. “There is job in Canada, there is job in USA, or there is job in Italy,” you may hear people say but the reality is that living conditions in many countries do not favour immigrants at all.
Undocumented immigrants also find it hard to work, to get a place to live, or to feed. Such ones may need sustenance from friends and loved ones for years before they can be able to stand up on their feet. Another problem is the possibility of deportation.
You have to be in fear of deportations. Italy is now one of the countries where Nigerians are deported the most. Thousands of Nigerians arrive in Italy through the Mediterranean, but they have always found it difficult to be granted asylum and are now increasingly often the target of expulsion orders.
Nigerians have historically found it difficult to be granted asylum. According to data from the Ismu (Initiatives and Studies on Multiethnicity) Foundation, last year 71 per cent of them saw their asylum applications denied, and many of them appealed the decision. Their situation has become worse even in Germany: last February, the government led by Angela Merkel ordered the repatriation of 12,000 Nigerians who had not been granted political asylum despite the fact that many of them had lived in the country for years and become perfectly integrated.
The main cause for this spike in deportations has a name, and it is the European Commission Action Plan. Italy and Germany have been taken to task for the insufficient number of repatriations they carry out each year. As a result, both countries have stepped up their efforts, at the expense of what is perceived as the easiest target: the community of undocumented Nigerian migrants.