Pastor Mike Oputteh, Welfare Officer, National Union of Nigerian Association in Italy, has said Nigerians living in Italy now have a positive image to the Italian Authorities and contributing to the economy.
Oputteh made this known on Sunday in Abuja, ascribing the paradigm change to interventions from Nigerian Authorities who have also strengthened bilateral ties.
According to Oputteh, the interventions of the Oba of Benin to ending Human Trafficking and the Nigerian government providing passport booklets for undocumented Nigerians led to a numbers of Nigerians leaving the streets.
This, he said, enabled Nigerians living in Italy to take up farming jobs and other menial jobs provided by the Italian Authorities to legally integrate them into the society, making meaningful contributions to its economy.
“They were lots of challenges for us to get ourselves back into the society and when the new Ambassador, Mfawa Abam, came on board. After presenting his letters of credence, he came to address us, Nigerians living in Italy.
“In his speech, he made a remarkable statement, stating that he wanted his number shared to every Nigerian living in Italy, which we did as executives.
“Amb. Abam is one that always responds whenever you call him, regardless of the time, even at midnight, he is always there to respond.
“We started rebranding Nigeria and Nigerians, telling them that this is what we are, this is who we are and this is where we are coming from because if you do not tell anybody your name, they will call you whatever they feel like.
“So they began to see another part of Nigerians. We said let us first of all try to remove prostitution because our girls have been known to be prostitutes and no Italian man, and even Nigerian men, take our women seriously.
“When the Oba of Benin placed the ban on prostitution, it really helped us and most of our girls started leaving the streets and began looking for jobs.
“At that point, we went to meet the Italian government, told them our girls want to leave the streets, they are not paying Madams again because of what our governments have put in place, so now, we need jobs.
“They asked if we were serious and we said yes. Afterwards, the Italian government came up with a farming scheme and lo and behold, even me, I was surprised that Nigerian girls could do farming jobs.
“Because when they were into prostitution they did not have documents, but here is a job that will guarantee your stay permit and they were granted that asylum they had been looking for while prostituting.
“Now, they are working and have started contributing to society. The Italian government has done their parts by giving them valid documents.
“The foundation of the document is to have your international passport which most of them do not have because they were irregular migrants. That was where the Nigerian government had to come in.
“I came back to Nigeria on two or three occasions, cried to the Comptroller General of Immigration to help us in providing booklets so that these Nigerians can continue working because anything that would hinder them from working would push them back to the streets.
“The CG complied and deployed three immigration officers to facilitate the process. From that time, they have been doing their best and the relationship we are having with the Italian government is good now.
“Because as at two years, three years back, we were known to be prostitutes, drug dealers and other criminals.
The Italians have woken up to see that Nigerians are not who they think we were, so our relationship is now very good,” Oputteh said.
Oputteh said that Nigerians were also given bad names in the past from the criminal activities of other Africans who sought Asylum as Nigerians.
“We came to realise some of these things when we came into power as the new executives.
“There are some kind of impersonation of citizens. Some non-Nigerians have sought asylum as Nigerians and when they commit offences, they will be tagged as Nigerians.
“We began to realize they are some people in Italian Prisons who are not Nigerians but they seek asylum as Nigerians, using Boko Haram as reasons, especially those from African countries,” Oputteh said.