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1,500 Nigerians in Italian prisons, says envoy

By Godwin Dunia and Benjamin Olisah
19 June 2018   |   4:15 am
The Italian Ambassador to Nigeria, Stefanou Pontesilli, has said no fewer than 1,500 Nigerians are serving jail terms for various offences in Italy. Pontesilli who made the disclosure in an interview with newsmen in Abuja said the number was huge.

• Female migrants recount experiences in Libyan deserts
• PFN pledges support to Nigerian prison inmates

The Italian Ambassador to Nigeria, Stefanou Pontesilli, has said no fewer than 1,500 Nigerians are serving jail terms for various offences in Italy. Pontesilli who made the disclosure in an interview with newsmen in Abuja said the number was huge.“In Italy, we have about 1,500 Nigerians in jail for various offences. It is a big number. We sometimes send them back to Nigeria once they finished their terms because they have not behaved well,” he said.

He, however, denied reports that Italy sometimes send Nigerian migrants from Italy to Libya. “Never, we never sent anyone not even one single person to Libya. Some Nigerians are stuck in Libya because they were never able to cross over to Italy, but all those who went to Italy no one, not even one was ever sent back.

“All Nigerians who have reached Italy and are behaving well have no problem. Not one of them not even one has heard of being sent back to Libya,” he said.According to him, thousands of Nigerians unable to cross from Libya to Italy have been stuck in Libya. “Thank God the government is doing a lot to repatriate them through chattered flights. Thanks for the help from the European Union (EU) and the International Organisation for Migrations (IOM) that are slowly repatriating them back to Nigeria,” he said.

The envoy said that the relationship between Italy and Nigeria remained stronger. “That is why Italy has been doing so much on the migration by saving tens and thousands of the Nigerians’ lives when crossing the Mediterranean. Authority has been doing so much by taking them to Italy, feeding them, getting them jobs, giving them house and trying to give them a new life,” Pontesilli said.

The envoy disclosed that the Italian government had been involved in training many Nigerian officials from the military, police and immigration.In another development, three Nigerian returnees from Libya recently narrated their experiences and what they passed through in the desert routes as they were tricked into leaving the country for Europe.

The returnees, Rose Ikhumen, Grace Solomon and Popoola Adesewa were among many women who were tricked into leaving Nigeria for Europe, in search of greener pastures, but hey ended up in Libya, where they were forced into prostitution.The returnees narrated their experience at the Lagos Airport Hotel during a reintegration training organised by the EU and IOM in partnership with the Federal Government.

According to Ikhumen and Solomon, “we were lucky to have survived through the desert. Thousands of other immigrants were not that lucky. We spent three months in the desert before we reached Libya. There was no food; no water and people were dying on daily basis. We were brutally (raped) assaulted along the desert. The Libyan police arrested some ladies in the desert. And some of the arrested ladies died inside the cell.”

They also admitted that when they finally made it to Libya, they were asked to join prostitution. “I was left to fend for myself because I refused to prostitute.
Initially, I had no choice because I needed to survive. I later found a job as a hairdresser in somebody’s shop. I also did such domestic works as washing clothes, plates and other menial jobs,” Ikhumen stated.

Grace also disclosed that she was tricked and made to believed that she was travelling to Spain, but ended in the desert of Libya. “They told me I was going to work as a house help. But, when we got to Libya, the story changed; they forced us into prostitution. We were five in number. We got angry but when they insisted that we should pay back $5000, which they spent to bring us to Libya, we had no choice,” she narrated.

For Ogun State-born Popoola Adesewa, who came back on June 26, 2017, the experience was hellish. The 27-year-old lady from Abeokuta said one of her friends sold the idea of going to Italy to her. She grabbed the offer with joy, unknown to her that the Italy would eventually turn out to be Libya. She said she spent six agonizing years in Libya.

“He didn’t tell me we were going to Libya; he told me Italy. He told me it would be easier to secure a good job there and I believed him. I followed him but when we got to Agadez, the story changed. We had to work there before we got to our destination. I also had to work in Duruku. Although, he told me we would travel through the desert, he never told me that desert was like hell,” she said.

She almost shed tears when asked to narrate her desert experiences. With a misty eyes and faint tone, she muttered: I” can’t describe it. I don’t want to remember it because it was horrible. The things they forced me to do in Agadez and Dururku are what I can’t share here. I just thank God that I survived and came back alive.”

Meanwhile, the Prison Fellowship Nigeria (PFN), Lagos State chapter, has said it will continue to cater for the needs of prison inmates. This promise was made at the conclusion of its annual international week of prayers and thanksgiving on Sunday in Yaba.This year’s occasion, which had as theme ‘Love always perseveres’, was aimed at encouraging members to never lose hope in their charitable duties but continue being steadfast in doing the work of redemption and transformation.

Speaking on the theme, the chief speaker and resident pastor of the Foursquare Gospel Church Headquarter in Yaba, Pastor Olaniyan, highlighted the needs for members to never give up in their duty of changing lives. Using the example of the prodigal son in the Bible, Olaniyan explained the power of love in every human life.

“God is love and everything about this ministry is love. The story of the prodigal son is a testament of the unique love God has for us and which he hopes that we pass across to every one that comes our way. We need to look beyond human shortcomings and replace them with love and care.“Therefore in the discharge of your divine calling towards the total transformation of these inmates, you should not lose hope or feel annoyed when they seem not to see reason with you.”

The PFN Lagos chairman, Pastor Jackson Olarenpo, said: “Our objective of going to the prisons is to reconcile, transform and restore all the inmates because God has given us the mandate to go into the word to proclaim the gospel and prisons are part of the world. Therefore, we are harbingers of hope to these people who might have been neglected, shown wickedness or unjustly imprisoned for them to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel and believe that their later lives will be better that the former.”

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