(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • In a Nigerian migration hub, a local group swaps work skills for European dreams

    Judith Giwa is not a migrant, but because she was unemployed and considered vulnerable to migration or trafficking she qualified for training with a local non-profit organisation working to help migrant returnees in Nigeria’s Benin City.


    “I learned this in just three months,” she said, holding up an orange-and-blue wax print child’s dress that she made in a clothes-making course run by Idia Renaissance. “Isn’t it beautiful?”


    Giwa, 31, said she has no intention of trying to migrate to Europe as so many other Nigerians have. During a recent “life skills” class, the discussion focused on the dangers of human smuggling.


    “If I ever go to Europe, I’ll go by plane,” she said. “And I’ll only go when I’ve something to show for it – something I can contribute.”


    Benin City, the capital of southern Edo State, has long been a hub for migrants setting off from Nigeria on the long and often unsuccessful trip to Europe. In mid-2018, some 60,000 Nigerian migrants were registered in Libya. Recently, though, people have started coming the other way.


    Since April 2017 almost 9,000 Nigerian migrants have returned after being stranded or detained in Libya while attempting to reach Europe, most aided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).


    But reaching home is only part of the journey, and local organisations such as the group that trained Giwa, Idia Renaissance, are leading the way in helping people get back on their feet and realise their potential.


    ☰ Read more: Why the aid sector wants to go local


    The global humanitarian system is overstretched. In 2017, the UN asked for a record $22.2 billion to cover 33 emergencies around the world. But the funding gap continues to widen as the price tag soars.


    What is local aid?


    The global aid sector has broadly committed to an agenda to “localise” aid – putting more power in the hands of locals working on the ground where emergencies hit.


    Why local aid?


    The aim of of the “localisation” agenda is to improve humanitarian response by making it faster, less costly, and more in tune with the needs of the tens of millions of people who receive humanitarian aid each year. Local aid workers are closer to the ground, they have local knowledge and skills, they can often access areas that international aid groups can’t reach, and they know the needs of their own communities.


    Who are local aid workers?


    Local humanitarian aid includes a broad spectrum of potential on-the-ground responders to crises and disasters: local NGOs, civil society groups and community leaders, indigenous peoples, local governments, faith groups, as well as people who are themselves affected by crises, including refugees, migrants, host communities, and everyday volunteers helping people to reintegrate.


    New skills


    Besides Idia Renaissance, several other local organisations offer training programmes, including the Initiative for Youth Awareness on Migration, Development and Reintegration (IYAMIDR), and the Committee for the Support of Dignity of Women (COSUDOW), a women’s shelter run by a group of nuns.

    Set up in 1999 to try to stem human trafficking and prostitution, Idia Renaissance, like other groups, has in recent years expanded its focus to include returned migrants and now gets most of its money from European organisations.


    It offers classes in cookery, tailoring, fashion design, hairdressing, beadwork and photography. Posters in its classrooms bear warnings in Pidgin: “I nor need to go abroad to make am” (“I don’t need to go abroad to make something of myself”), and “Many Nigerians dey waste away for oyinbo (‘caucasian’) land."


    “We give young Nigerians the skills they need to restart their lives, an alternative to a one-way journey to Europe,” said Roland Nwoha, an Idia Renaissance project coordinator. “You can have a future here, in Nigeria, in your home country – that’s what we want young people to know.”


    Oduwa (who, like others IRIN spoke to, preferred to be identified only by her first name), was trafficked into prostitution in Italy in 2012. On her return to Nigeria the following year, she enrolled in an Idia Renaissance course in catering.


    She now works in the catering unit of the Christian Women Fellowship International, a faith-based non-governmental organisation that teaches young women how to prepare and serve Nigerian dishes for large groups of people.


    "When I came back, I had to face the challenges of life. I couldn’t further my education, but I had to get a skill,” she said. “I became an instructor after some months, teaching catering as well. The experience was “a challenge for me, but it saved me,” she added.


    Between stirring and baking, Oduwa warns her students of the dangers of clandestine migration. “I tell them all the tricks I know human traffickers use,” she told IRIN.


    Yet many students still toy with the idea of leaving. “I’m already very happy when one girl changes her mind,” said Oduwa.


    Saskia Houttuin and Sarah Haaij/IRIN
    A student with the catering unit of the Christian Women Fellowship International, a cooking class that is taught by Oduwa.

    Turning the tide


    Despite the extreme hardships faced by Nigerian migrants in Libya, which often include detention and physical abuse, and are widely reported by those who return, many Nigerians continue to leave in search of better economic opportunities, including in Europe.


    “The people that are leaving all believe they will make it abroad,” explained Nwoha.

    “They believe that they are the exception, that they will be the ones to find a good job, and won't end up on the streets or in prostitution. So, with that confidence, they leave.”


    The most well-travelled route from Benin City leads through northern Kano State and on to Agadez in Niger and then to Libya.



