Escaping Nigeria, wasting in the Sahara | Dailytrust

Escaping Nigeria, wasting in the Sahara

Ifunaya Isreal Onuwa never made it to Algeria as he was trapped in the desert for months
Ifunaya Isreal Onuwa never made it to Algeria as he was trapped in the desert for months
  • Deported Nigerian migrants open up on ordeal

Recently, dozens of Nigerians who illegally migrated to Algeria, and others who were on their way there, were deported back to the country. While some seem keen on going back, others are just relieved to be back home.

For Favour George, who until recently was based in Algeria, the idea of leaving Nigeria illegally appealed to her. When she first heard of the trip, of leaving Nigeria and setting up somewhere else, she said to herself, “I should go and try.”

She saved some money and paid for the illegal crossing. She travelled by road, crossing the scorching Sahara Desert and terminating her journey in Algeria, the oil-rich Arab country in North Africa. The journey, she recalls, was stressful.

“Starting from Sokoto, you take a bike to beat the border  [patrol]. From there, there is a place you get to, they will use their vehicle to beat the border [patrol] to maybe Algeria, Morocco or others. Depending on the country of your choice,” she said.

She did not carry a passport along but on the way, she made a temporary one, which was eventually taken from her.

But why did she leave Nigeria? Well, she was ambitious.

“Looking at Nigeria and how difficult things are, not everybody who has money can take care of themselves,” she said.

She was not alone on this journey. Many others opted for other countries in search of the proverbial greener pasture. Living in Nigeria, according to them, had become tough. Some of them have academic qualifications but still could not find jobs.

Favour was not one of those people. She is a secondary school dropout and no jobs were waiting for her in Algeria. She rented a studio apartment and started braiding hair to make a living. She was also into petty trading. She needed to send money back to her family in Delta State.

But Algeria was far from the heaven she anticipated. “You know Arab people are so difficult but we know how to live with them,” she said. Yet, despite this, they did things to her.

“Stealing your money, robbing you, breaking into your house with knives,” she said. And on top of this, she was deported twice. None of these was a particularly auspicious homecoming. The first time, her mother passed away.

“The second deportation was when I gave birth to my first son,” she said. “So, the deportation was still hot, you couldn’t move from the house, you have to go and look for money, come back home and sit down. I left Algeria with nothing. No bag, no phone, nothing. I left everything in Algeria.”

However, with this deportation, she is not sad. “I feel good because I am still alive for the three years I have been out of Nigeria,” she said. But now she has to start from scratch to rebuild a life here in Nigeria. This time with a child on her lap.

Umar Lawal Abubakar worked as a building painter in Algeria before his deportation

Umar Lawal Abubakar worked as a building painter in Algeria before his deportation

Just like Favour, Umar Lawal Abubakar, from Kano State, spent time in Algeria until he was deported.

“I spent over six months there,” he said. “We returned from Algeria with joy but it was different in Nigeria. I am a painter and did screeding work in Algeria. The work is not appreciated in Nigeria, that’s why I left.”

For him, the first challenge was the heat, he said. The heat made the Ramadan fast difficult for him.

He too blamed  unemployment for leaving. He wanted to make some money in Algeria and set up a business in Nigeria. But his experience in that country was traumatic.

“We didn’t steal or caused problems but with your tools, you get arrested in their country while we treat them with kindness in Nigeria,” he said.

Usman Abdullahi spent seven months in Algeria. He left Nigeria on January 8, 2020, because he wanted to make some money. He only worked in Algeria for 28 days as a welder before he was apprehended by immigration officers.

For him, deportation was a relief. “Now, that I am back to Nigeria, I feel happy.”

Most of these returnees were young and ambitious. Some of them are in their middle ages, like Felicia Tamara, from Edo State. Despite being apprehended by the Algerian immigration in “the bush,” she does not seem entirely pleased by her deportation.

Felicia thought she could start a new life in Algeria where she sold clothes, after spending six months in the Niger Republic.

“Are they going to give us jobs?” she asked of the Nigerian government. “Will they give us capital to continue our jobs?”

For the likes of Ifunaya Isreal Onuwa from Ebonyi State, it was the walk across the desert that broke him. He had left Nigeria six months before. He never quite made it to his destination as he was lost in the desert where he starved for days.

“In the desert, many people died, some are nowhere to be found because they could not stand the torture but here I am without any injury or dislocation,” he said.

This was the first time he was attempting to leave the country.

“I have not travelled before to see what others have seen and I have gone there, I have seen and confirmed what’s going on there and I will not advise anybody to enter that road without going through due process or having proper documents that will ensure that you travel safely,” he said.

As far as he is concerned, only those who have survived the hardship of the desert will appreciate his warning.

Despite many travellers dying in the terrible crossing, many Nigerians will still attempt it as they have been doing for years.


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