On a mission to break the myth about irregular migration

1 Oct 2020
Ms Canaan Osagie speaking at the Symbols of Hope mid-September event in Benin City, southern Nigeria. All photos: SOH Nigeria

Ms Canaan Osagie speaking at the Symbols of Hope mid-September event in Benin City, southern Nigeria. All photos: SOH Nigeria

In Nigeria, LWF Symbols of Hope provides hope and new opportunities

(LWI) – “No thank you, I’m not interested. I know I can fend for myself right here at home.” At 26, Canaan Osagie is on a mission to inspire young job seekers to give this answer when confronted with enticing offers to immigrate mostly to Europe through irregular means and treacherous routes.

“I’m a proud business owner today,” says the returnee migrant, referring to the household goods and groceries at her shop in Benin City, Edo State, southern Nigeria. The Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN) helped her set up the shop in 2019, through its Symbols of Hope (SoH) program. SoH is a global initiative by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) that enables member churches respond effectively to the challenges surrounding irregular migration. The program has been operational in Nigeria and Ethiopia since 2017, and Zimbabwe has recently come on board as a third target country.

SoH in Nigeria offers psychosocial support to returnees and collaborates with local and global partners including the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to create sustainable means of earning a livelihood. Osagie was among returnee migrants in Benin City who received items to boost their businesses during a mid-September event attended by LCCN Archbishop and LWF President Dr Panti Filibus Musa, other religious leaders and local government representatives. Osagie describes herself as “a living testimony that there is hope” and encourages potential migrants to “not give up and resort to irregular migration, no matter the situation in which you find yourselves at home.” Her story is similar to those of many other young women and men in her country who are lured by human traffickers into seeking employment abroad through unofficial channels. She watched helplessly as her convoy abandoned a female migrant who died on the perilous journey from Nigeria to Libya through the Sahara Desert. Eventually, her group’s attempt to cross to Europe failed after their rubber boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea near the Libyan capital Tripoli. Luckily, local police on patrol rescued them but what followed were “weeks of hardship in filthy detention centers and prisons, sexual abuse and other forms of violence” before she learned about the IOM’s programs for returnee migrants.

In 2019, the global migration body assisted with the voluntary return of nearly 65,000 migrants. It lists Nigeria as among the top ten countries of migrants’ origin.

 SoH Nigeria

LCCN Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa, also LWF President, praying for participants and supporters of the SoH program in Benin City, Nigeria.

Access to accurate information

Family tragedy --her parents’ death-- forced Osagie to seek a better life abroad. The eldest among three children, she was forced to drop out of college and abandon her dream of becoming a laboratory technician. She could no longer afford fees at the Offa Polytechnic in Kwara State and she had the additional responsibility of looking after her two siblings. “My friend in Europe used to share photos on social media about her good life. She told me I could get there in three days, but she did not tell me how.”

Looking back at her April to October 2019 ordeal, Osagie describes inaccessibility to accurate information on migration as a major void that human traffickers exploit. “It is a journey that I would not wish on my worst enemy. It was not until I came back home that I learned that what I had experienced is called human trafficking,” she says. Migration, she adds, “is not bad, but it is good for us to migrate using the right process, and to safeguard our human dignity.”

It was not until I came back home that I learned that what I had experienced is called human trafficking. Migration is not bad, but it is good for us to migrate using the right process, and to safeguard our human dignity.
Nigeria Symbols of Hope ambassador Canaan Osagie

Edo State is the region most affected by migration in Nigeria and is considered a transit center for irregular migration mainly to Europe and other countries. “Through human trafficking, thousands of our young people are sold into slavery all over the world. SoH provides an opportunity to advocate and fight against this evil,” says Rev. Emmanuel Subewope Gabriel, national coordinator of SoH in Nigeria.

 SoH Nigeria

SoH national coordinator Rev. Emmanuel Subewope Gabriel (left) and two SoH participants.

Offering concrete support

To date SoH in Nigeria has assisted over 400 returnees and potential migrants with economic empowerment initiatives, psychosocial and health care, and monthly financial support to a smaller group of particularly vulnerable returnees from Libya. Other activities targeting young men and women include television and radio advocacy, seminars, football clubs and public rallies.

During visits with returnee families, the SoH teams offer psychosocial support as many of those returning still face stigmatization within the family, including the same push factors that made them leave home in the first place. “We provide counselling and help to build relationships with the people. It is not only about telling them 'Jesus loves you' but it's about offering concrete support," Gabriel explains.

The SoH national coordinator emphasizes collaboration with government authorities as critical to ensuring that returnees and potential migrants are connected to the relevant agencies, which provide additional support.

The returnee empowerment strategy involves business management trainings for potential migrants and those coming back in order to provide new perspectives in the home country. SoH insists on a business proposal by participants, and then accompanies each person in finding a viable location, purchasing the start-up material and regularly checking on their progress.

However, for some returnees like 38-year-old Josiah Stanley, starting all over again poses serious challenges. The father of two young boys lost his eyesight following an accident in Libya. SoH in Nigeria is assisting him as far as possible, Gabriel says, but he requires further medical intervention to try and restore his sight.


Felix Samari, LWF ALCINET coordinator contributed to this story.

The Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN) is one of two LWF member churches in Nigeria. The 2.2 million-member church joined the LWF in 1961, and it is led by Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus, who is also LWF President.

The LWF Symbols of Hope initiative started in July 2017 in collaboration with the communion’s member churches in Ethiopia and Nigeria, responding to the high numbers of people from Africa in particular who were migrating to Europe and the Middle East using irregular means. The churches raise awareness among potential migrants, and share accurate information about irregular migration and the risks involved. They also provide psychosocial support to returnees including victims of human trafficking, offer vocational training and start-up funding for sustainable income sources.