Many Nigerians have found themselves in the unenviable condition of practically fleeing the country away from suffocating economic predicaments at home. This has been happening for a while since Nigerian economy began to take repeated hits and the masses became poorer. Not infrequently, some Nigerians abroad are reportedly stranded, socially uprooted, roped into crime, or imprisoned, and tragically, even died in foreign countries. By assuming that status, Nigerians concerned certainly put themselves in a precarious position.
However, the country has a duty to provide cover, particularly through international diplomacy, to all her citizens in times of need, wherever they may be. Now, Nigerian High Commissioner to South Africa, Muhammad Haruna Manta, disclosed lately that 500,000 Nigerians are classified as undocumented citizens in South Africa. Of this number, 6,000 are categorized as students, while 2,900 are categorized as professionals with footprints in medicine, education, entrepreneurship, among others.
On a quest to travel to Europe, sold as slaves in Libya.
This situation is similar to the occurrence about six years ago where thousands of Nigerians were held in prisons and sold as slaves in Libya by the natives and other powerful people there. As of the time that the news broke out, the practice of traveling to Libya and then sailing to Spain in Europe was dangerous but popular with Nigerians. Due to the economic hardship that they faced in Nigeria, people undertook the illegal journey and many ended up as slaves in the North African country.
In 2017, Nigeria was able to evacuate hundreds of Nigerians from Libya. On March 29, 2023, the Federal Government and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) evacuated 128 more Nigerian migrants living illegally in Libya. The stranded Nigerians were repatriated from Tripoli, the Libyan capital. Just a day before, the government had airlifted 151 stranded Nigerians, who safely arrived at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos and have reunited with their families. According to UNICEF, between June and August 2023, at least 990 people died or went missing in the dangerous central Mediterranean route between northern Africa and Europe, compared to 334 deaths over the same months in 2022.
Nigerian residents in S’Africa are vulnerable to victimization.
Against the background of reports that 500,000 Nigerians are classified as undocumented citizens in South Africa, the scheduled meeting of President Bola Tinubu with President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa in November, should be an opportunity for both leaders to discuss, prominently, the plight of Nigerians sojourning in South Africa. The tragic fate of undocumented Nigerians living in South Africa elicits humanitarian empathy as much as it beckons the Nigerian government, the private sector, voluntary organisations, non-governmental organizations (NGO), churches, mosques, and others to immediately rise up and erect a formidable framework of solidarity geared towards assisting her citizens stranded in South Africa.
Also, the presence of a large population of undocumented Nigerians in South Africa make them vulnerable to possible victimization by South African law enforcement agents who may hold Nigerians living in South Africa responsible for some crimes committed by other nationals in that country. Criminals in South Africa may exploit the anonymity that comes with undocumented status to engage in illegal activities. Nigerians in South Africa may accept low-paying and exploitative jobs due to their lack of legal status. This can drive down wages for both the undocumented population of Nigerians and legal residents, potentially leading to social tensions and economic imbalances.
Bilateral relations between both countries have worsened.
More importantly, the high number of undocumented Nigerians in South Africa has worsened the strained bilateral relations between Nigeria and South Africa. Disputes over immigration policies of the undocumented Nigerian citizens negatively impact diplomatic relations between Nigeria and South Africa. The strained relationship between both countries is already affecting Nigerian visa applicants who are regularly denied visas to travel to South Africa. This is besides the fact that many Nigerians learned the word “xenophobia” for the first time when South Africans started witch-hunting Nigerians in their country.