More than 50% of all Nigerian migrants in the EU come from a single, relatively small city. I visited Benin City to find out why. Talking to the people who never left, I heard stories that upend Europe’s narrow narrative of a multifaceted issue.

Maite Vermeulen

I walk down a muddy road, past wooden stalls full of bananas and smoking barbecues full of suya.

Few high-rise buildings, lots of unpaved roads, a cacophony of car horns, street vendors hawking their wares on every corner. 

On the surface, there’s nothing special about Benin City, Nigeria. But something extraordinary is going on in Nigeria’s fourth biggest city. You won’t find a single person here without a family member in Europe.

The majority of Nigerian migrants in Europe come from this city of fewer than 1.5 million people. It’s as though every Mexican immigrant in the US were from, say, Tijuana.

The largest group of African migrants in Europe are Nigerians1)In 2017, more than 40,000 Nigerians applied for asylum in Europe. The next African country in the rankings is Eritrea, with about 27,000 applications. However, many Nigerians who make the journey to Europe do not request asylum and are not reflected in these statistics. – though it would be more accurate to say that the largest group are Edos or Binis, natives of Benin City.

In 2017, more than 40,000 Nigerians applied for asylum in Europe. The next African country in the rankings is Eritrea, with about 27,000 applications. However, many Nigerians who make the journey to Europe do not request asylum and are not reflected in these statistics.

I’m here to learn about one of the most complicated issues in European politics: migration from Africa to Europe. I want to look at migration from an African perspective – from the perspective of Africans who leave and, more specifically, from the perspective of those who stay behind. 

I’ve spent months here,2)This article was researched and written in 2018. It was published on De Correspondent on 8 August 2018. talking with old people, young people, rich people, poor people, people with and without a job, with and without an education, and – without exception – people whose everyday lives are intimately affected by migration to Europe.

The issue is many times more complex than I could ever have expected. In Benin City, nothing is as it seems. It’s a place where the categories that we westerners use to help us understand migration are irrelevant. Trying to understand the issue, it’s as though you’re turning a prism in your hand, the colour constantly changing as the light hits a new angle. […]

The Correspondent | 24.11.2019

„Want to make sense of migration? Ask the people who stayed behind“

Fußnoten   [ + ]

1. In 2017, more than 40,000 Nigerians applied for asylum in Europe. The next African country in the rankings is Eritrea, with about 27,000 applications. However, many Nigerians who make the journey to Europe do not request asylum and are not reflected in these statistics.
2. This article was researched and written in 2018. It was published on De Correspondent on 8 August 2018.