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

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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Feature News

Top African musician DJ Arafat dies in road accident

According to messages and pictures circulating on social media, he had been driving a motorbike and smashed into a car

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Ivory Coast's musician DJ Arafat holds the award for best artist of the year during the Coupe-Decale Awards in Abidjan

DJ Arafat, an Ivorian singer with a huge following in many parts of Africa, has died after a road accident in Abidjan, the state broadcaster RTI said on Monday. “Death of artist DJ Arafat… today at 8 am as a result of a road accident overnight,” it tweeted.

According to messages and pictures circulating on social media, he had been driving a motorbike and smashed into a car. Critically injured, he was taken to an Abidjan hospital, where he later died. 

Ivory Coast's singer DJ Arafat in Auto Crash
Ivory Coast’s singer DJ Arafat poses with his award for the best coupé-décalé singer of the year on October 16, 2016, in Abidjan. (Photo by ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP)

Born in Abidjan in 1986, DJ Arafat – real name Ange Didier Huon – was avidly followed in French-speaking western and central African countries. He recorded and released 11 albums, mainly of “coupe-decale” – a dance music form combining choppy rhythms with hip-hop-style vocals.

Ivorian Culture Minister Maurice Kouakou Bandaman expressed his condolences and said a tribute would be organised to honour the musician.

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Lifestyle News

EFCC charge Atiku Abubakar’s lawyer with corruption

Legal advisor Uyi Giwa Osagie is accused of handling $2 million without going through a “financial institution”

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Former Nigerian Vice President, Atiku Abubakar

Nigerian anti-corruption investigators have charged the lawyer of defeated presidential challenger Atiku Abubakar with money laundering, an official said Friday.

Legal advisor Uyi Giwa Osagie is accused of handling $2 million without going through a “financial institution”, a lawyer for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) told AFP.

Election runner-up Abubakar has launched a legal challenge against the result of the fiercely contested poll in February that saw him lose out to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. 

Several people close to the defeated candidate have been targeted by the anti-graft agency since the vote, in what Abubakar’s supporters have described as a witch hunt. 

Osagie was first detained in February after his house was raided in Lagos but released from custody several weeks later. 

Boladale Adekoya, a spokesman for Abubakar’s campaign accused anti-corruption investigators of being “more dedicated to partisanship than rule of law”.

“They are clearly acting on behalf of a higher authority,” he told AFP. 

Abubakar’s son-in-law was also detained in the wake of the election as part of a money-laundering probe but has yet to face charges.

Buhari swept to power in 2015 on a pledge to fight the rampant graft in Nigeria — but critics accused the former military ruler of using the crackdown to go after his opponents during his first term. 

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Politics

Death toll from Boko Haram funeral attack in Nigeria rises to 65

Witness says 23 people were killed as they returned from the funeral and “the remaining 42 were killed when they pursued the terrorists”.

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Death toll from Boko Haram funeral attack in Nigeria rises to 65
(File photo)

An attack this weekend by Boko Haram fighters on a funeral in northeast Nigeria has left 65 people dead, almost triple the initial toll, a local official said Sunday.

Dozens more bodies were discovered following the assault Saturday by gunmen on a village close to the regional capital Maiduguri.

“It is 65 people dead and 10 injured,” local government chairman Muhammed Bulama said.

Bulama said more than 20 people died in the initial attack on a funeral gathering. Dozens more were killed as they tried to chase after the jihadists.

The leader of a local anti-Boko Haram militia confirmed the death toll, while giving a slightly different account of the attack.

Bunu Bukar Mustapha told reporters that 23 people were killed as they returned from the funeral and “the remaining 42 were killed when they pursued the terrorists”.

Reporters at the scene saw houses burnt in the attack. Relatives collected the bodies of those slain for burial. 

Smoldering ashes are seen on the ground in Budu near Maiduguri on July 28, 2019, after the latest attack this weekend by Boko Haram fighters on a funeral in northeast Nigeria has left 65 people dead. (Photo by Audu Marte / AFP)

Bulama said he thought the latest attack was in retaliation for the killing two weeks ago of 11 Boko Haram fighters by local residents when the jihadists approached their village. The residents also captured 10 automatic rifles. 

Boko Haram fighters have repeatedly attacked the surrounding Nganzai district.

In September last year, the group killed eight people and stole livestock in two villages in the area after residents tried to stop them from taking their animals.

Boko Haram has waged a decade-long campaign of violence in northeast Nigeria that has killed around 27,000 people and displaced more than two million.

There are persistent attacks despite repeated claims from the Nigerian government that it has broken the insurgency. 

The jihadists have splintered between the Boko Haram faction loyal to historic leader Abubakar Shekau and an affiliate of the Islamic State group. 

Shekau’s group tends to hit softer targets including civilians, while the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) has since last year ratcheted up its campaign against the Nigerian military.

In June, 30 people were killed by a triple suicide bombing targeting football fans in Konduga, 38 kilometres (24 miles) from Maiduguri. The attack had the hallmarks of Shekau’s faction. 

Late Thursday, the group attacked a camp for displaced people outside the state capital, killing two residents and looting food supplies after burning a nearby military base.

Communities have increasingly turned to self-defence groups to protect themselves against the jihadist attacks. 

Vigilantes and local hunters have taken up arms to safeguard local residents amid widespread complaints that the military does not do enough to defend them.

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