The bodies of 26 young Nigerian women, mostly aged between 14 and 18, were found, November, 2017, floating on the Mediterranean sea. They were believed to have been victims of two boat shipwrecks. The two boats, one skippered by a Libyan and àn Egyptian, had picked up over 300 illegal migrants off the coast of Libya, whose destination was believed to be Italy.
The bodies of the 26 Nigerian women were recovered by a Spanish ship that is part of the European Union’s anti-trafficking project, and taken to the southern Italian port of Salerno. Officials there desscribed the sight as “a sad experience”. Both the dead and survivors had bruises and other signs of violence. The dead Nigerian ladies were suspected to have been murdered after their boat sank in foaming waters. One Nigerian woman who survived said she lost all three of her young daughters.
Were the young women victims of the evil but lucrative trafficking for sex trade involving international syndicates? Italian migration officials did not think so. They said, first, the route the boats took was not known for the sex trade. Secondly, traffickers are not known to load many women on a single boat because they risk losing their prized human cargo, or “goods” as they call them, in one fell swoop. The only possible explanation is the victims, described as nationals of Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana and Mali, all in West Africa, were undocumented economic migrants. A Nigerian teenager, who survived the ordeal, said she did not want to return to her country. “I see no future in Nigeria; there are no jobs”, she said reportedly.
The International Organisation for Migration said, in the wake of the recent central Mediteranean tragedy, that 75% of the 155,000 “migrants and refugees”who arrived Europe this year arrived in Italy. From there they would attempt to enter Spain and other European countries. However, some 2,115 others died on the same route, off the coast of Libya, between Jan. 1 and Nov. 5, this year
Back here at home, public reaction to the death of the young Nigerian women has been one of utter shock. The government described it as “a monumental loss and a sad moment for country”. The Nigerian Senate has opened an inquiry into the deaths. On its part, NAPTIP, the country’s people trafficking prohibition agency, has appealed to the UN to investigate the deaths so as to bring the perpetrators to book.All too familiar reactions when such incidents occur. After that, all goes quiet while the illicit business goes on.
Today, the question is what to do to stop our young women from being trafficked to Europe. First, Nigeria has ample legislation prohibiting trafficking in people. However, the problem is, the will to implement its provisions is not as strong as the desire to reach Europe, believed to be land of freedom fllowing with ‘milk and honey’. Second, the route the traffickers have chosen runs through Libya, a country without a strong central government. The various armed militias in that country are more interested in what share of its oil wealth they can corner than stopping people traffickers transiting Libya.
Thirdly, two years ago, European governments concerned about illegal migration waves from Africa, launched an ambitious programme to bring African governments on board in the fight against illegal migration. They offered a handsome financial package to encourage them to stop their peoples from leaving for Europe. The African response was not what was expected and the momentum was immediately lost.
The truth is that this remains the only viable solution to this international problem. Our initial difficulty with defeating Boko Haram until we recognised the need for an international coalition against the insurgent group is instructive. African nations grappling with the people trafficking challenge have to work with the destination European countries to, at least, stem the free flowing tide of illegal migration and trfficking in persons.