The Migration Enlightenment Project Nigeria (MEPN), a non-governmental organization, has urged intending Nigerian migrants to avoid traveling through Libya in their attempts to migrate to Europe.

The NGO’s warning came as a report surfaced that the number of illegal Nigerian migrants to Europe reduced from 293,806 to 128,806 between 2016 and 2017. The number of migrants who died at sea during this period increased.

According to MEPN, the Libyan government, in August 2017, issued a directive compelling NGO rescue ships to seek official permission before entering Libyan waters to carry out rescue operations.

The statement jointly signed by Kenneth Gbandi and Femi Awoniyi, Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation Europe (NIDOE) and Co-Project Director of MEPN, respectively, explained that the order means there will be fewer search and rescue missions for capsized boats and an increase in fatalities among those crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

The statement further said that the policy would reduce the number of illegal immigrants to Europe, but would increase number of people who would lose their lives on the high sea.

The NGO further stated that the increased European cash aid to many Libyan coastal towns has enabled authorities to clamp down on human smugglers.

“Inhabitants of coastal towns tired of seeing dead bodies of migrants, whose boats had capsized in the Mediterranean, washing up on their beaches are forming vigilante groups to curb the activities of people smugglers.

“All these developments are pushing migrant smugglers into taking more dangerous routes with smaller, even more overcrowded boats. Although the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean between 1 January to 13 September 2017 has dramatically declined (to 128,863 from 293,806 during the same period in 2016), some experts say that the proportion of those dying at sea has risen.

“Moreover, there is an ongoing internal conflict in southern Libya, not to mention that the country as a whole is still contending with ISIS and other radical extremist groups, divisions between two warring governments and a crumbling economy,” the statement read.

According to the group, international organizations estimated that between 800,000 and 1 million migrants are in Libya waiting to make the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe, stressing that in view of the foregoing, migrants leaving for Libya now would be toying with their lives.

Citing statistics provided by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the group said that more than 2,550 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2017 alone.

According to the group, many migrants trying to enter Europe end up stuck in Libya, where they are exposed to harsh living conditions and widespread human rights abuses. Many are traded as slaves for ransom or sold into sexual slavery by human traffickers, while others die in the deplorable conditions of the prisons run by criminals and militias.

“International organizations have also published credible reports, documenting regular and severe human rights violations of refugees and migrants in official detention centers. The MEPN would therefore like to advise would-be Nigerian migrants intending to reach Europe through irregular routes, such as Libya, to reconsider the journey. We implore them to rather seek legal travel channels,” the group concluded.

Migrants traveling in a small boat

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