    “In terms of human trafficking and illegal migration, Edo State has the highest numbers [of people leaving Nigeria],” said Aigbeze Uhimwen, a senior IOM project assistant who is overseeing the rollout of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration. “There is a very extended network for people who want to travel out.”


    The EU’s determination to reduce the flow is evidenced by their recent actions in the region.


    Through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), IOM Nigeria received 15.5 million euros to reintegrate returned migrants. IOM opened its first office in Benin City in March, offering information and a wide range of services to those considering migrating from Nigeria, as well as those who have returned.


    The Nigerian government’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, known as NAPTIP, also initiates training and awareness-raising programmes for returned and would-be migrants. Earlier this year NAPTIP intensified its work in Edo State by partnering up with the Oba of Benin, the influential monarch of the Edo people.  


    IOM’s integration services, which are being made available to 3,800 returning migrants, also include business skills training, as well as financial assistance to help people set up their own businesses. There is also awareness-raising, in the form of a Nollywood mini-series about the risks of irregular migration that was broadcast on national TV in 2017, reaching more than 100 million viewers.


    “We asked people here: ‘What kind of industry is needed?’” said Uhimwen. Responses, he said, led to plans to open a pineapple-processing factory that will generate between 100 and 200 direct jobs and benefit local farmers, transporters, and their families.


    “I don’t think the tide of human trafficking can be totally abolished or stopped,” he said. “But what I think can happen is that the frequency can be reduced to a very minimal level.”


    It’s too late to stop Rosemary, a 24-year-old mother of four, from making the trip. She left Benin City for Europe in March 2017 but got no further than Libya. IOM helped her return home that November.

    Less than a year later, a NAPTIP-run training programme has taught her to make soap and set up her own business, ‘Real Journey Liquid Soap’.

    She wants more help to make her business grow, but won’t be trying for Europe again any time soon. “I don’t have the thought of going out of this country again,” she said. “Because I know I can make it here.”



    “I’m already very happy when one girl changes her mind”
    In a Nigerian migration hub, a local group swaps work skills for European dreams
  • How weavers in Burkina Faso are now on Europe’s migration front line

    Speed, endurance, dexterity and an eye for colour: just some of the skills needed when weaving on a loom. Eveline Ouédraogo masters them all. Without visible effort, this Burkinabé woman rapidly moves her feet over the pedals, her hands manoeuvring 40 brightly coloured coils of thread.


    With each thread going back and forth, Ouédraogo, 37, earns a little bit more. Every fling on the loom brings her children a step closer to a better future: one the EU hopes – as the funder of the micro-enterprise where she works – will keep them at home rather than migrating north.


    Ouédraogo is employed by the Association Zoodo pour la Promotion de la Femme, and the fabric they produce has featured in international fashion magazines. “Did you know there’s even a picture of Beyoncé wearing our fabrics?” said Ouédraogo, well within her rights to boast.


    The association’s small workshop on the outskirts of the capital, Ouagadougou, is supported by the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), a programme run by the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the UN and the World Trade Organisation.


    Major fashion brands such as Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney are linked by EFI with artisans in poor countries, supporting the idea of “fashion as a vehicle for development”.


    Ouédraogo earns two to five euros per metre depending on the complexity of the fabric. On a good day, she can weave up to one and a half metres – making just a little over the average wage in Burkina Faso.


    Investing in people


    Last year, the EFI received €5 million from the multi-billion-dollar EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) to expand its programmes in Burkina Faso.


    The fund, launched in 2015, aims to tackle the root causes of outward migration through development aid, security and peacebuilding support, as well as financing for migration management.


    But in a country like Burkina Faso where remittances from migration represent real financial benefits for families, are projects like EFI – or more traditional EU rural development assistance – enough to dissuade young people from taking the risk of travelling to Europe?


    Some €3.3 billion has been pledged to the EUTF, according to the European Commission. Burkina Faso is one of 21 sub-Saharan African countries contributing to migration flows to Europe that is benefitting from the fund, to the tune of €84 million.


    Simone Cipriani, founder and head of EFI, believes the EUTF’s job creation strategy makes sense. “With this project, I think we will stabilise some jobs here, and tens, if not some hundreds, of people will decide to stay,” he told IRIN.


    By investing in new technology and expanding the customer order book, he believes the “hundreds of jobs” EFI supports could be transformed into “almost 2,800 jobs”.


    However, the evidence suggests that while increasing prosperity at home may encourage some people to stay, it also enables many more to leave. Cipriani acknowledged this. “People in Europe sometimes forget that people here in Africa have the freedom to go and migrate,” he added.


    Workshop at Association Zoodo pour la Promotion de la Femme
    Saskia Houttuin/Sarah Haaij/IRIN
    Workshop at Association Zoodo pour la Promotion de la Femme


    Take Christiane Zoungrana. Five days a week the 42-year-old wheelchair-bound weaver pushes herself to work to help provide for her family. She has no plans to migrate, but her eldest son has recently been talking a lot about leaving.


