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Nigeria’s Libya-returnees and the survival of “arabo children”5 minutes read

Trials and travails of Nigerian women-returnees from Libya’s den of human trafficking

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Nigeria's Libya-returnees and the survival of "arabo children"

She was only 18 when she gave birth without a doctor in a Tripoli apartment, gripping the hand of her best friend who had come on a journey they hoped would lead from Nigeria to Europe.

For Joy, who told her story to reporters on the condition that her name be changed, those dreams of a new life on another continent had come to a halt.

Her daughter was the child of her Libyan captor — a guard at a detention camp for illegal migrants where she had first been held after being picked up by authorities in the country. 

He had asked her to move to his flat, and she was not in a position to be able to say ‘no’. Once there, she said that she was trapped inside for a year and turned into his slave.

When she became pregnant, he had attempted to force her out and tried everything to send her finally on the perilous journey by boat across the Mediterranean.

After a series of failed attempts to make her leave, he threatened to kill her and the child, she said.

“They say we are black and we are not Muslims so it’s a forbidden thing to have a child from them,” Joy, now aged 19, said.

Joy eventually managed to escape and to hide with a friend. She had never been to see an obstetrician and feared if she went to a hospital her baby would be taken from her.

“I heard too many things like that,” she added.

“There (in Libya) they can beat you up, abuse you, rape you, they can even kill you, they don’t care.”

Back home –

Joy returned to her homeland of Nigeria in February last year thanks to a voluntary programme organised by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

She is one of more than 14,000 Nigerians who have flown back on chartered planes from Libya under the scheme since 2017.

About 35 per cent of those who have returned are women.

But the United Nations does not give a figure for the number of children “for their own protection”.

The IOM estimates that there remain more than 60,000 Nigerians in Libya among roughly 600,000 migrants from 39 nations, most of them with no legal documents, held in camps, prisons, private houses or brothels.

Joy now lives at Betsy Angels Shelter, a reintegration and training centre in Benin City in Nigeria’s southern Edo State, a hub for human trafficking to Europe, and her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter is in daycare.

Her lighter skin makes her stand out from the other children. 

“I tell people that her dad is a white man,” Joy says, as if she, somehow, managed to live a bit of the new life she longed for in Europe.

‘Arabo children’ –

Migrants and the aid workers in Nigeria who help them say that most children born in Libya and brought back to Nigeria by their mothers have African, not Libyan fathers.

They speak of the babies more often being born as the result of rape by traffickers, who transport the migrants through the deserts, or from coerced sex with sub-Saharan African customers in Libyan brothels, where women are often sold and locked up.

Whatever their origins, in Nigeria, these children born in Libya are nicknamed “Arabo children” — stigmatised for the circumstances of their birth.

“Some will say ‘those Arabo children, we don’t want them in our house’,” Jennifer Ero, national co-ordinator for Nigeria’s Child Protection Network, said.

When the women leave on the journey to Europe, families expect them to end up sending back money to help relatives at home. 

But the reality can be very different.

READ: 163 Nigerian migrants return home from Libya

“Now they come back, they didn’t reach Europe, they come with debts, and with baggage — with a child with no name,” Ero said. 

The protection centre that Ero runs in Benin City also provides psychological support for the women. 

The caregiver says that most of the mothers being looked after confide that they thought of aborting, if only they’d had access to the necessary medical help.

Some can be aggressive with their babies, she adds.

‘There is hope’ –

Tiny Justice is small for a toddler of his age. 

But at 18 months, he already carefully investigates the bedroom where he stays and immediately toddles over to hug his mother when he sees her cry. 

Faith, who also asked for her name to be changed, was 19 when she became pregnant in what she calls the “ghetto” — a cluster of buildings in Gatrone in Libya’s southwestern desert where migrants are held.

Her smugglers sold Faith and 10 other people to another gang of traffickers. Three years on, she is the only one to have returned to Nigeria. 

One remains trapped in Libya. 

“The rest of us… all of them are gone. Only the two of us survived,” she told reporters. 

Faith said the traffickers, who came from a number of different countries, brutally ruled over their prisoners’ lives as they demanded ransoms to release them. 

“We are kept captives, the men they torture them, they hang them on a cross like Jesus, they burn them,” she recounted.

“The girls, if we don’t sleep with them, they wouldn’t give us food. They tell us that if we don’t sleep with them, they will sell us. They sleep with us all the time. This is how I got pregnant.”

Since returning to Nigeria, she has not been able to find work and is struggling to rebuild her life.

But as she talks, the young mother caresses her son’s head — and this gives her strength. 

“As long as my baby and I are alive, there is hope,” she said. 

“Because of what we’ve been through together, I love my baby very, very much.”

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Ghana’s traders’ union vows to maintain stance on foreign traders in the country

Trade union members had on Sunday night, locked up more than 100 shops belonging to foreign traders

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Ghana's traders' union vows to maintain stance on foreign traders in the country

The Greater Accra Regional Secretary of Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA), Nana Kwame Poku, says the Association’s stance against foreign retailers is in the right direction.

Poku said the Association must ensure the implementation of the law which the Ghanian authorities have failed to implement over the years.

He described those in authority who ask GUTA to exercise patience with foreign traders as hypocrites.

In the same vein, the Greater Accra Regional Chairman of GUTA, David Kwadwo Amoateng said the group will keep foreigners shops closed until they hear from the Presidency again.

Kwadwo maintains that Ghana’s laws stipulate that foreigners should not engage in retail business, so any foreigner doing that is breaking the law.

Recall that some GUTA members had on Sunday night, locked up more than 100 shops belonging to foreign traders who they accused of breaching the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) law.

