Libya returnees: How we were forced into prostitution
“I travelled in October 2016. The journey was very tough; we passed many obstacles – the immigration, police, the desert. When we finally got to Libya, we suffered even more. We have to earn money to eat and to pay our burger- the people that took us there. They deceived us. They told me I was going there to work, they didn’t tell me I was going there to do prostitution.
“When I got there, they forced us to sleep with men and they collect the money. They said we have to pay them all the money they spent bringing us from Nigeria and the amount we owed was N700,000. So any day we sleep with men, they collect the money,” she said.
One morning, when the Libyan immigration officers came they arrested them. She recalled; “One morning, some people came and attacked us, they were killing a lot of people, when they came to our place they broke down the door, they asked us to come out and they took us to prison.”
Now finally free and back in Nigeria, Ogechi pleaded with Nigerian government to help stop the human trafficking and forced prostitution.“Nigerian government should help us, we don’t want to go back to that kind of work again,” she pleaded.
Another returnee, Vivian kelechi, 24 years, said she was also deceived into prostitution. “I thought it was a normal job I will do, I never knew it was prostitution. I suffered a lot, the guy that took me there said he bought me from someone else so I had to pay him back,” she said.
Every day after being abused by different men, Vivian said she has to still pay her owner from the money she made. “The guy that took me there said I have to repay him for the travel expenses. He said the money was N650,000. What is paining me is that I have lost everything, I have nothing now, my mum is dead and I couldn’t take care of her. I did ashawo work for nothing, my womb is down now, Each time I want to bath, I feel my womb and I know I have infection,” she told The Guardian reporter.
With teary eyes, Vivian narrated why she had to travel to Libya in the first place: “I was about to write my WAEC, but I had to drop out of school because my mum was sick. When my mum’s sickness got worse, someone told me about the travel and I agreed because I needed the money to help my mum. We need Nigerian government to help us with jobs so we will not go back to this kind of work again.”
Aminat Adewale, 26 years old, from Ogun State also has similar story to tell.“I travelled last year August. We were deceived, the woman that took us told us we were going to Italy, not by road but by air. So many people died on the road, I am even lucky to be alive. When we reached Libya the woman sold us,” she recalled.
With face full of agony she cried; “They didn’t tell us the kind of job we will do, they forced us into prostitution and made us pay them.”
After all her travail, Aminat said she was happy to be back in Nigeria. “I chose to travel because I couldn’t get job after my school. I learnt nursing after my secondary school, but when I checked the hospital requirement and found out that I don’t have that, I have to look for a way to survive. If our government had helped us, we wouldn’t bother to travel to another country,” she said.
For 21-year-old Deborah Ebiwonjumi, hers was a case of exploitation and physical abuse. The indigene of Ondo State, who came back with a broken hand, had suffered severe physical abuse. According to her, her parents were deceived by some people who promised her a decent job in Libya.
“I travelled to Libya February 2016. Some people told my parents that they will help me get work in Libya, when I got there, the madam I was working for beat me. Last month, she told me to bring soap, when I brought it, she pushed me and I fell down. She told her husband that I poured the soap on the floor deliberately, she beat me and I broke my hand, then they took me to the hospital and abandoned me there. When I recovered, I didn’t know the address of my madam, so the police came and took me to prison,” she said.
Gift Peters, another returnee, said they were forced to drink urine of people when they refused to do indecent work.“I got to Libya 11 months ago after being deceived that I was being taken to Germany. At Libya, they sold me to someone who has a connection house in Libya, where we were maltreated daily. If we don’t want to work, they will do something to you that will make you wish to die. Sometimes they use iron to burn us. At times, they will instruct our fellow ladies to urinate for us to drink,” she said.
It would be recalled that about 171 Nigerians voluntarily returned from Libya on Tuesday aboard a chartered Nouvelair aircraft with registration number TS-1NB. They were brought back by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and the Nigerian Embassy in Libya.
Majority of the returnees were young women. The Director, Search and Rescue, NEMA, Salisu Mohammed, who gave a breakdown of the returnees, said they were made up of 109 females, 49 males, seven children and six infants.
On ground to receive them at Murtala Mohammed airport Lagos, were officials of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, IOM, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, the National Agency for the Protection of Trafficking in Person (NAPTIP), and the Police.
In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, Head of Sub -Office, IOM Lagos, Nahashon Thuo, said the organisation has been trying its best to see that the returnees are reintegrated back to the society.
“The IOM gave NGN 19,695 to support each of them on the rest of their journeys home. Thirty-two of the most vulnerable returnees (mothers with young children, medical cases, unaccompanied minors) in the group will receive in kind, assistance of approximately NGN 390 000 to support their reintegration into Nigerian communities. This assistance can be used to set up a small business or pay for education or for medical costs,” he said.
Dr. Nahashon called on government and philantropists to assist in the rehabilitation process. According to him: “There is still a lot that needs to be done to support the reintegration of the migrants, who would all benefit from vocational training and grants to set up small businesses. More can also be done to educate young men and women about the dangers of migrating to other countries without proper documentation. For now, IOM’s full reintegration assistance is currently limited to supporting the most vulnerable migrants.”
Addressing journalists, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, commended the IOM for facilitating the return of the Nigerians.
She said: “Like I told them, they are not criminals. These are people that have gone in search of greener pastures. However, it turned out to be a terrible experience for them. Times are tough, things are difficult but your country is the best place to be.”
According to her, the Federal Government, IOM and some states have put up programmes in place to rehabilitate Nigerians who volunteered to return from Libya in order to reintegrate them into the society.
“The question is; how long are we going to keep evacuating them? So there is going to be another evacuation and a final one when we will tell Nigerians who are stranded in Libya to come back home. After that it will be difficult getting IOM to do the evacuation.
“A lot of them don’t know where they are going to. There is a lot of ignorance here. Some of them are trafficked and they get there with nothing. The message here is that illegal migration is not worth it because as tough as the country is today, you are better off here than being in those places,” Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa said.
She reiterated government’s commitment to the welfare of Nigerians all over the world, stressing that it was currently addressing the issue of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians living in South Africa.