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Efforts to resettle Libya returnees fade as many nurse ambition of going back

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Efforts by the Edo state government to resettle Libya returnees and curb the problem of illegal migration in the state may not be having the desired effect as most of the returnees are still nursing the ambition of returning to Libya en- route to Europe.

This is as many of the returnees complained that the support promised them by the state government is not being fulfilled.

The state government had pledged to place the returnees on stipends of N20, 000 monthly for three months, train them in various skill acquisition programmes and sponsor those interested in pursuing higher education.

Some of the returnees who spoke with BusinessDay on Wednesday (last week) after they were ejected from the Motel Plaza in Benin where they (returnees) were sheltered say they are heading back to where they had come from.

‘‘I used to deal in Plantains. I buy in bulk from villages and sell in cities. I can get goods on credit because I don’t owe,’’ said one of the returnees who identified himself as Babatunde.

‘‘Within two months, I will raise enough money to return to Libya and from there, I will go where I want to go. I cannot stay in this country because if I do, I won’t live long.’’

Babatunde, who left his wife and children under the care of his mother-in-law before setting out for Libya, says the state government is making it easy for returnees to go back to Libya by not keeping their (government) promise to make their (returnees) lives better.

‘‘They brought us down to Benin City on the pretence that the governor has a special package for us only to chase us out of the hotel. Which help do they now have for us?’’ he asked.

‘‘We are not even sure they (government) will pay us the N20, 000 because those that returned long before us haven’t received theirs. This is what will make most of us to go back,’’ he said.

Favour, one of the returnees, who was a painter before he left Nigeria for Libya four years ago, said no one can stop him from going back to Libya.

‘‘If I decide to go back tomorrow, even the government cannot stop me. Instead of turning to armed robbery, it’s better for me to go back to Libya because this country is not friendly,’’ said Favour, who is the only child of his parents.

‘‘I’m not a baby on that Libyan route. Libya is better than this country. I only suffered after I was arrested. In Libya, I earn between 400-500 dinars daily, which is equivalent to N40, 000 or N50, 000 in Nigerian currency. It won’t take me more than a month to ‘gather’ money and travel again.’’

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) flew 13,000 migrants from Libya back to their countries of origin last year under a voluntary repatriation program.

Libya is the main departure point for migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea.

More than 600,000 migrants have crossed the central Mediterranean to Italy over the past four years as people smugglers took advantage of a security vacuum in Libya.

‘‘I was on the Mediterranean Sea, less than an hour to Italy when I was captured by the Libyan government and jailed in an underground prison,’’ said Paul, a 24 year old who sold his tailoring machine shortly after apprenticeship to travel to Libya in April 2016.

Paul expressed deep regrets on returning to Nigeria adding that he would migrate back to Libya once he lays his hands on cash.

‘‘I suffered in that prison but I would have regained my freedom someday and continued my journey to Europe if I wasn’t so unfortunate to be deported back to Nigeria. I will go back to Libya and this time, my twin brother said he will join. The journey won’t be as tough as the first time because I am now experienced,’’ Paul said.

BusinessDay on the spot assessment at the Benin Motel Plaza where the returnees were sheltered revealed that they (returnees) were received by the officials of the State task force on human trafficking and illegal migration around 6pm on Thursday, March 29, 2018 at the Moat conference hall of the Plaza.

They (returnees) were fed, profiled and medical tests conducted after which they were instructed to vacate the Plaza before noon on Saturday, March 31, 2018.

‘‘They (task force officials) gave us a flier on Thursday (last week), and told us to reach them through the numbers on the flier. We have been calling those numbers for two days now but it’s not even connecting,’’ complained Edna Godwin, a mother of three who was deported alongside her husband.

The unintended consequences of driving the returnees into oblivion without counselling and training is that the crime rate in the state is likely to increase and findings by BusinessDay showed that some returnees have already taken to crime.

Steve, a 27-year old two-time Libya deportee who was caught robbing said he did so out of frustration.

“I travelled to Libya in 2015 but I did not have money to the cross over to Europe. So, while working to save up the money, I was imprisoned and later deported in December, 2017,’’ said Steve, who was a truck driver before his departure to Libya.

‘‘I travelled again to Libya in January, 2018 because I had nothing doing but I ended up in the deportation camp and was brought back to Nigeria in March 22, 2018. When we were driven out of the motel, I had no place to stay. I went to rob so I could rent a room but I was caught. My friends bailed me out and now I owe them (friends) N50, 000.’’

Another returnee who retailed female clothing in New Benin before his trip to Libya said most of them (returnees) took to crime as a way of survival.

‘‘When I was still at the Plaza, a man dropped off a lady at the motel but on getting to Sapele road, his car was snatched. It’s one of us that did that due to hunger,’’ he said.

‘‘When they received us in Lagos, they told us that our governor and the Oba of Benin wanted to see us and deliver a special package to us but we did not see anyone and they said we should go. Where did they expect us to go to?’’

While it’s been reported that the state government has paid stipends to four batches out the 26 batches of returnees as at Thursday March 29, 2018, an inside source at the state task force against human trafficking told BusinessDay that only one batch had been paid.

‘‘We paid only one batch because we don’t have enough funds to pay all of them (returnees). What we do now is to lodge them for two days and after that, they can find their way,’’ the source said on Thursday (last week).

Reacting to the returnees’ plans to go back to Libya, Cruose Osagie, chief press secretary to the Edo state governor, said the government cannot bear the entire burden on the returnees on their shoulders.

‘‘If I tell you that our plans are to take over the lives of the people (returnees) and begin to run it for them just because they travelled to Libya, I would be lying because they (returnees) are still responsible for their lives,’’ Osagie said.

‘‘Just because they (returnees) travelled to Libya does not mean that they are government’s property, but be that as it may, the government is committed and is giving out the little support it can to resettle those people (returnees).

Solomon Okoduwa, senior special assistant to Edo state governor on human trafficking and illegal migration told BusinessDay that the state has received a total of 3,155 returnees since October, 2017 and 530 of them had undergone vocational training while 550 had been paid.

‘‘We have trained 530 returnees in bead making, cosmetology, soap making and fashion designing between December, 2017 and March 2018. When we have a sizeable number of them (returnees) who are interested in a particular training, we contact the resource persons to train them,’’ he said.

‘‘We are processing the funds of those who are yet to receive their stipend. There are no funds now but no funds does not mean that we won’t pay them when the funds are available.’’

Recently, it was reported that the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II has placed some returnees from Libya on three months salaries.

When asked the number of returnees, the criteria for the selection and when payment would commence, Okoduwa said, ‘‘Some of the returnees we trained in skill acquisition requested for funds but when we told them there were no funds for them at that moment, they became agitated and went to Oba’s palace. So, the Oba placed 76 of them on salary.

‘‘The Oba’s word is a decree; it does not take time because the Oba is not like the government. The Oba has the capacity to pay the returnees that same day. They will receive the payment as soon as their information is finalised.’’

While pleading for the returnees to be patient with the government, Okoduwa also solicited for assistance.

‘‘We will not dispute the fact that some of the returnees have taken to crime but we are not encouraging crime. Whoever is caught would face the full wrath of law,’’ Okoduwa said.

‘‘We call on well-meaning people in the state, religious bodies and the business communities to support the course of the Edo state government because the job is enormous and we have other things to take care of.’’

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