Pulse Cares: Challenges of Nigerian immigrants no one talks about

To 'Japa' means to abort, run, avoid, terminate, retreat or remove yourself from a situation... To emigrate Nigeria...

To 'Japa' means to abort, run, avoid, terminate, retreat or remove yourself from a situation

The 2021 Japa revolution has set new goals for many resident Nigerians. However, these goals are made in ignorance of the real after party. In this edition of Pulse Cares, we highlight the human angles of obvious challenges Nigerian immigrants face, from the perspective of real human experiences.

In the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, the world was reminded that in life or death scenarios, African’s are damned. A Nigerian medical student who recently fled the Russian invasion, Jessica Orakpo, says she and other Africans on their way to the Polish border were turned back at a bus station by workers who only permitted white Ukrainians to board shuttles to complete the final leg of their harrowing journey.

Orakpo says a group of more than 20 Africans were left stranded at the station, despite her pleading in Ukrainian to be allowed to board.

At one point, a worker at the station wrote a number in pen on Orakpo's hand, indicating she would have a spot on a bus, she says. But when it was time to go the worker instead told her, "Just Ukrainians, no international person."

Orakpo says she showed station employees the number on her hand but was ignored by one and told by another it was irrelevant and "just Ukrainians, no international person" could get on the bus.

"It was so dehumanising. It was like we lost hope," she says. "People broke down crying. Some other Africans were shouting 'Why, why just white people? Why not us as well?' "

Orakpo’s situation is one of the various manifestations of racism Nigerian immigrants experience. However, she remains in more luck than Obasanjo Adeola Owoyale. On July 8, 2019, a lifeless body of a 33-year-old Nigerian doctoral student of architecture at Cyprus International University, Owoyale, was found in his car's boot.

The death of Owoyale follows periodic murders of African students in Northern Cyprus, including 25-year-old Nigerian student Walshak Augustine Ngok in April (reportedly killed by his African flatmate during a fight about a woman) and 28-year-old Kennedy Dede in January 2018 who was allegedly killed by a group of locals.

Despite the injustice against Nigerians studying abroad, the Nigerian government has not taken concrete steps to prevent its citizens' ill-treatments.

One of the easiest ways to kick start one’s japa journey would be to enrol in a university. Securing an admission and securing enough money to fund that educational pursuit has become the starter pack for all looking to permanently reside abroad. While many people are sponsored by family or companies, self-sponsored students face the ordeal of balance.

To comfortably go through school, there are a lot of financial needs and obligations that would be required. For this reason, many self-sponsored international students try to find side-hustles that can generate enough cash to provide their needs.

Deborah Inyang has been a film production student in Toronto for over 8 years. Initially, she was receiving monthly support from her parents, but after a while, she had to figure out how to fend for herself. Debbie got a job as a secretary in a barbing saloon, where she earned $20 per hour, and worked 40 hours a week. “It sounds like really good money till you have to distribute all of it into bills,” she said.

Inyang’s tuition fee costs $9000 per year, which can be paid in monthly instalments; she pays $500 as monthly rent in a shared apartment; and still has to feed, transport herself around, and meet intimate needs. Realistically, Inyang’s salary cannot meet all these needs. Hence, the immigrant started a catering business as her side hustle.

While this has drastically affected her performance in school, and increased the time she has to spend getting her degrees, it has also made Debbie more comfortable in terms of finances. She is currently saving money to transition from a student visa to a resident visa.

In the US, Nigerians are the most highly educated of all groups, with 61 percent holding at least a bachelors degree compared with 31% of the total foreign-born population and 32% of the US-born population, according to 2017 data from the Migration Policy Institute.

More than half of Nigerian immigrants (54%) were most likely to occupy management positions, compared with 32% of the total foreign-born population and 39% of the US-born population.

Similar Nigerian success is reflected in the UK, where many in a highly-educated diaspora work in financial services, IT, and the legal and medical professions. However, for Mrs ‘Unnamed’, her inexistent documentation has placed her as a cleaner in a hospital.

Unnamed visited the US on a tourist visa, hoping that she could quickly find a way to transition into a longer stay permit. Upon arrival, the realisation of her migration misconceptions settled in, as she soon figured the process will cost much more than she bargained for in time and cash. “I had bragged to my people that I will return with a success story in a few years, I just wanted to stick to that plan. So I decided to stay even after my visa expired.”

Before her poor judgement, Unnamed was a matron in a private hospital located in Uyo, Akwaibom state, earning an equivalent of $500 monthly. Her decision to remain in the US meant that she needed to get herself the basic needs of Maslow's hierarchy; but how?

Unnamed, at the hour of her visa expiry, became an illegal migrant. While she was able to find a few friends who did not mind her on their couches and floors, she needed a job to fend for herself. A hospital offered her $20 per week as an illegal immigrant cleaner. “Sometimes they owe me, but I can't do much because reporting to authorities means possible deportation. It is the shame of going home that is still keeping me here. I will go home a failure and my enemies will laugh,” she added.

There are very many benefits attached to raising a family in other more developed continents than Africa. Fully documented immigrant families enjoy good health care, free basic education, and a general decency of the physical environment.

While families still have to worry about protecting their children from the claws of racists, there is also the possibility of losing cultural values which are peculiar to Africans. As a more community-oriented people, Africans thrive on knitted relationships and sharing. This may be the reason why Africans are viewed as ‘very hospitable’.

On the other hand, the west promotes individualism. Based on past cross-cultural research, it was hypothesised that people who had strong individualistic values and beliefs within an individualistic culture would have smaller social support networks, lower emotional competence, lower intentions to seek help from a variety of sources, and poorer mental health.

The Iremiren siblings, Debbie and John, were tricked-migrated back into Nigeria by their parents. In disguise of a visit to their grandparents, they were enrolled in Nigerian schools and had their passports hidden from them till they graduated high school. The idea was to give the American-borns a Nigerian orientation of life so as to help shape their relationship values in terms of support, and respect.

Iremerens' parent's fears are made valid via a viral video of a young diasporan, simply identified as 'Chidera', who cursed out his mother, broke home electrical appliances, and emptied all food ingredients to the floor. The video, which surfaced last year stirred up loud conversations about how diasporan kids have lost the African value of respect.

For Nigerian families abroad, perhaps maintaining the African value of community is central to authentic and easy living. For this reason, the adoption of the African Ubuntu philosophy should be central to Nigerian immigrant families and Nigerian communities in the diaspora. The spirit of Ubuntu is essentially to be humane and ensure that human dignity is always at the core of your actions, thoughts, and deeds when interacting with others. Having Ubuntu is showing care, concern, and respect for your neighbour.

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