IOM: ‘Nigeria has Become an Important Economy in the Continent’ – Chief of Mission, De Boeck

Mr. Laurent can you give us a brief of you?

My name is Laurent De Boeck and am the Chief of Mission of International Organization for Migration (IOM). So, I’m here since last November recently arrived for a period of three to five years.

What is the role of the International Organization of Migration (IOM) in Nigeria?

We established an office here 20 years ago and so we benefit from an excellent cooperation with different government entities, departments agencies, both at the federal level and state level.

And I’m saying that because it actually reflects the holding, the very large spectrum of type of activity that we carry out in the country. Migration is an approach which requires different entities to work together at the governmental level, so it touches a very large series of policies and programs. We can may related labor mobility, for example.

So anyone who wants to work abroad or wants to come and work in Nigeria, we have specific activities related to migration, health, all the health aspects of the migrants. We work on law enforcement and related to combating trafficking in persons and activities of smugglers.

We have border management and immigration activities. We also work with the diaspora, the Nigerians living abroad. So we have all these elements and integrated into policies that we work with different parts of the government. We also work in more specific humanitarian support to the displaced population in the country.

So you see, it’s very variety. And now we realize that also Nigeria is specifically it’s by climate change and, and access to resources for elders and farmers, which is creating in some parts of the country tensions between the two communities so we have to work also on peace and reconciliation, finding elements which allow them to live peacefully together by developing some areas of work with them, providing access to water or to land for the farmers and elders and so it’s very variety, as type of work, and we do activities ourselves.

So we work with partners at the grassroots level, Non-Governmental Organization level, with traditional chiefs with the communities themselves, as well as with the government, and we work on policy enforcement’s plan of action ourselves and with reinforcement capacities of those who should implement any type of program responding to the needs of the country in migration, governance.

Wonderful! So what are the challenges faced by IOM in addressing migration issues in Nigeria, and the strategies you’ve employed to support migrants?

The main issue might be the size of the country and the amplitude of migration and so the pressure that is given to the government and to us and other actors to actually provide the appropriate response to everyone in a simultaneous way, we have two different approaches.

The one is the development approach. The other one is a humanitarian approach because we deal with those migrants, although to Nigerians, we perceive migration as one solution for to them so willing to leave the country. Some extent they may take the wrong decision to use services of smugglers or being clouded by some traffickers. So we have to work on reaching everyone to inform them on those situations and to make the right choice is difficult.

And then on the other side, you have also the humanitarian response. And there you have a multitude of causes, the tensions of elders and farmers as I mentioned, but also the non-state armed groups, terrorist groups, which are displacing very important number of people, millions.

For those social Pensions Committee clashes level, but also the floods, and all these assaults, which make people displaced in the country you have added to that those social tensions, community clashes level, but also the floods and all these assaults which make people displaced in the country. So we have a series of millions of people might be displaced once or second time or third time.

But even if it’s once we have to identify long term solutions for them, and that makes it extremely complex because we need to be everywhere with the appropriate partners and then also the funding capacity to respond to all these needs, then the amplitude is being.

So, we have those two pressure to those two elements to look at and and the importance of the population. Which is it by my question not concerned by migration or looks at migration as a possibility for changing their life is really important in the country.

Another important element to consider is the neighboring countries. And you know, the unfortunate situation, which is happening in Niger but that will be destabilized.

Also an additional punch with these already. The porous borders between chard, Nigeria, Cameroon, Nigeria and Indonesia, has also put pressure on capacities to respond to those back and forth and move irregular movements across borders, which makes it in stable and complex and there are some access difficulties that we have.

So when we look at the situation with concern of Niger, it may actually accentuate the difficulty we face in having important part of the population moving across the border without being noticed or registered. So that’s also the context of the region of sub region is not in necessarily favor of having a proper or easy way of managing migration.

So your office was established here in Nigeria in 2002. What has Nigerians benefited from the organization?

Anywhere, it might be entirely a storybook. I would say the different levels I mentioned as an organization we work at the level of policies.