While on his recent tour of the Greater Accra region, President Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo pleaded with GUTA to allow the ongoing consultations between them, the Trade Ministry and Ghana Immigration Service, on the other hand, to be completed in a bid to find a lasting solution to the problem.

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Court in Nigeria orders DSS to release Omoyele Sowore within 24 hours

Sowore and Bakare have been detained by the DSS since August 3, 2019, for alleged treasonable felony and denied release by the DSS

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Release Sowore within 24 hours - Court orders
Convener of "#Revolution Now" Omoyele Sowore speaks during his arraignment for charges against the government at the Federal High Court in Abuja, on September 30, 2019. (Photo by KOLA SULAIMON / AFP)

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Thursday, ordered the Department of State Services (DSS) to release Omoyele Sowore, the convener of the #RevolutionNow Protest and Olawale Bakare, his co-defendant within 24 hours.

Recall that Sowore and Bakare have been detained by the DSS since August 3, 2019, for alleged treasonable felony despite several court orders directing their release.

READ: Nigerian court grants activist, Sowore ₦100 million bail

Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, who gave the order, also awarded an N100, 000 fine against the DSS for its delay to serve the defence counsel with the additional proof of evidence in the ongoing trial.

Justice Ojukwu ordered that the N100,000 fine be paid before the next hearing.

A visibly angry Ojukwu said that having signed the warrants for the release of the defendants from custody, and the warrants served on the defendants, the DSS had no reason to hold the defendants in its custody.

READ: Nigerian court orders release of opposition critic, Sowore

Justice Ojukwu also threatened to jail the Director of DSS if he fails to release the defendants.

The prosecuting counsel, Hassan Liman (SAN), insisted that the DSS had not obeyed the court order for their release, even though the DSS had no power to constitute itself into a parallel court.

The matter has been adjourned to Friday for the continuation of trial.

However, despite the court order to release the defendants within 24 hours, operatives of the DSS returned them to their custody at the end of the proceedings.

READ: Nigerian court approves 45-day extension of protest leader’s detention

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The Nigerian radio show that offers a platform to the voiceless

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The Nigerian radio show that offers a platform to the voiceless
A handicapped man poses for a portrait in front of a human rights radio station, where he’s about to lodge a complaint, over the airwaves in Abuja, on November 20, 2019. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

Early each morning, a crowd gathers outside Ahmad Isah’s radio studio in Nigeria’s capital Abuja hoping to share their problems over the airwaves.

For those waiting — men and women, young and old — Isah’s Brekete Family show offers a rare chance try to hold officials to account in a country where rampant graft and abuses of the justice system often frustrate citizens.

The lucky few who Isah picks each day get to make themselves heard on issues ranging from their struggles against the authorities to medical needs and requests for financial assistance. The others will have to come back another time. 

“My goal is to give a voice to the voiceless, facilitate arbitration, expose wrongdoings and force those in power to respect rights,” says Isah. “The inspiration is about justice, kindness, and support to humanity.”

Nicknamed the ‘Ordinary President’, Isah begins his live show on Human Rights radio with a call and response in pidgin, the language widely spoken in Nigeria, to get his audience fired up. 

Teacher Winifred Ogah has come to try to get some redress after she says a local court wrongly auctioned off her car for failing to pay rent on her house.

“I believe that the justice you get here, you can’t get it outside,” she said. “I have been listening to the programme and was encouraged by how other people’s problems were being resolved.”

‘Usually unheard’ 

Rights groups in Africa’s most populous nation often complain of a culture of impunity, where the wealthy easily skew the system in their favour and officials rarely have to answer for their misdeeds. 

“The voices of the masses in Nigeria are usually unheard because they don’t have the financial muscle or connections to be able to project their views especially when in need of justice,” says Daniel Soe tan, from the Goodwill Ambassadors of Nigeria civil society organisation. He is a regular listener to Isa’s show and lauds it for “helping to project the voices of ordinary people” in a way that makes it difficult for officials to ignore. 

“When these issues are projected, it attracts the attention of the authorities to attend to their plights,” Soe tan said. “It is a forum that allows people to speak because if they are left with authorities alone, there can be bureaucracies and attempts to silence them.”

Human Rights radio has been on air since 2006 and while Isah did not give precise audience figures he insisted it even had listeners outside Nigeria. They first need to depose to an affidavit at the High Court in Nigeria in which they swear they are telling the truth.  

‘Nothing is working’ 

It is not easy taking on the powerful interests deeply entrenched at every level of Nigeria’s federal, regional and local governments. But Isah insists the radio show’s combative style has had concrete results bringing officials to book. 

“Some of them see us as a threat. They don’t like us. We have exposed several corruption cases that other people are afraid to go close to,” he said. “There is injustice everywhere, the government is not accountable, and there is no justice for the poor, bad roads, terrible hospitals. Nothing is working in this country.”

Over 44 per cent of Nigeria’s roughly 190 million people are estimated to live in extreme poverty and that fraction is expected to grow as the population expands.

The show also looks to give financial assistance to those in need with support from the MacArthur Foundation and its own fund-raising. One of the beneficiaries Luis Kinta said the radio had raised two million naira to boost his shoemaking business.

“I came here without knowing anyone. The good thing is that ordinary president assists without knowing the tribe, religious and affinity of those he supports,” he said. 

But the major focus for Isah remains on trying to get redress for those wronged by Nigeria’s abusive officials — and the flow of hopefuls bringing cases to him shows no sign of slowing. 

“The justice system is only for the rich, not for the poor, So this is why we need this kind of journalism in this country,” he said. “I will never give up.” 

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