Not less than 59,000 Nigerians across European and northern African countries are without valid travelling documents, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, has disclosed.
The minister, who was speaking at a two-day national workshop on the campaign against irregular migration yesterday in Abuja, said that the number represented those who were waiting in transit for an opportunity to migrate to Western Europe.
According to him, the workshop was as a result of the information reaching the government from the country's foreign missions on the large number of Nigerians in foreign prisons and who may have died as a result of this.
His words, " Not less than 59,000 Nigerians are currently in Northern African countries without valid travel documents. This number represented those who were in transit waiting for the opportunity to migrate to the west.
"Figures available to the ministry showed that 8,000 of the illegal immigrants were in Morocco, 16,000 in Algeria, 20,000 in Libya and about 15,000 in Mauritania. The decision to host the workshop also was informed by the growing number of Nigerians presently serving various prison terms in countries abroad".
He also noted that there are increased rate of repatriation of Nigerian migrants from different destinations abroad especially from the EU countries.
"Information provided by our missions abroad indicated that, apart from those held for simple immigration offences, majority of those in prison are being held for drug related offences."
"Reports had it that over 10,000 migrants have died between 1999 to 2002 while trying to cross over from North Africa to Europe. The circumstances of their departure such as using unofficial routes and without proper documentation have made them vulnerable to criminal gangs.
"These gangs recruit them into all manner of illicit business, with long jail sentences as consequences when they get caught", he stressed.
Chief Maduekwe who also warned Nigerians who engaged in criminal activities in foreign lands not expect the government to be begging for their release, adding that it was no longer a plausible excuse for Nigerians to depart the shores of the country for lack of security and epileptic power supply to go outside the country to become "parasites."
"1, 469 Nigerians were in UK prisons; six in Afghanistan; 15 in Libya; 20 in Indonesian prison facing death sentences, while one in South Arabian prison was executed some days ago.
"It was better to stay back and contribute to the development of the country, just as citizens of western countries did in bringing development to their countries than dying in a foreign land.
In his address, the Minister of Interior, Maj. Gen. Godwin Abe (Rtd.), who was represented by the Comptroller General of Immigrations, Mr. Chukwurah Udeh, said irregular migration had tarnished the image of Nigeria.