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Forced migration: Concern over displaced persons’ status

Makoko community is a clustered community of mainly fishermen and artisans that live on the shores of the Lagos Lagoon.

Makoko

With population explosion in Lagos, Nigeria’s megacity of about 18 million people, the residents of the community have been faced with threats of forced eviction and demolition of their homes.

The recent eviction which took place in July 2012, according to the Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, was to make the state attain her megacity status and beautify the waterways being defaced by scattered, irregular shanties along the Lagos Lagoon shoreline.

The ensuing scuffle resulted in the death of a community leader who was shot by a Police officer, leading to a peaceful protest by residents to the Governor’s Office at Alausa to kick against their eviction. The residents argued that they have come to live and know the area as home because their forefathers lived there for decades.

Fashola told them that those residing under high tension electric wires would leave so as to ensure their safety. He described the Lagos Lagoon as a natural drainage for excess floodwater and that the continuous indiscriminate expansion of shanties on the Lagoon was shrinking it.

He added that, for Lagos to attain the much-desired megacity status, her waterways have to be clean and free for water transportation, which is being negated by the construction of shanties at Makoko.

Makoko residents are forced to move due to urban development concerns, but the Okun-Alfa community in Lekki at the Eti-Osa Local Government Area have been left with no choice but to relocate their homes as the rampaging Atlantic Ocean continues to erode much of the land that the once-thriving settlement stood. Experts have attributed the scenario to climate change-induced.

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Okun-Alfa community hosts one of Lagos’ popular fun spots known as Alpha Beach but, in recent years, the area has experienced sea level rise and shoreline erosion that have washed away about 10km of land, threatening the community’s sources of livelihood: fishing and tourism.

Shoreline erosion at Okun-Alfa

According to the oldest man in the community, the 100-year-old Alhaji Mudashiru Atewolara, who passed on recently, he built five houses in his life time but only one still stands as others have been washed away by the advancing sea.

The ocean has also washed away the only tarred road that links the settlement with neighbouring communities, uprooted electric poles and leaving about 5,000 people without electrical power supply, washed away the fence of the only health care centre in the area and thus threatening the facility and leading to its abandonment.

The once-lively Alpha Beach that used to attract fun seekers at weekends and public holidays is now a ghost town. Business activities in the area have been paralysed to below 20 percent of what hitherto existed.

The infamous July 2011 torrential rainfall in Lagos got the entire neighbourhood flooded, including the access road linking the community with the Lekki-Epe Expressway, which further deteriorated and ultimately became inaccessible to vehicular traffic.

The community’s Baale, Chief Atewolara Elegushi, lamented the pollution of the underground water, saying that highly-publicised visits to the neighbourhood by Fashola and President Goodluck Jonathan have yielded no fruit.

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Climate-induced migration was one of the topics discussed during a side event at the United Nations Climate Change Conference that held late last year in Doha, Qatar. Climate-induced migration is attributable to flooding due to excessive rain, continuous sea level rise as experienced in the small island countries, shoreline erosion, drought, hurricane, and poor crop yield (which leads communities to migrate to greener pastures in search of viable land for agriculture). Other factors that can force residents to migrate include urban development, earthquake and landslide.

A recent report states that, by 2050, one in every 45 persons in the world would have been displaced due to sea level rise, with India, Bangladesh, China and Nigeria having the highest population of 37.2, 27, 22.3 and 9.2 million people respectively.

When people have to migrate due to imminent danger, the issue of losing their ancestral homes, culture and root is quite challenging due to the emotional and psychological trauma they experience. They are also vulnerable to abuse and violence by their new hosts.

Nigeria’s Environment Minister, Hadiza Mailafia, while addressing the African Group during the Doha summit, stated that two-thirds of states in Nigeria were flooded last year (2012), leaving many to abandon their homes and migrate to higher grounds and some accommodated in emergency relief camps, where there were cases of raping of some of the internally-displaced females. Similarly, limited supplies of basic needs made people to resort to the use of sex as weapon of survival.

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Due to development of urban areas in Brazil, some people were forcefully evicted to give way for the construction of modern stadiums, in the build-up to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics Games to be hosted by the country.

Reports have it that about 170,000 people have been affected by this construction in Brazil, which has made some view the international games as a pain rather than a thing of joy and pride in hosting two of sports’ highly-rated events.

Since the earthquake in Haiti in 2009, more women have been sexually abused and exploited, said CNN 2012 Hero recipient Marla Villard-Appolon. This made her start a rescue mission to rebuild the confidence of the abused women through her programme that received international support by CNN.

The status of these migrants has brought about border migration, division of nation/states, which can cause fascism and xenophobic tendencies among their host, such as the case in Nepal, The Philippines and Vietnam. The migrants could also be exploited due to immigration and labour laws in their new country.

It will be wise for victims of climate- and urban development-induced migration to be considered and planned for because, with the increasing world population and growing effect of climate change, there would soon be a generation of classless/statusless citizens.

 

By Tina Armstrong-Ogbonna

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