    Zoungrana would prefer to keep him as far away as possible from the dangers of the desert and Mediterranean, but he can’t seem to find a job. “If he really wants to go, I’ll help him,” she said, seeing the potential positive of having the means to employ someone to take care of her in the future if he made a success of himself elsewhere.


    Migration hotspot


    Burkina Faso is a poor, agriculture-based country. It historically provided workers to neighbouring economic powerhouse Cote d’Ivoire, until the country’s civil war in the early 2000s. Now destinations are far more diverse, from Europe to Libya, South Africa, oil-rich Gabon, even Morocco.


    The growing insecurity in Burkina Faso as a result of jihadist attacks in recent years – an outflow of the crisis in next-door Mali – is another incentive for young Burkinabé to leave their struggling country.


    “This country is very fragile. We are convinced that eventually the population density, the demographic growth, will force Burkinabé to migrate even more,” Thierry Barbé, head of EU Cooperation in Burkina Faso, told IRIN. “So, it is very important that we can fully pursue stability with the Trust Fund.”


    Western Union


    Approaching the southeastern province of Boulgou, small thatched houses make way for the occasional three-storey building. But this relative wealth is not as a result of the EUTF – it’s the fruit of migration.


    Boulgou is home to the Bissa people. They have a history of travel, since the 1980s to Italy in particular, typically to work on tomato farms in the south of the country.


    In the town of Béguédo, 230 kilometres southeast of Ougadougou, an unmissable bright yellow Western Union building greets visitors – testimony to the importance of remittances to this community. The World Bank estimates that as much as $454 million flowed home to families in Burkina Faso last year.


    Adama Bara, 32, returned to Béguédo from Libya a year ago when he failed to reach Europe. After a gruelling desert crossing, he was arrested and held in a detention centre where he says he was tortured.  


    “While they hit me, they called my parents and demanded ransom,” Bara said. With help from relatives and neighbours in Béguédo, his family was able to set him free. To repay his debts, he took a job at a Libyan construction site. When he realised he wasn’t going to get paid, he hitched a ride on the back of a lorry home to Béguédo.


    Bara is now pondering whether he should leave again, to try and join his brother and sister who are working in Italy. His four children, wife, and parents are all counting on him. He can’t support them with the few euros he earns each day from his small phone shop.


    His fear of failing his family is stronger than the dread of doing it all again. “I don’t care how difficult it is,” he told IRIN. “I know what to expect now.”


    Adama Bara
    Saskia Houttuin/Sarah Haaij/IRIN
    Adama Bara


    Give youth a chance


    According to Béatrice Bara [no relation], the mayor of Béguédo, there’s only one option that can make a difference: “We must offer the youth a chance here,” she said. “Make sure they get work here.”


    She is full of ideas, such as setting up a garbage pickup service for unemployed young men. But, according to Bara, the means to implement the projects is what’s holding her back.


    “I hear stories about money and projects set up here in Burkina Faso by the EU,” the mayor said. “But I haven’t seen anything so far. Nobody has come to talk to me about the future of our youth.”


    The EUTF is providing the UN’s International Organisation for Migration with €8.3 million to implement a voluntary return programme for Burkinabé stuck in Libya. The agency says that at least 80 percent of all Burkinabé migrants there are from this rural commune.


    As part of the return programme, the IOM intends to help young people like Adama Bara reintegrate and set up small businesses – which the mayor welcomes.


    But last year, the IOM also dug two new boreholes, financed by the governments of Belgium and Italy. That sort of traditional aid left people in Béguédo wondering what the shiny new pumps have to do with migration. “Water doesn’t keep these young people from leaving,” said the mayor.


    She is also sceptical of the efficacy of return flights and awareness campaigns. “The reality on the ground is that people leave and will continue to leave,” she noted.


    The mayor believes that anyone who thinks you should, or even can, stop migration ignores the fact that in departure countries like Burkina Faso, people think very differently about it.  


    Freedom of movement


    “It’s not our ambition to fight migration,” said Gustave Bambara, an official with the Ministry of Economy, Finance and Planning. “On the contrary, it’s an opportunity. We want to make the most out of it.”


    Like other African governments, Burkina Faso wants to increase legal migration routes. That runs counter to the EU’s priorities, as underlined by its spending. According to Oxfam, the EUTF devotes just three percent of funding to developing safe and legal pathways.


    “We live in a globalised world; free movement of people is important. It can’t just be goods; it’s also human beings,” said Bambara.


    If Brussels is intent simply on holding back migration, “that’s too bad,” he said. “This fund will serve them little purpose.”



    The EU is pumping millions of euros of development aid into the poor Sahelian country to keep migrants at bay
    How weavers in Burkina Faso are now on Europe’s migration front line

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