Nigeria Takes Steps to Stop Migrant Smuggling

Abuja, 7th January, 2022 -The smuggling of migrants is a big business in Nigeria with criminal networks charging large sums of money to move people in and out of the West African country or facilitate their transit.

In recognition of the magnitude of this crime, its impact on the security of the country and the safety of the migrants involved, Nigerian authorities are now working closely with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime through the STARSOM project.

“Nigeria is already well-equipped to combat human trafficking through its specialized counter trafficking agency, NAPTIP, but more focus and action is needed on migrant smuggling,” says Aondoaver Kuttuh, UNODC Adviser on Migrant Smuggling in Nigeria.

“Even in terms of the legal framework, it was not until 2015 that migrant smuggling was clearly articulated in the Immigration Act, and many crime prevention agencies are still struggling with the concept.”

The former police officer and lawyer will be mentoring senior immigration officials at key Nigerian border crossings with Niger and Cameroon and in cities that serve as hubs for migrant smuggling activities in Nigeria and Ghana.

“With an improved understanding of migrant smuggling, the authorities will be in a better position to detect, investigate and prosecute cases of this crime and assist any intercepted smuggled migrants in line with the existing legal obligations,” adds Mr. Kuttuh.

Nigerian nationals who are smuggled out of the country are primarily heading to Europe and travel through Niger and then further to Libya, Morocco, or Algeria. Others are hoping to reach North America or the Gulf States.

UNODC research indicates that the smuggling process is highly organized. For the popular crossing into Niger, migrants are usually taken by regular transport to a northern city where they contact a smuggler who will help them to reach the border. After moving into Niger on foot, another contact person will meet them.

“And this is how the process continues,” says Aondoaver Kuttuh. “The smuggling networks have contacts all along the routes. The migrants themselves rely on a telephone number for the next contact. Sometimes they do not even know where they will end up going.”

“When I talked to immigration officials about migrant smuggling and the kind of suffering that the migrants endure, they begin to realize that the migrants are really not the problem. They need to focus on the smuggling networks.”

On a STARSOM mission to Katsina State on the long and porous border with Niger, UNODC was informed that every few weeks, Niger authorities intercept and return Nigerian migrants. In recent times, they have returned up to 80 migrants in one group.

They are mostly females and are transported from villages in the early hours of the morning usually by car and are then transferred to motorbikes driven by the smugglers to cross the border. The smugglers charge about one thousand USD for the journey.

“Where there is any presence of law enforcement officials, the migrants are instructed to drop from the bikes and walk along bush paths until the risk of being detected is gone. Then they get back on the bikes to continue the movement,” says Yau Daggah, Assistant Comptroller of Immigration, from the Kongolam Control Post of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Katsina State Command.

He adds: “The migrants trek for hours. Some have been intercepted and come into our control posts. A young woman collapsed right in front of me because of exhaustion after hours of trekking.”

Other officials reported cases where smugglers simply abandoned migrants when they heard about any law enforcement presence, even after taking the payment for the journey.

Initial information suggests that the main smuggling networks are based outside Nigeria with some Nigerians residing in Libya and network members from Libya acting as agents in Nigerian towns.

A further aim of the STARSOM project is to highlight the links between human trafficking and migrant smuggling. “Paying more attention to migrant smuggling is also a way to address human trafficking, since we know that smuggled migrants are vulnerable to exploitation,” says Mr. Kuttuh.

“The migrants don’t always know the overall costs of their journey and may agree to pay in instalments. Before long, they realise they do not have enough money. The smugglers or human traffickers are aware of these situations and exploit them.”

Currently the main focus of the STARSOM project is on Nigerians being smuggled out of the country. However, reports show that migrants from other countries are moving through Nigeria en route to another destination, including to the Americas.

“At the moment, we still have limited information about smuggled migrants entering Nigeria or crossing the country. Under the STARSOM project, we plan to find out more,” concludes Aondoaver Kuttuh.

STARSOM is funded by the Government of Canada through its Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program (ACCBP).