Alexander Williams attends to his first client of the day at an upscale hair salon in Abuja. The 21Year old Liberian relocated to Nigeria two years ago in search of work.
“Before I decided to leave my country Liberia, it was really difficult because I really didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know where I was going at first. I had to make lots of research going through internet checking for the best place in Africa to go to. And I found out Nigeria was the best for me,” said Alexander Williams, migrant.
Williams represents a fast- growing young urban population in West Africa who have migrated to Nigeria in recent times. According to a recent report by the International Organization for Migration’s this is due to regional support towards the free movement of persons belonging to the Economic Community of West African States- ECOWAS. Like Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire is the other popular destination currently hosting more than 2M immigrants.
So far this year over 15- thousand migrants have arrived in Nigeria from neighbouring countries, the highest number in a decade according to the IOM. Many migrants arrive with what they say is a hope and determination to gain skills for employment here, and improve their economic status. But migrants like Alex admit transition hasn’t always been easy.
But it’s never easy…The immigrants say mobility can often increase vulnerability to labour exploitation and even domestic servitude.
“I had challenges because some countries accepted a passport, and I didn’t have it. I had to work some places to raise money, it was really difficult at some point…our car broke down. I can remember it now… because I told myself I’ll never go through this journey again,” said Alexander Williams.
Rights groups say there is a growing backlash to open borders. With its population of 180M and an economy on the rebound Nigeria’s resources are already stretched. And combating Human trafficking is a major challenge.
“Yes circumstances have forced them out of their homes; they’ve left all they have behind. Should they lose their freedom as well, it’s against human rights law; you cannot keep people locked up. Whats their legal status, are they detainees or criminals- if not they should go out,” said Mausi Segun, Human Rights Watch.
Still for people like Alexander Williams the journey is worthwhile. He now has a job, that supports him and his family back at home in Liberia. And for now that’s all that matters.