The Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa has responded to a viral video depicting Nigerians pleading to be returned from Saudi Arabia.
While Ms Dabiri-Erewa said she could not verify the video, she confirmed that 600 Nigerians are currently awaiting deportation from the Muslim country.
The NIDCOM chief, who appeared on Channels Televisions flagship News At 10 late Friday, attributed the delay to the coronavirus pandemic as both countries bickered over the responsibility of paying for COVID-19 tests.
While noting that the 600 are now set to be returned home by the end of January, Ms Dabiri-Erewa urged Nigerians to shun illegal migration.
Below is an edited transcript of Ms Erewa-Dabiri’s interview:
CTV: Are you in touch with these Nigerians?
Dabiri-Erewa: I can’t confirm the video. But I know that we have 600 Nigerians that are illegal migrants, that would be leaving Saudi Arabia. Yesterday we were with the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Zubairu Dada, and other officials and plans have already been made to get them home before the end of the month pending any unforeseen circumstances.
It’s been on for a while. Saudi Arabia said they want to rid their country of illegal migrants and they gave them deadlines; and different countries have been taking away their citizens, and Nigeria will do the same thing. But there’s been delays, dates have been changed because of COVID-19, and there have been arguments about who’s responsible for the tests; but everything has been resolved and like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says, they should be home before the end of the month.
What condition are they – the 600 – in at the moment?
They are in a deportation camp awaiting to be returned to Nigeria at the moment. And like I said, they are from different nationalities, different countries, not only Nigerians because Saudi Arabia actually packed the illegal immigrants and said they should all return to their countries once they don’t have proper documentation.
Of course, a deportation camp is never the best place to be and that is why the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been working hard to get them back home. And I’ll keep saying, we need to really discourage irregular migration. It’s getting tougher, more dangerous, more difficult to survive as an irregular migrant anywhere in the world.
So one of the things we will be doing is massive awareness of the dangers of irregular migration. Now, this 600 will come back, and don’t be surprised you will still hear tears and cries of ‘oh we are irregular migrants, we are stranded, bring us back home’. So we really have to ensure that we put a stop to this issue of irregular migration. It’s dangerous, it’s deadly, and where you are running to ends up being worse than where you are running away from. So that’s actually the issue we have to deal with as a nation.
What sort of measures is being put in place to stop this?
It’s actually something that every Nigerian should be involved in, not just the government. But on the part of the government, we should work at having a managed migration. Okay, these people are going to work . . . they just want to work. And the people need their services. So why can’t we work at having a properly documented managed migration? Some other countries are doing that. The Philippines does it. They come to you properly and you know what they are being paid. It’s even said they make as much as $6 billion from that. So, really, irregular migration can become regular. It can be made possible to be legal because they need these services. It doesn’t have to be done in an irregular manner. That’s one of the things Nigeria must do, working with other countries. The Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Labour should come together and see the next steps to be taken in this regard.
But for all of us, we need to discourage our citizens from traveling irregularly. President Buhari instructed a delegation to go to Libya. Under his leadership, Nigeria brought back about 7,000 irregular migrants. The International Organisation for Migration played a big role in bringing back Nigerians regularly from Libya. But guess what, we still have stories of people going there. There should be massive awareness, each one talking to the next person; don’t encourage this kind of irregular migration. I was surprised that even on social media, some will say we should still go because the country is so bad. Out there, it is worse. And the government has some things in place that the youths can key into. There are programs. It’s not going to fetch you big money, but you can survive with it.
So we need to talk to young Nigerians. There are opportunities you can key into. It’s tough, we know – Government needs to provide jobs. But we need to also encourage one another that this is a dangerous, torturous journey, and it’s not worth it. If you survived it three years ago, not anymore in today’s age and time.