Perilous journeys

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 5th day of February, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up, perilous journeys.

More than a million migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East over the past five years have made it to Europe.

Smugglers have opted for riskier routes as European countries have tightened border controls. Most of those trips begin in war-torn Libya. There migrants face as much danger as they would on the open sea. Many fall prey to abusive smugglers and sex traffickers.

REICHARD: Despite the dangers, migrants continue to leave home in search of a better life. But in Nigeria, several organizations are trying to help—by persuading migrants to stay home and make better lives by improving their own communities.

WORLD Africa correspondent Onize Ohikere visited two of those organizations and wrote about them for WORLD Magazine. She’s here now to talk about what she learned.

Good morning, Onize!


REICHARD: Onize, you started your piece in WORLD with the story of one Nigerian woman who tried to get to Europe. Tell us a little bit about her and what happened after she left home.

OHIKERE: Yes, that’s Esther Anthony. She’s a 25-year-old I met at the Youth Resource Center at Edo state, which is located in midwestern Nigeria. At the time I visited, she was completing a training at the center’s tailoring program, but she’s done with that now and received some support to start a tailoring business of her own.

But before that in 2016, she actually decided to make the illegal journey to Europe with the help of a family member. So she left Edo state for northern Kano state and then out of the country to Niger. From there she crossed the Sahara Desert into Libya.

So that’s a common route a lot of illegal migrants follow. And the plan is actually to cross from Libya through the Mediterranean Sea and then into Europe. But Esther wasn’t so lucky. Her journey worsened in Libya. She was sold once and had to work as a sex slave to earn her release. Traffickers tried two other times to sell her before another Nigerian migrant helped her escape.

She eventually got on a rubber boat with more than 100 other people to cross the Mediterranean into Italy. But then the boat ran out of fuel so they spent two days drifting at sea before a rescuer arrived and took them to Tunisia. And then she was eventually sent back to Nigeria from there.

REICHARD: So that’s Esther’s sad story. But what about other migrants? Why do most people leave Nigeria for Europe?

OHIKERE: What we see in Nigeria is that many of these migrants are people seeking economic security. Esther was actually working as a small-scale saleswoman before she decided to make the journey. I remember one of the other ladies I met while in the state, she told me she chose to make the journey because her mother was sick and there was no one else taking care of her younger siblings.

REICHARD: You visited an organization working to persuade people not to leave. Tell us who they are and what they do.

OHIKERE: Yeah, it’s called EDI Renaissance. So the group actually began about two decades ago to respond to human trafficking in Edo state. But as the state slowly became sort of the migration hub of the country, the group adopted its services to focus more on migrant-related cases. So what we see now is it provides more information about what regular and irregular migration through its Youth Resource Center where Esther was. And also by sponsoring television and radio jingles. The group also offers counseling and life skill sessions to returnees and even people at risk of migrating. And so what that means is they then have access to a six-month business training session that covers tailoring, catering, hair dressing, and a few other options.

REICHARD: The UN’s International Organization for Migration also has a program. Tell us about that.

OHIKERE: Yeah, so the International Organization for Migration, also known as IOM, really sort of steps in from the onset of the process so what we see is they coordinate with local authorities to organize return flights for some of the returnees like Esther. While in Edo state, I also attended a 4-day skill training program the group organized to coach and help the returnees to set up businesses of their own. IOM also set up a joint office in the state with the European Union trust fund for Africa. So what they do is they also assist returnees and also sort of provides a migration information hub where literally people who are walking by can walk in and ask for information about migration.

REICHARD: Are these programs working to curb migration or is it too soon to tell?

OHIKERE: Yeah, you know, in their own way, these groups are making an impact. Migration is definitely still a problem. This year alone nearly 6,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea and more than 200 others died along the way. But then you look at a group like EDA Renaissance. Since it started its vocational program in 2004, more than 4,000 people—including 1,000 returnees—have passed through it.

REICHARD: Onize Ohikere is our Africa correspondent. Thank you for this report!

OHIKERE: You’re welcome, Mary.

(Photo/Onize Ohikere) A participant sews clothes at the center. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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