From Nigeria to Libya and Europe: the risks on the journey

From Nigeria to Libya and Europe: the risks on the journey

Many Nigerians have died trying to reach Libya, and many more have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. Below you will find the main dangers for irregular migrants at each step of the long and risky journey from Nigeria to Libya and onwards to Europe.

Migrants have to travel through several different countries and experience many dangers along the way to their destination in Europe. For Nigerian migrants, Libya is often a dead end, as the crisis in 2017 revealed. Yet, there are other serious risks one should be aware of. This is life-saving information.

What migrants go through in Niger

In 2017, Niger passed anti-smuggling laws and is actively fighting smuggling, with the help of the European Union (EU), which is training their security forces. In 2016, the security forces arrested nearly 300 smugglers and confiscated 170 trucks used to transport migrants in Agadez. This has resulted in smugglers increasing their prices and more kidnappings for ransom.

A shop owner in Agadez confessed that since migrants now have to hide in ghettos, “they cannot check the local market prices so we can charge them double or even three times the price.”

Migrants sometimes have to hide in compounds in Agadez, the migrant transit town, to avoid being arrested. They often run out of money there, as Agadez is expensive for migrants.

Those who do not speak French, like Nigerians, are particularly vulnerable. One teenage Nigerian girl reported having to work as a prostitute in a migrant compound in Agadez in order to save money. It took her 18 months to earn enough to leave.

There are very few jobs in Agadez, because migrants have to hide from the police and do not speak the language. Nigerian migrants get stuck in Agadez with no money to either move forward on their journey or to go back home. If they want to leave, they must rely on family support.

A dangerous journey across the Sahara Desert

There may be more migrants dying in the Sahara Desert than at sea. The Sahara Desert is a huge ungoverned region, and there are many criminal gangs and bandits who attack and kidnap migrants or rob them of their belongings.

The journey through the desert can take weeks. The terrain is difficult, and the temperatures are very high during the day so cars can break down, leaving migrants stranded in the desert.

In this situation, or if cars get lost, migrants can die of starvation and from the heat. Sometimes migrants suffocate and die in the back of trucks and their bodies are not discovered until the truck is unloaded in Libya. People also die falling out of overcrowded trucks. Migrants regularly report passing dead bodies on the journey.

There have been numerous official reports of hundreds of corpses being found in the Sahara. The number is likely to be higher, but nobody knows, because the desert is so large and has no roads. Many migrants’ bodies become buried in sand and are never found.

“On our way from Niger to Saba, our vehicle had a breakdown in the desert. We were with two Nigerian women in the vehicle, and the driver told us all to come down and push the vehicle. The women said they were women and the sun was hot so they should be excused. The driver stabbed both of them to death.”

A migrant returnee said.

Recently the military have started patrolling the main routes to the Libyan border, and there are thousands of cases of migrants being abandoned in the Sahara by drivers who fear going to jail.

Libya: a dead end for many Nigerian migrants

Libya is a very unstable state with no single government. Migrants are regularly arrested and placed in detention centres, many of which are under the control of militias and armed groups who see migrants as an easy way to make money.

Mohammed, a migrant, was held captive in Libya and tortured in a detention centre. The militia called his parents regularly to ask for money, but they could not afford to pay. He managed to escape after two years.

There is very little food or water in Libyan detention centres, and migrants are regularly beaten, raped and murdered. Some die of starvation and poor health. Detention centres are also overcrowded, and migrants sometimes have to sleep standing up.

If the detention centres or migrant warehouses become too full, or if migrants do not have enough money to pay their smugglers, they risk being sold in slave markets and forced to work. Many women have ended up in sex slavery.

Overall, nearly 50% of Nigerian migrants that Seefar spoke to had witnessed murder in Libya and nearly all had either experienced or witnessed physical assault and beatings.

A risky journey across the Mediterranean Sea (Libya to Italy)

It is difficult to get on a boat in Libya as the beaches are patrolled, and migrants are regularly arrested. With support from the European Union, there is an increasing number of Libyan coastguards trained to stop smuggling boats in the Mediterranean Sea. Once they are at sea, many boats thus have to return to Libya, and migrants are placed in detention centres again. Migrants have paid money to agents for access to a boat, but the agents take their money and disappear.

Smugglers often lie about the length of the journey and do not tell migrants that the boats are overcrowded, unsuitable for long sea journeys and are at risk of sinking.

In 2017, one in 36 migrants died attempting to cross the Mediterranean, and since 2014 16,850 migrants have died during the crossing. Many of those were Nigerians.

Smugglers have shot migrants on the beach in Libya if they refuse to get on the boat, and the Libyan coastguard has also shot at migrant boats transporting Nigerians.

Travelling in Europe can also be risky for irregular migrants

Journeys to and through Europe for refugees and migrants remain fraught with danger,” said Pascale Moreau, director of UNHCR’s Europe Bureau. European border controls are extremely strict. At each border there is a high chance of being arrested and returned to Nigeria.

Smugglers hide migrants in trucks and the boots of cars. Sometimes migrants get trapped and die there. Often migrants have to cross difficult terrain on foot, including mountains, forests and rivers, for many days with no shelter and during winter, in very cold and harsh weather.

Nigerian migrants can return safely

An increasing number of irregular Nigerian migrants now choose to return. Thousands of Nigerians have been repatriated to Nigeria from Libya so far under the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) voluntary return and rehabilitation programme, which is being implemented in collaboration with the European Union (EU).

Alhaji Mustapha Maihaja, the Director-General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), said they are collaborating with IOM to ensure that Nigerians stranded in Libya were brought back home. “We are here to ensure that they are well received. We feed and give them money to enable them get back to their respective destinations,” he said.

An increasing number of Nigerians return to the country or decide to stay given the risks and price of irregular migration. Find out more about Nigerians returning home:


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