Three Nigerian men in a centre for migrants in Italy share their stories with each other. From different backgrounds and circumstances, they all travelled to Europe along the same route: through the Sahara desert to the Libyan coast, then across the Mediterranean. They also share similar experiences of violence, deprivation and desperation.
Frank, Blessing, and Isibor left Nigeria looking for better opportunities and greater personal security. Frank worked as a mechanic; Isibor as a welder. Both were harassed and extorted by neighbourhood gangs who made daily life and regular business impossible. Hearing that Libya was a good place to earn money, each decided to travel there to work. Blessing held a variety of jobs - as a cameraman, a painter, a barber - but was unable to reliably provide food and shelter for himself. He dreamed of steady and decent paying work in Europe. The most direct route lay through Libya, so he headed in that direction. A very unpleasant reception awaited all three men.
Time in Libya
ISIBOR:“I decided to go to Libya to go and work since everyone said that Libya was a good place. I never heard bad things about Libya before. When I entered Libya, things were not as I thought they would be. We were chased back and forth and you know about the daily torture.”
FRANK:I fled to Libya to start a different life. When I arrived in Libya I realized that life there was worse. When I got there, my entire eight months were spent in detention. They kept selling me from one person to another and when I eventually got bailed out and told the driver to take me to my camp, he sold me to another man.”
BLESSING:As for me, I wasn’t sold in Libya, but I was forced to work without pay. There are jobs in Libya, you can’t deny that, but there is no freedom.”
Surviving their indenture and enslavement, all three escaped their Libyan nightmare and reached Italy on smugglers’ boats. Frank and Isibor never intended to go to Europe, but they now welcomed the expected safety and the opportunity to make a living and support families back home. For Blessing as for the others, crossing the Mediterranean meant going into debt to brokers and traffickers. Arriving in Italy, they met disappointed once again: Europe was not the paradise they had heard of and prayed for.
Arriving in Europe
ISIBOR: “Now I got to Europe and I was expecting to get a job in no time. I searched everywhere and there was no job. It wasn’t until then that people told me there simply are no jobs. So I had to ask someone how they manage to and he told me ‘We beg bro.’ I had a profession back in my country and now I had to do something I’ve never done before – go begging!””
BLESSING: “People ask me why I don’t go begging. Because where I come from, you know in Nigeria, only disabled people beg for money.”
FRANK:“Even my first son and daughter are all grown up now. They are about to go to university. Very recently, my wife called me to say they both need money for the admission. Where am I going to get the money? Where is the job?”
The three men acknowledge that Nigerians in the diaspora are partly responsible for the stream of migrants. They post pictures and stories on social media about how wonderful life is in Europe, misrepresenting reality and inducing others to waste their time, money and health. Frank, Isabor and Blessing think such practices should be stopped; not only are they false, they put people’s lives in danger and enrich only those traffickers and bandits who prey on people on the move in the desert and at sea.
BLESSING: “We put pictures of cars and houses that aren’t ours, and that is what deceives our people back in Africa.”
ISIBOR: “When we post pictures on Facebook, those back home will say ‘These guys have become so rich over there in Europe.’ So, to those saving up a huge amount of money planning to embark upon the journey, I implore you to find something else to do. Don’t risk your life going to Libya.”