Nigerian returnee from Libya cautions others against taking the irregular route to Europe

Since the launch of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) voluntary return programme, more than 8, 000 Nigerian migrants have been brought back to Nigeria since April 2017 after facing torture, abuse and exploitation in Libya.

The Migrant Project spoke with  32-year-old Yusuf Sakiru Owolabi, a returnee from Libya, who is one of many Nigerian migrants who have risked their lives to get to Europe.

Yusuf left Nigeria for Libya in June 2017. Like many Nigerian migrants, Yusuf travelled through the vast and ungoverned Sahara desert with the aim of reaching Italy. But he never made it. Yusuf was arrested in Libya and imprisoned for over one year, during which time he suffered heavily. He was finally repatriated to Nigeria in January 2018 by IOM’s voluntary return programme.

Today, Yusuf has established a successful and flourishing furniture business in Nigeria and is in charge of four apprentices.  

Yusuf said he will never travel to Europe again, “Initially I wanted to go to Europe to gain more work experience, make more money and come back to establish a big furniture business,” he said, “But today, as you can see, I have a flourishing furniture shop. Nothing will make me go to Europe again.”

Like many other migrants, Yusuf experienced multiple hardships on his journey to Europe.

“The journey from Nigeria to Libya through the desert is horrible. So many people died in the desert, including women and children. There were dead bodies littered everywhere in the desert. There was no water for us to drink and we had no choice but to share drinking water with camels and donkeys or die of exhaustion. Anybody who died along the way was thrown into the open desert,” he said.

Yusuf said he narrowly escaped death in the Mediterranean sea and suffered in a Libyan prison. Yusuf said his prayers to be with his wife and child saved him from the claws of death.

Yusuf spent over USD 1,300 on his failed journey to Europe which nearly cost him his life. He has a strong message for other Nigerians who are still planning to migrate irregularly to Europe and the US: “Anybody who has a genuine reason to travel to Europe should find legal ways to migrate. They should not attempt to cross the desert. I have gone and come back. It is only God, my wife’s prayer, and that of my parents and my child that saw me come back alive.”

Yusuf knows that he is one of the lucky ones. He said, “Some people who embarked on the journey died in the desert, others reached Libya and were killed. Some died in the sea after their boat capsized.”

Reflecting on his experience, he said, “In my entire lifetime, I will never try embarking on the desert journey again.”

TMP 19/02/2019

Photo: Yusuf Sakiru Owolabi inside his furniture shop in Lagos, Nigeria

Credit: TMP