A brief overview of irregular migration in Nigeria

Migration has a long history in the African continent, playing a fundamental role in structural transformation in many African countries, communities and households. Furthermore, migration is used in most African households as a means of diversifying their sources of income and improving their source of livelihood (FAO 2017 cf. Laine 2020a). There are substantial irregular migration movements taking place within Africa (IOM-OIM 2020). The regularity and number of arrivals to Italy from North Africa have however risen to record levels since 2000 (Reitano, Adal and Shaw 2014). IOM (2019) note that about 144,166 migrants arrived in Europe irregularly through the Mediterranean Sea, with over 2275 reported missing or dead. In 2019, a large majority of African-born migrants residing outside the African region were residing in Europe (10.6 million), Asia (4.6 million) and Northern America (3.2 million) (IOM 2019).

Nigeria is a country in West Africa (Figure 3.1) and is the most populous nation in Sub-Saharan Africa with a population of over 206 million as at May 2020 (Worldometers 2020). Over the years, there have been a growing body of academic literature on Nigerian migration patterns (Adepoju 2007; de

Map of Nigeria

Figure 3.1 Map of Nigeria.

Source: Author.

Haas 2008; Malakooti 2016: Adeniyi 2019; Kari, Malasowe and Collins 2018; Ikuteyijo 2020). This is largely because Nigeria plays a major role in African migration and has been actively involved in both intra-African and international migration since the pre-colonial era wherein migration was linked to warfare and slave trade. During the colonial period, Nigerians’ inter-Africa migratory journey was largely driven by the pursuit for higher education and labour in the United Kingdom (1OM 2017b).

In the post-independence period, while a huge proportion of Nigerians still travelled abroad for higher education, an increasing number of them migrated abroad for economic reasons (IOM 2017b). During the 1970s, the oil boom and rising incomes also made Nigeria a destination country for West African labour migrants. However, the decrease in oil prices, economic decline and political repression led to a downturn in migratory flow to Nigeria (De Haas 2006; Adejumoke, Ikwuyatum and Abejide 2008; Mberu and Pongou 2010). Hence, in the post-1980s, Nigeria experienced a reverse migration shift, changing itself from an immigration country to an emigration country as a large number of Nigerians emigrated to other African countries like Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Botswana and South Africa (Adepoju 2000 cf. De Haas 2006: 4). Nigerians also migrated to other countries in the Global North such as United Kingdom, the United States of America, Spain, Italy etc. In the 1990s, Italy, Ireland and Spain became the dominant destination countries for most West African and Nigerian migrants. However, the increase in visa and immigration restriction policy in Europe and North America altered the regular migratory flow, driving low-skilled Nigerian and African migrants to migrate via the irregular route through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea (Black et al. 2004: 9).

In Africa, Algeria, Guinea, Mali, Morocco and Nigeria are often seen as the central departure countries (Obi, Bartolini and D’Haese 2019). Furthermore, in recent times, Nigerians make up one of the largest population of migrants from Africa to countries in the Global North, including Italy and also acts as a source, transit and destination country especially when it comes to irregular migration, particularly human trafficking and smuggling (IOM 2017b). There are three main migratory paths that criss-cross the Mediterranean Sea from Africa to Europe: the Eastern Mediterranean (into Greece), the Western Mediterranean (into Spain) and the Central Mediterranean (into Malta and Italy) (Reitano, Adal and Shaw 2014). The overwhelming majority of these trafficked victims and irregular migrants make their journey through the overland routes from Edo state (particularly Benin City) and Delta state to Kano before they are smuggled to Agadez in Niger Republic or Algeria and through the Sahara Desert to Libya and to Italy via the Central Mediterranean route. Since 2014, over 600,000 African migrants have arrived in Italy via the dangerous Central Mediterranean route, with nearly 120,000 arrivals in 2017 (Kirwin and Anderson 2018; Adeniyi 2019).

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