­­Europe is currently dealing with a migrant crisis and Nigeria is one of the main sources of the influx. So why are people leaving and how can we persuade them to stay?

According to a recent report, around 30,000 undocumented Nigerians crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in the last year alone. A whole lot died while trying to.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says at least 521 Africans have so far drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year. The majority are Nigerians.

The stories of the fates of illegal migrants do not deter others. Young people in the country are desperate. They are faced with an uncertain future caused by economic hardship and a biting ongoing recession.

This desperation has lead to the growth of one industry.

Nigeria’s economy shrunk by 1.51 per cent in 2016. More than 112 million Nigerians live below the poverty level. That’s over 67 per cent of the population. Unemployment rose to 13.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2016. Young people, who make up about 45 per cent of the population, account for majority of the unemployed. For many, the dream is to go abroad in search of greener pastures.

Migrants and refugees, mainly from Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone, after being rescued at sea, rest on the German navy frigate ship Werra, a part of the European external action service Eunavfor-med, on September 27, 2015. Eunavfor-med undertakes systematic efforts to identify, capture and dispose of vessels as well as enabling assets used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers in the southern central Mediteranean. @ ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty

This desperation has lead to the growth of one industry in particular. Powerful people and their agents feed off the gullibility and desperation of young people. They pretend that they can help them reach a better life abroad. In some instances, the victims are forced, threatened and blackmailed into co-operation.

Young adults are expected to help care for both immediate and extended families.

The IOM in 2016 reported that about 3,600 Nigerian women arrived in the first six months of that year. More than 80 per cent of these women will be trafficked into prostitution in Italy and across Europe.

Migrants and refugees, mainly from Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone, after being rescued at sea, wait to receive food on the German navy frigate ship Werra @ AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI

While economic forces are largely to be blamed for this menace, Nigeria’s social arrangements are also a factor. High expectations place intense pressure on young people. Nigerians generally expect the young to contribute to the family economy. Young adults are expected to help care for both immediate and extended families, as well as to community development.

When the young person is unable to meet these expectations, the individual is regarded as a failure. Unable to stand the social shame, most give in to the trappings of traffickers’ recruiting agents.

The Nigerian government has tried to put up a fight. In 2015 it amended the 2003 Trafficking in Persons Law Enforcement and Administration Act which had established the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) as part of efforts to control this menace and punish offenders. There have also been concerted efforts on a regional basis through the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to fight illegal migration with support and co-operation from the European Union.

As long as the economy remains bad, young people will make the move.

There have been some gains. In 2016 a Nigerian human trafficker was handed a 22-year prison sentence in the United Kingdom on charges related to trafficking of persons for sexual exploitation. But the country’s porous borders, high level of corruption and systemic inefficiency means the challenge is immense. Traffickers exploit this to stay in business.

And of course there is the economic challenge. As long as the economy remains bad, young people will make the move. They have come to believe that getting abroad has the ability to transform their lives radically. They think it will help their families back at home.

Nigerian migrants wait at Tripoli's Mitiga International Airport prior to being repatriated to their homeland under a voluntary programme coordinated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) @ Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty

A lot more needs to be done. The economy is the first place to look. When young people have the opportunity to grow and make a decent living in Nigeria, they will be less desperate to leave. The government must also continue to explore ways of making it more difficult for traffickers to succeed and to deter others by securing convictions of those caught.

Above all, we must increase public enlightenment and advocacy efforts, and tell young people that the grass is not exactly greener on the other side. We have to arm them with the information they need to help them avoid being easy preys of traffickers. They are the country’s future. We must persuade them to stay.

Sylva Nze Ifedigbo’s new e-book My Mind Is No Longer Here is available at Bahati Books