By Elvis Eromosele
In recent years, irregular migration has emerged as a significant global challenge, with far-reaching implications for individuals, communities, and nations alike. Defined as the movement of people across borders without the necessary legal authorisation or documentation, irregular migration encompasses a wide range of journeys, from perilous sea crossings to clandestine border crossings. While the motivations behind irregular migration are diverse and complex, they often stem from a combination of factors, including economic hardship, political instability, conflict, environmental degradation, and lack of opportunity.
The challenge of irregular migration is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires a comprehensive and coordinated response from governments, international organisations, civil society, and the private sector. By addressing the root causes of irregular migration, strengthening legal pathways for migration, enhancing border management and security, and promoting international cooperation and dialogue, we can create a safer, more secure, and more sustainable future for all.
Over the past seven years, the collaboration between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has done precisely this. It has provided a beacon of hope for 34,694 stranded Nigerian migrants. From the deserts of Libya to the streets of Europe, these individuals, including 15,115 brave women, have been assisted in their journey back home. However, beyond the numbers lies a deeper narrative of empowerment, reintegration, and the quest for a more sustainable approach to migration.
The Journey Home: A Story of Resilience
For every migrant, the decision to return home marks the end of a perilous journey and the beginning of a new chapter. For many, it involves letting go of sunk costs, money and time, energy and hope, to try and start afresh.
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Federal Government and IOM, thousands of Nigerians have been able to make this transition with dignity and support. Through voluntary repatriation programs, survivors have been allowed to rebuild their lives, with 28,204 individuals successfully reintegrated into their communities.
Yes, 28,204 individuals. Each individual is a living, breathing person reintegrated into society with a chance to rebuild and eventually contribute to society at large. Tremendous work has been done and is still being done.
Empowering Women in Migration
One of the most notable trends within the realm of migration is the increasing participation of women in undertaking these journeys. As Cyprine Cheptepkeny, the Awareness Raising Programme Officer at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), noted, women now represent a substantial portion of migrants, with 45 per cent embarking on these journeys independently. However, behind these statistics lie profound challenges that women migrants encounter, rendering them particularly vulnerable to exploitation and harm.
The decision of women to migrate independently marks a significant shift in traditional gender roles and societal expectations. Historically, women have often been portrayed as dependent on male relatives or spouses for migration decisions. Yet, in today’s evolving landscape, women are increasingly taking agency over their mobility, seeking opportunities and empowerment beyond their place of origin.
Now, concerted efforts are needed to empower women throughout the migration process. This entails providing access to accurate and comprehensive information about migration options, rights, and resources. Awareness-raising campaigns, educational initiatives, and community outreach programs can equip women with the knowledge and skills needed to make informed migration decisions and protect themselves from exploitation.
Furthermore, measures must be taken to ensure the safety and security of women migrants along their journey. This includes strengthening legal protections, enhancing law enforcement efforts to combat human trafficking and smuggling, and providing access to essential services such as healthcare, legal aid, and psychosocial support. Additionally, creating gender-sensitive migration policies and programs that address the specific needs and vulnerabilities of women migrants is essential for promoting their rights and well-being.
By empowering women in migration, we not only enhance their agency and autonomy but also contribute to broader efforts to achieve gender equality, social justice, and inclusive development.
The Role of Media in Shaping the Narrative
Central to addressing these challenges is the role of the media in shaping the migration narrative. As emphasized during the “Amplifying Women’s Voices in Migration Decision Making” media training session held in Lagos, the goal is to enhance the capabilities of journalists amplifying women’s voices in migration decision-making processes.
Mrs. Rita Folawewo, Executive Director, Girls Inspired Development Network (GIDN) noted that the training seeks to address challenges faced by the media in strengthening the discourse, highlighting resources, tools, and opportunities for the media, and improving documentation of women’s stories for justice and human rights.
Undoubtedly, media practitioners play a crucial role in promoting balanced, inclusive coverage of migration issues. By adopting stigma-free language and upholding ethical standards, the media can amplify the voices of women in migration decision-making processes, thereby fostering greater awareness and understanding.
Government’s Responsibility and Way Forward
While assistance programs provide immediate relief, the long-term solution lies in addressing the root causes of irregular migration. Maureen Ovie, Head of the Migration Resource Centre, highlighted the importance of government intervention in increasing awareness, providing counselling, and creating gender-responsive environments. Initiatives such as fair recruitment practices and monitoring of private agencies are crucial steps towards combating human trafficking and ensuring the safety of migrants.
Of course, on a broader scale, the government should initiate comprehensive awareness campaigns tailored specifically to potential migrants, with a particular emphasis on women. These campaigns should aim to provide accurate and detailed information regarding the risks and challenges associated with irregular migration. Additionally, the expansion of counselling services is crucial, equipping migrants, especially women, with the knowledge and skills necessary to make well-informed decisions about migration, including identifying and avoiding potential exploitation and trafficking.
In addition, stringent regulations must be enforced on recruitment agencies to prevent fraudulent practices and human trafficking. The government should establish robust mechanisms not just for registration but also for monitoring and oversight to ensure that recruitment agencies adhere strictly to ethical standards and refrain from engaging in exploitative activities.
It is especially important that specialized support services, tailored to the unique needs of women returnees, should be developed and implemented. These services could include vocational training and income-generating activities aimed at facilitating the successful reintegration of returnees into their communities. Efforts that already exist in this regard can be extended to cover more states, more regions and more people groups. Plus, provisions for childcare support and access to healthcare services should be prioritized to address the specific challenges faced by women returnees.
Moreover, collaboration with civil society organisations working on women’s rights and migration issues is essential. By leveraging the expertise and resources of these organisations, the government can enhance support for returnees, particularly women and vulnerable groups. Engaging local communities in the reintegration process is equally crucial, fostering social acceptance and inclusion of returnees.
In the same vein, advocating for the adoption of gender-sensitive migration policies that prioritize the protection and empowerment of women throughout the migration cycle is essential.
Amid global migration challenges, the collaboration between the Federal Government and IOM stands as a testament to the power of partnership in addressing humanitarian crises. The partnership has made significant strides towards addressing the challenges faced by women migrants and promoting safer, more sustainable migration practices. In reality, empowering women in migration is not only a matter of human rights but also a critical step towards building resilient communities and fostering inclusive development for all.
The core of the matter is that by empowering women, promoting ethical journalism, and advocating for policy change, Nigeria is taking significant strides towards a more sustainable approach to migration. As we look towards the future, we must continue to prioritize the well-being and empowerment of all migrants, ensuring that no one is left behind in the pursuit of a better life.