Japa: 1,200 Nigerians die crossing Sahara Desert, Mediterranean Sea in 2023

THE Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) says data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) showed that about 1,200 Nigerians have died while trying to cross the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, two dangerous migration routes in the world, in 2023.

Acting Deputy Comptroller General of the NIS, Kemi Nandap, disclosed this on Thursday, July 2 at the organisation’s headquarters in Abuja.

“We have a big problem in this country and that is the issue of ‘Japa syndrome’. We have so many of our youths who are dying in the Sahara Desert, dying in the Mediterranean Sea. They are dying for no cause,” said Nandap at the NIS 2023 Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Nationwide Sensitisation and Enlightenment Campaign.

The deaths of Nigerians on these dangerous journeys further highlight the worsening tragedy of young people trying to flee to the West, particularly to Europe.

The immigration of Nigerians en-masse, a phenomenon now known as “Japa syndrome”, has been a growing concern for the West African country. 

‘Japa’ is a Yoruba locution which means to flee or retreat from a dangerous situation. Whether rich or poor, the reasons for Nigerians leaving their home country are often the same – the fear of economic uncertainty at home and hope for better opportunities elsewhere.

Many Nigerian youths have died from the risks of illegal migration to Europe through the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea. 

Speaking on this, the acting Immigration DG urged Nigerians planning to leave the country to contact the migration desk in all the NIS state commands for necessary information.

She said citizens need to understand the ills of irregular migration to prevent more people from dying while attempting to migrate using illegal routes. Nandap indicated that “education and sensitisation is an effective way of prevention”.

“We do not want to continue to lose youths to the dangerous Trans-Sahara route and the treacherous Mediterranean Sea in their attempt to seek greener pastures.

Read Also:

“We know that many people want to go abroad seeking greener pastures. It is not bad, but these journeys must be safe, must be orderly, and must be regular,” she said.

However, illegal migration through rough routes is not restricted to Nigerians alone. Thousands of Africans take long, dangerous journeys to Europe yearly, traversing the Sahara Desert and leaving the North African shores on small, inflatable boats.

In 2022, 3,000 refugees, migrants and asylum seekers died or went missing while trying to reach Europe through the Mediterranean and Atlantic sea routes, according to a United Nations Refugee Agency report.

The ICIR reported that four Nigerian stowaways were discovered and rescued by crew members off the southeast coast of Brazil, after spending a harrowing 13 days concealed in a compartment on top of the rudder of a Liberia-flagged ship that sailed from Lagos, Nigeria.

The ship left Lagos on June 27 and the four stowaways had hidden in a compartment located in a submerged section of the ship. Upon discovery, the four men were found to be in good health and well-fed, but lacked documentation to confirm their nationality.

A police official told AFP, “The men rescued claim to be Nigerians, but they did not carry any documents confirming their origin.”

In another incident, the Spanish coastguard successfully rescued two Nigerian migrants who had stowed away on the rudder of a ship arriving in the Canary Islands from Togo.

The migrants were found and brought to safety on Monday night in the port of Las Palmas and were immediately taken to a hospital for evaluation.

The Guardia Civil police confirmed that the migrants were 19 and 22 years old.

After being released, they were transferred back to the ship responsible for their return to Togo.

Read Also:

The port police tweeted, “The migrants were taken to a hospital. They were later released and were transferred back to the ship, which has to return them to their port of origin.”

Visual evidence shared by the Las Palmas maritime police on Twitter portrayed the precarious situation in which the two stowaways were found.

The images depicted them huddled on the rudder, beneath the ship’s hull and just above the waterline of the MSC Marta.



    Investigations revealed that the MSC Marta’s last port before reaching the Spanish archipelago was Lome, the capital of Togo, hinting at the point of origin for the stowaways.

    The ship, which had departed from Lagos, Nigeria, on July 2, made a stop in Togo on July 4, indicating that the migrants had remained onboard for at least seven days.

    Under Spanish law, stowaways who do not seek asylum must be returned by the ship’s operator to the port of origin.

    The Canary Islands, owned by Spain, continue to be a popular yet dangerous route for African migrants attempting to reach Europe, given its geographical proximity and significant maritime traffic in the region.

    Beloved John is an investigative reporter with International Centre for Investigative Reporting.

    You can reach her via: [email protected]

    Join the ICIR WhatsApp channel for in-depth reports on the economy, politics and governance, and investigative reports.

    Support the ICIR

    We invite you to support us to continue the work we do.

    Your support will strengthen journalism in Nigeria and help sustain our democracy.

    If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    Support the ICIR

    We need your support to produce excellent journalism at all times.

    - Advertisement


    - Advertisement