By Maged Srour
Rome — Jim*, a 34-year-old Nigerian, has been living in Italy for the last eight years. And even though he has a legal permit to reside in the country, he is yet to find steady employment. Instead, for three days a week you will find him begging for alms in front of a supermarket in Rome.
“Nobody is giving me a job even if I go four days a week to give my resume all around the city,” he tells IPS.
Before leaving Nigeria in 2009, he was president of a Christian youth congregation in his hometown. One day, his church was bombed. Jim blames the bombing on a major, central-right political party in Nigeria.
He says the party was against the donation of a generator to his church by another political party.
“More closure creates only more illegality and consequently the impossibility of promoting and applying integration policies for those migrants, who do not have a legal permit to stay in Europe.” — Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesperson for IOM.
“We were not subtly colluding with any party,” says Jim.
“Simply, a certain party that had been successful in the last elections, had given us an electric generator and this was not good with the [major central-right political party] because it was afraid of losing its influence.”
As an important figure-head at the church, Jim’s life was at risk.
“One day I was beaten by some militants of the [central-right political party],” Jim tells IPS, closing his eyes when he describes those moments.
He eventually fled the country. And when he arrived in Libya in 2009, Gaddafi was still in power.
When IPS asks him if it was a good place to live, Jim does not hesitate: “It was a terrible place. There was no freedom. I could not walk freely on the streets. [If I did] I would have been stopped by the Asma boys, the criminal gangs who would have robbed me and called the police to lock me up. This was daily life there.”
He says in order to feel safe he would pay to travel by taxi. In 2009, it cost him between USD 7 to USD 144.
“Walking in the streets for a black African was too dangerous.”
Jim worked for five months as a car washer in Libya and saved the USD 1,200 he needed to pay for the trip to Italy.
“The journey is not easy at all, my friend,” he says, his eyes full of emotion.
“I remember that big wave.”
The boat’s captain, a young Algerian man, was able to navigate the wave without any losses.
“Everyone was alone with himself [in that moment], praying to God not to die.
“And when they came to rescue us, I just felt so relieved.”
Nigerian migration to Italy: trends and facts
Jim is one of the 106,069 Nigerians, according to the Italian ministry of interior, who are residing in Italy as of the start of the year. These numbers do not include the many irregular migrants, estimated by the ministry to be in the thousands.
According to the United Nations Migration Agency (IOM), although the number of Nigerian migrants entering Italy decreased between 2017 and the first half of 2018; from 2015 to 2017 Nigerian migrants were the largest single group entering the country, largely via ocean ports.
These are the numbers:
In 2015: out of 153,842 arrivals, 22,337 were from Nigeria;
In 2016: out of 181,436 arrivals, 37,551 were from Nigeria;
In 2017: out of 119,369 arrivals, 18,158 were from Nigeria.
In the first six months of 2018 Nigerian arrivals numbered only 1,229.
The sharp decrease in 2018 is mainly due to the new closure policies regarding the migration flows, which was initiated in April 2017 by the previous Italian government and supported by the current one.
According to data from the Italian National Institute of Statistics, which is the main producer of official statistics in Italy, Nigerians living in country have risen from:
48,220 registered as of January 2012,
to 88,527 in 2017,
and to 106,069 in 2018.
“More closure creates only more illegality”
It seems incredulous that Jim, who has a legal permit to stay and work in the country, is still begging for money almost a decade since his arrival.
The only job he was ever able to secure, he tells IPS, was one selling drinks at the Stadio Olimpico. But that had been only for a few months, and the salary was incredibly low.
Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesperson for IOM, tells IPS that something has to change in terms of integration policies.
“Today we are witnessing the management of immigration by European countries marked by closure. This is very wrong: we need to reopen the legal routes,” Di Giacomo says.
“Let’s not forget that an efficient immigration policy, must include everything, even forced repatriations. More closure creates only more illegality and consequently the impossibility of promoting and applying integration policies for those migrants, who do not have a legal permit to stay in Europe.”
In Italy, thousands of migrants struggle to find a regular job that will allow them to legalise their documents.
So in Jim’s case, the paradox is a bitter one. While he has legal rights to stay in Italy, he just cannot find employment.
And struggles to feed himself, let alone his wife and son who live back in Nigeria.
IPS asks him if he ever though about doing something illegal to earn money. But he says: “I am a good Christian, I could never do that.”
*Not his real name.