Returnee relives illegal migration ordeals – The Sun Nigeria

Aloysius Attah, Onitsha

As a shoe manufacturer in Aba, Abia State, years back, life was on a slow lane for Mr Tochukwu Igboeri and he tried to make ends meet by hustling. Then one day, one of his colleagues who travelled to South Africa came back and was spending money like he was simply taking from a running tap.

With a retinue of girlfriends to maintain then, Tochukwu got a shocker when he realized that his girlfriends had deserted him for his friend who was then ‘burning’ cash.  From that moment, he immediately had his mind fixated on going abroad or nothing else.

Still smarting from losing his girls to his friend, he ate the humble and sought assistance from the same man on how he could travel out of the country, to make it.

“My friend told me that I would bring a specified amount of money, and I didn’t hesitate to oblige his demand. He traveled back to base and told me that he send me visa but stated that I would still send some money to enable process the documents. He went back with the advance payment I made and I never heard from him for over two years.

“Later on, another man came to us in Aba then saying there was an opportunity abroad for domestic cooks, security men, musicians and others. After going through the paper, I settled for security work based on my bulky frame and after some processes, an invitation letter was sent to us and we were told to process our international passports.

“I went to Owerri and got the passport and was planning to go to the embassy for an interview. Suddenly, they told me that there was no need for the visa interview again since another option had opened for us.  They collected about N50,000 from six of us then as a waiver for the visa interview and told us to plan for the travel within three weeks.

“They told us to get ready to pay N150,000 for visa fee, N75,000 for flight ticket and because of desperation to go by all means, I sold some of my properties and gave them the money. I wanted to take my people unawares such that by the time they would know what was going on, I would have called them from overseas and also return with some dollars to throw around.

Journey to nowhere

On the departure date, Tochukwu thought that that they were heading to Lagos, where they would board a plane, but he sensed the first sign of trouble when their vehicle headed towards Northern Nigeria.

“I asked them where we were and they told us pointblank that we can’t travel by air again because the Canadian visas had been seized by government but we shouldn’t worry since there is an alternate route, that we shall go through Libya where we would be issued visa to enter Canada.

“About this time, two of the people among us became troubled by the development and pulled out of the journey but because my mind was made up to travel abroad, I said there was no going back. One of us who was as desperate as myself voiced out his conviction loudly and said that even if we would trek to overseas, there was no problem so far we would get there at last.  Back then, we heard that some people use alternate routes like going by ship, but we never knew we were in the same route already albeit in a very hard and tortuous manner.

“I was fixated on the belief that, as they told us, once I set my feet in Libya, I would fly to Canada from there. To cut the long story short, we found ourselves somewhere in Kebbi State and were taken to a rugged vehicle that looked like recovery van. The tied all manner of luggage and containers in the vehicle. I was perplexed but they told us to relax that the vehicle would take us to where we will board a train for onward journey to Libya.”

Our travel guide disappears

Midway into the journey, the vehicle came to a momentary halt and to the chagrin of the travelers, their original guides disappeared and it turned out they had been handed over to a new set of people entirely, without any previous or prior discussion.

In short order, the new guide informed the party that the former guide had handed over to him to continue the journey. Tochukwu and the others boarded another vehicle, which sped through the road at high speed. Sometimes the driver would screech to a stop and tell his passengers that the signal received had shown that there was no thoroughfare ahead. Tochukwu said that they would remain at a spot for a whole day before continuing the journey until they got to a place and the vehicle ‘packed’ up.  The sudden ‘fault’ developed by the vehicle meant that we had reached a dead end, transportation-wise.

Trekking mode activated

At this spot, the travel party was told that trekking was the only option to continue the journey even as the members were given the false hope that they would not trek for long before getting to Libyan boundary. In the course of the trek, there was a commotion that compelled every member of the party to run in different directions.  To make matters worse, their stock of water and cartons of sausage rolls got depleted.  The guides had earlier warned the travel party not to drink too much water so that the stock would not run out fast. So they took climbing any coconut within sight to harvest the fruits, break them and the water in it.

When they got into the desert, Tochukwu said he and the others got completely lost, not knowing where they were, whether heading east or west. There was no tree to provide shade. “We saw many dried corpses and those dead bodies never returned to their families again. Sometimes you would just bump into the body of man sprawled on the ground with a bag strapped to his back. Such a person would place both hands on the head and if still fresh, you might think that he was resting but until you touched him and then realize he was lifeless. In that very position would the body decay and become food for wild animals,” Tobechukwu recounted.

Massed up at Libyan border for one month

In the course of time, Tobechukwu’s co-trekkers got close to the Libyan border. But being able to cross into the country became a different ballgame.  Border guards were stationed in the area on 24-hour surveillance, and would often unleash police dogs in the forest there. Whenever the dogs barked, a stampede ensued. Some of the trekkers would climb trees and stay on them over night and in the morning come down, to trek a long distance away from the vicinity to avoid being traced at all. In the night, they would trek back to the same place near the border to try again and see if there was any possibility to crossover. In some instances, crossers from the country would scout for desperate people assuring them of helping them cross over for a fee, but in most cases they just abandoned the person, who ended up in the prison.

Sometimes, somebody would escape from them and return to the desert to inform the ones waiting there on the antics of the crossers, so that they would be wary of them, as the presumed helpers were actually leading people into prison.

The experience of Tobechukwu was so bad that they would urinate into polybags and then drink it to stay hydrated as they went back and forth, running at intervals and seeking for an elusive help.

About 500 Nigerians in concentration camp

Eventually, Tobechukwu was able to get into Libya, but there was no respite yet for him as the country was in turmoil at the time. Unable to understand Arabic, he was expectedly confused about what to do. Fortunately, he was able to find a woman, who understood very little English but with sign language, Tobechukwu begged her to accommodate him. But problem started when her son returned and became furious. The boy reported him to the police and he was arrested.

He was detained with more than 500 Nigerians in concentration camp. The treatment was inhuman; many of the detainees were emaciated and sick. Several of them were taken away and never returned. Meanwhile the woman who had earlier given him temporary refuge continued pleading with her son and after some weeks, the son came back to the camp, spoke their language to the guards and Tobechukwu was released from there.

Getting into Greece

“He took me to a corner and told me to run for my life and I ran into the forest. Later in the day, he came looking for me within that area and showed me a track road where motorists ply sparingly. The same boy gave me robes and taught me how to dress and look like their people. I boarded one of the vehicles in that area and rode into Morocco. After three weeks, I became a labourer in their farms.  I worked in their rice farms and did other menial jobs for eight months before I got into Greece. In Greece, I became a mercenary for dealers on tobacco stuffs in order to survive and was into such a dangerous business with its attendant risks for long before I switched to the repair and construction of power bikes. I had prior knowledge of mechanical issues in bikes while in Nigeria and when I saw somebody doing such in Greece I sought his assistance and joined him. He taught me more on the construction and repair of power bikes and that was when I began to live normal life again until I realized some money and made some savings. I sent something home and decided to finally come back home. All these took me seven years.  For six years I didn’t make a single call to my people in the village.”

Illegal immigrants as canned beef

Toochukwu in summation said that the stress of the so-called struggle for the Golden Fleece abroad is not worth it.  He also alleged that some of the illegal migrants who were captured in the desert were killed and used to produce canned beef. He said that some of the canned beef products people consume as foreign goods were actually produced from human beings crushed to make tinned foods.

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