So with the government, we have developed for years, different types of policies and supported agencies who are specialized in certain aspects of migration governance. If I take NAPTIP, we just its celebrated 20 years we also were accompanied in developing the policy to combat trafficking.

Then we work on the plan of action. We have worked with them on to operationalize this with the aim obviously of protecting the people in the potential victims. So the people of Nigeria have benefited directly from the support which started from a policy level and operational level countrywide.

We have established 23 task forces in different states, which are bringing together different actors to look at the problematic of trafficking for example, that is directly impacting the people. It’s difficult to measure how many people have been prevented to use the services of trafficking, thanks to us because they don’t report that to us. But we have campaigns and we reach out millions of people to tell them to the danger of that but to measure this, it’s a bit complex, but we can measure better is the number of people which have been victims and to whom we provided support.

So there are more than 30,000 people now in the last five years we have received our support for the return reintegration of them into the society. Both mental health support and post trauma support has been given but also capacities to economically start up a new life and then among them that were more than 4500 specifically victim of exploitation, where we have actually restitute them back to a civil and their self-esteem which has been very much at stake. So that’s one example of the type of action otherwise on a daily basis, and particularly for those who are displaced in the country, and that we do for a number of years now.

We deliver services which is quite large. So several, I think we have reached 1 million people with receive our support for mental and psychosocial support after the trauma of displacement. We are reaching on a daily basis people we provide them with water, shelter, NFI and non-food items. We provide them with safety and security and protection.

We have established centers where they can go to receive health care, primary health care and that’s in huge numbers. So for each of them, what do we in each field, we want to work at the policy level to enforce the capacities and those institutions to carry out those in future. So we just finalized the review of the policy on displacement for example for the country. So we are integrated all solutions that we believe is necessary for the various agencies to work on those aspects. But it’s very important that we do not do that ourselves.

We do it with the government. We are inter-governmental organization. Nigeria is a member state of us, so we work for government, with governments, for the migrants and for the people. So that’s why they are these two aspects. If we carry out actions, we have to make sure that there is a policy beyond we develop jointly a policy and make sure that it’s activated. And here the particularity of the country is the federalism.

So we have to work at the federal level, but also all the states and so we were on the floods. We have also provided support to a lot of people that were like 2.3 million people have been displaced last year.

We are still supporting 800,000 of them by with assistance. And then we provide now additional assistance to those who have been already hit by some of the floods created by this year. It’s not me only we have a lot of Nigerians working with us, among our staff, and we tried to actually be all over the country although as I said that the difficulty to access people is a challenge.

How well do you think Nigeria is doing in the fight against human trafficking? 

But I think it’s quite advanced. I’ve been working with NAPTIP agency to cope with the Trafficking in Persons already more than 12 years ago, or 16 years ago. They were already quite advanced at that time. And I remember that we had promoted Nigerian policies and programs all over West Africa.

It was an example. So they have been advanced and they have signed a cooperation agreement with other countries, we have put them together with Cote d’Ivoire, for example, we are looking at doing it with other countries in the region.

So they have the legal and operational instruments, and it’s reflected into border states. So they are part as I mentioned, they have been set up this task force to coordinate because it’s not that that agency alone is will be able to do it. If you look at trafficking, you must have the protection approach which they provide with the shelter, the safe houses, where the personnel are trained to receive those people who have been victims and who need special care.

But there are the prosecution aspects of all the links between the police for example, who may intercept or the border guards and the judges to go to investigation exchange of data to make the case against them. So that’s the type of cooperation and then on the prevention aspect, which is a passing information but creating fines for example, where people can call in and receive assistance to have a proper reference system.

They have all that in place, then the fact is, the amplitude of the phenomenon is huge in the country. And so again, they have to actually increase the footprints in some places to reach out everyone and make sure that people understand that what the nation, the person is promising may result or will automatically resolved in some cases, to into exploitation. And that’s a very important challenge.

But I admire the fact that the NAPTIP has all the instruments and the cooperation between the various actors in the country and they do not only look at that aspects in Nigeria, but they do it also with the with the with other countries who are prone to cooperate to fight against trafficking of Nigerians or their own nationals.

