By Rakiya A.Muhammad
Just as 24-year-old Patience James was about to leave Nigeria, albeit illegally, she ran into an old friend, Michael, who provided information regarding the Migration Resources Centre, meant to help prospective migrants find a foothold outside the country.
“Securing employment in the country has proven to be an arduous endeavour, so I was contemplating attempting my luck through irregular migration, having witnessed some of my friends leave via such means,” she reveals.
“I would have taken the perilous route had it not been for Michael, who informed me about the MRC’s mission to assist potential migrants and migrants in establishing themselves outside the country.”
For Patience, the MRC has given her a glimmer of optimism in her quest to establish her footing outside the country.
Providing information and counselling on a range of topics, including overseas employment, rights, protection of migrants, access to education systems abroad, and skill development training in Nigeria, is the goal of MRC, an initiative of the International Organization for Migration in partnership with the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Taking Unsafe Bets
Many young people take dangerous chances by migrating illegally in search of better possibilities.
A significant number of them lack knowledge regarding the geographical setting in which they intend to reside or work, the nature of the employment opportunities available to them, as well as the prevailing living conditions and environmental factors.
They risk being exploited in a variety of ways, including unpaid work, harsh work conditions and substandard housing because they lack the proper papers to enter the country to which they are en route.
Acting Comptroller-General of Immigration Carol Adepoju underscores the dangers of irregular migration.
“It is on record that at least 1.3 million Nigerians face challenges due to irregular migration,” she states.
“Irrespective of the country, if laws are violated, the irregular migrants have no choice but to accept the treatment meted out to them.”
She highlights the vulnerability of irregular migrants, who often fall prey to various forms of exploitation such as human trafficking, sexual exploitation, kidnapping, child exploitation, medical risks, organ harvesting, employer abuse, as well as social and financial risks, which can ultimately lead to loss of life.
A significant number of Nigerians who have embarked on journeys via non-traditional routes find themselves in a state of being stuck outside the borders of their home nation.
“Currently, more than 6500 Nigerians wait to be repatriated from Libya under the IOM’s Humanitarian Fund,” the Immigration head discloses.
During the period spanning from April 2017 to December 2022, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted 29,000 undocumented Nigerians, facilitating their return to Nigeria.
In a 2022 migration survey to give evidence on the awareness and perceptions of intending and returning migrants on the dangers of irregular movement, 47.9% of respondents cited hardship as the primary cause for their return.
Using the National Integrated Survey for Households (NISH) system, the National Bureau of Statistics gathered data from 2,400 households drawn from six states in each geopolitical zone: Anambra, Edo, Lagos, Benue, Gombe, and Kano.
In addition, 31.8% of respondents identified detention as the greatest threat they faced.
Supporting Informed Choices
However, as part of moves towards protecting the rights of migrant workers, the Nigerian Federal government last year undertook the formulation and endorsement of a Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS) and a Gender Mainstreaming Strategy (GMS).
Recent efforts in Nigeria have focused on bolstering the capacity and knowledge management of migrant resource centres to boost information and services for migrant workers.
Better migration journeys and experiences are contingent upon intended migrant workers being suitably prepared for life in destination countries, as Ms Vanessa Phala, Director of the ILO Abuja Office, highlights.
Through initiatives such as the ‘Korrect Waka’ campaign, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is actively working to enhance public understanding of the risks associated with irregular migration and human trafficking. The organisation targets the encouragement of the adoption of secure migration routes and the exploration of local alternatives within Nigeria.
According to the IOM, the program also aims to aid the organisation’s efforts to implement the COMPASS (Cooperation on Migration and Partnership to Achieve Sustainable Solution) program.
COMPASS, which provides insights on effective identification, referral, protection, and help for returnees and migrants in precarious situations, assisted 41,562 migrants in 2022.
Some returnees reveal that the lack of legal pathways forced them to pursue irregular or undocumented travel routes.
One of them explains they were subjected to exploitation and unjust working circumstances since they “weren’t aware of their rights in the host countries.”
“Migrant Resource Centres (MRCs) assume a crucial function in imparting knowledge regarding labour rights and facilitating their exercise”, he notes.
Patience is relieved that she got reliable information that helped her avoid exploitation and the dangers of irregular migration.
Recognising the fact that she can get gender-sensitive services and support, she is even more ecstatic, given the distinct requirements and susceptibilities of female labour migrants.
There is a prevalent emphasis on the necessity for labour migrants to access comprehensive, customised, and culturally responsive assistance toward labour migration experiences that are safer and more helpful while fostering social and economic advancement in the home and host nations.
There has been a growing focus on the governance and safety of migration in response to the rising number of individuals migrating internationally.
According to the World Migration Report 2022, there were approximately 281 million international migrants worldwide in 2020, accounting for 3.6% of the world’s population.
The data shows a notable upward trend in remittances over the past few decades, with a rise from $126 billion in 2000 to $702 billion in 2020.
A most recent Migration and Development Brief published by the World Bank shows Nigerians living overseas remitted $20.1 billion in 2022. The figure represents the largest sum of money sent to any country within the Sub-Saharan Africa region.
Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu acknowledges the diaspora’s contributions to the country’s growth through their resources, talents, skills, and global exposure.
“In 2022, our Diaspora home remittances through official channels stood at US$21.9 billion, over four times the value of our Foreign Direct Investment (FDI),” he points out.
“The Nigerians in Diaspora are also actively investing in healthcare agriculture, education information and communication technology, housing and real estate, sports, transportation, oil and gas and other sectors.”
President Tinubu asserts, “Only Nigerians, both at home and abroad, can develop Nigeria.” Patience has embraced this challenge.