Nigerian refugees Silas Adamou/Doctors without Borders
Nigerian refugees Silas Adamou/Doctors without Borders

Nigerians make up the fourth largest group of asylum seekers in the European Union, tens of thousands risk the perilous journey across the Mediterranean every year. What are the main reasons for leaving their country?

When thinking of terrorism, the media often focuses on groups based primarily in the Middle East such as the so-called "Islamic State" and "Al-Qaeda." These days, the group Boko Haram receives little mention, aside from the #BringbackourGirls campaign after the organization kidnapped hundreds of female students in 2014. Yet, for Nigerians, the group remains one of the top reasons for leaving the country. The radical Islamist group, whose official name is "Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad," pledged allegiance to the "Islamic State" in 2015. They control a region in northeastern Nigeria, where the Nigerian government has been carrying out a counter insurgency operation against them.

For the Nigerian civilian population, the name Boko Haram is synonymous with terror. The group kidnaps children, carries out suicide bombings and extorts money from civilians and local governments. According to the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, there were approximately 228,000 Nigerian refugees who have left the country and over 1.9 million people were internally displaced in Nigeria due to the insurgency.

Yet, Boko Haram is not the only reason why Nigerians are leaving their country in search of a new life abroad. The Nigerian economy is poor, unemployment is high and according to a 2016 report by independent watchdog organization Freedomhouse, corruption remains pervasive throughout the country. 

Dans le camp de déplacés de Gamboru/Ngala, à Borno, dans le nord-est du Nigeria, le 27 avril 2017.

According to, the Nigerian unemployment rate was 18.8 as of July 2017, with youth unemployment being 33.1 percent that same month. According to a 2015 Afrobarometer poll, 63.1 percent of Nigerians think that corruption is rampant in the current government.    

Deportations and poor conditions push Nigerian migrants to Europe

Often, refugees head for surrounding countries like Chad or stay close to the border in camps, such as the Dar es Salaam camp. According to the UNHCR, 110,000 Nigerians have also left for neighboring Cameroon. But life still isn't easy there: The Cameroonian government has allegedly deported tens of thousands of migrants from the country, and the UNHCR says that over 90,000 returns have been documented between January 2015 and May 2017. A pattern behind this is that the Cameroonian government links Nigerians in the country with extremists, as Human Rights Watch pointed out. 

With the lack of security both at home and in the neighboring countries, the Nigerians then may try their luck in Europe. Eurostat reported that in 2017, there were 39,090 first time Nigerian asylum applicants in the European Union. They often go northward through Niger and then to Libya in hopes of reaching arriving to Italy. When in Italy, they too are again a target of public sentiment against them. Earlier this year, the former right wing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi demanded on Italian television 600,000 migrants to be deported from Italy after a Nigerian man killed an Italian woman in the province of Macerata.     

Sex for sale in the streets of Castel Volturno near Naples 2018

30,000 Nigerian migrants staying illegally in Germany, government claims

The Nigerian government attempts to discourage its citizens from going to Europe referring to declining asylum acceptance rates. This past June, a senior special assistant to the Nigerian President, Dabiri Erewa, warned Nigerian citizens that between 25,000 and 35,000 Nigerian asylum seekers are to be deported from Germany. She claimed that the Nigerian government is working closely with the German government to facilitate the returns. In an interview with DW in May, the Nigerian foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama said that the German authorities believe there are 30,000 Nigerian migrants staying illegally in Germany who have been through the court process. According to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, there were 96,664 first time asylum applications from January to July 2018, with 6,648 or 6.9 percent of those coming from Nigeria.        

In Europe, human traffickers often push Nigerian women into prostitution. On March 7 the Associated Press reported that there 10,000 to 30,000 Nigerian prostitutes in Italy, who want to pay off the debt they incurred to reach Europe. The Human Rights Organization, SOLWODI, (Solidarity with Women in Distress) also claims that there are many prostitutes from Nigeria in Germany, DW reported in April.


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