What do you think Nigeria can do to stop dangerous, illegal migration of its citizens?

We call it the irregular migration. We don’t want to say illegal because the legal is stigmatizing. I think that is a process that illegal migrant doesn’t exist for us. So that’s maybe discourse.

We don’t want to stigmatize a migrant; we consider them as a victim. So the important thing is to have those instruments in place and more and more actors are aware on the fact that we should combat those criminal networks. So it’s border guards, but obviously, you will tell me that if we have equipped border posts, it doesn’t mean that those smuggling people out or entering irregularly in another country would use a border post so they may actually go another way. So it’s not enough to actually work on the institutional level. We have to work at the community level, to also have them in identifying where people might be trafficked or smuggled. But that’s a law enforcement approach.

I would say it’s like kind of stopping and as you mentioned, your question of can we stop it? I think the best way is to prevent and also it’s understanding the root causes of it, why people would believe that it might be better to go across the border in another country and that their life would be better there. And why if they do so why they don’t actually take the only legal way. So, there are two aspects.

If we start with the legal way, we as an organization tried to actually identify what are the skills which are needed in some countries and we discussed building intergovernmental with those countries on what type of people they would need and they would be open to take, then they knowing this if they have a certain profile qualification, low skills or highly qualified, we have to actually make that information available to those who are willing to migrate legally.

That’s a challenge to actually disseminate this and also the challenges the importance in number because countries may need nationals not exclusively take Nigerians, they may take people from different countries in the world. So it may also be a pool factor.

If let’s say tomorrow, Canada will say we welcome 1 million people to come if they have the need actually, it may actually attract 50 million people from the entire region, or several millions. Only from Nigeria which is unmanageable, anyway may empty the country from his workforce which is also needed for Nigeria.

Another way is this prevention is actually answering the cause which is the creation of employment of conditions where people believe that it prevails enough for them to integrate and work. So it’s a lot of different aspects to look at in the socio economic spectrum of actions which needs to be done. It’s integration of the youth, giving them a way to do an extra way of expression.

Making correspondence between their skills and employment sectors with investing in vocational training, for example, we have succeeded in so many NATO states in particular, in doing this with a large series of youth by identifying their needs, their skills, and then also tailoring them to the market and either they will be recruited by a company or they will create their own their own employment. Recently, I discuss with the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Trade Industry, based in Lagos for the country, and they mentioned the fact that they are members. So businesses in the country do not find the Nigerians who are qualified to work for them. So they have a need in the jobs open.

But nobody is interested to work. So at one point, it will be a vicious circle, because people will leave the country emptying the businesses who will create and generate businesses and employment. So we need to do an action there to make sure that people, youths in particular are aware that in the country, there have big businesses, even international companies who are they’re looking for them otherwise what Nigeria will have to do is to recruit people from the region to work for them. It’s already the case when we see needs with doctors, for example, where we are the medical court of Nigeria working a lot in in Italy, some in Ghana and UK receive an all over in North America. And so at one point Nigeria will have to recruit doctors from other countries.

So that’s I think, at one point we need to emphasize the possibility to work in their own country, but with the right condition and that the government has to involve invest in itself in providing the right conditions for work that people value themselves in Nigeria as a Nigerian workforce.

What would you like to point out to complete this interview? 

I don’t think that the situation is better outside. I think it’s important that people understand the fact that we cannot wait for someone else to give you what you can think by yourself, and I think the merit to integrate and work and identify employment is much higher of you have done it by yourself, I wouldn’t trust people will give you promises to make yourself director of business in another country while you have just been graduated. This is too beautiful to be true.

So behind that, there’s suddenly something wrong and unfortunately, too often that has created a lot of vulnerable people. So it’s to be informed, if you consider migration, be informed for yourself, check and test whether this is possibly true. But also don’t give up. I think there are a lot of opportunities.

There is a lot of very important number of people in the country. So this is a huge market. Nigeria is becoming a very important economy in the continent. It’s on the first economy of the continent. So it’s one point this will actually just accelerate. And I think it would be nice to be in Nigeria.

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