YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A Nigerian cardinal says he is “ashamed” to see women from Nigeria working as prostitutes in Italy.

“To tell you bluntly I’m ashamed, I’m ashamed – big cardinal from Abuja, I’m moving through the streets of Rome, Milan, Naples and I see my daughters on the street on sale,” said Cardinal John Onaiyekan in an interview with the BBC.

The prelate was speaking on May 4, ahead of an international conference on migration in the Nigerian capital.

“I’m ashamed and I stop and even greet some of them – you can’t even engage them in conversation because they were brought out of the village illiterates. All they learn and all they know on the streets of Italy is what they need for this business – I’m ashamed,” Onaiyekan said.

According to the International Organization on Migration, almost 40,000 Nigerians arrived in Italy in 2016, more than any other nationality. However, that number significantly dropped to around 18,000 in 2017 and just 1,250 in 2018.

The downward trend isn’t a result of better policies in Nigeria though. It is more because European and the Libyan coast guards have stepped up surveillance, making it harder to cross over to Europe.

According to the pan-African research network Afrobarometer, 35 percent of Nigerians want to leave the country, with 11 pecent giving it “a lot” of thought.

The poll said 75 percent of those Nigerians wanting to emigrate cited economic reasons‚ including unemployment, escaping poverty, and seeking better opportunities. Most worryingly, the poll found that the more educated one was, the more likely one was to consider emigrating. Around 44 percent of Nigerians with a college degree wanted to leave the country, with another poll showing 80 percent of medical doctors want to move abroad.

Josef Ishu is the editor of the Good Shepherd, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Abuja. He told Crux that Nigerian young people “feel that there is no future for them in their home country.”

“In my candid thinking, Nigeria is one of the countries with a high rate of unemployment. Even those who want to do something on their own, the environment is hostile, so the only option left for the young people of Nigeria is to find greener pastures somewhere else outside the shores of Nigeria,” Ishu said.

Onaiyekan went even further, saying Nigeria had become uninhabitable, with threats posed by kidnappers, bandits, and militants.

“These days, you hear some young Nigerians insisting that the pastures are greener elsewhere even when it is obviously not,” the cardinal said. “If you live in a nation where your young people are telling you it is better living elsewhere, then it is a sign of failure of leadership of such a nation.”

He said if he were the president of a country in which young people continue to make such statements, he would resign.

“If you have no idea of how to develop Nigeria through education, security, amongst others then, do not go into politics,” the cardinal told the conference.

Onaiyekan warned the young people of his nation that they faced hardships even if they leave Nigeria, including the risks of crossing the Sahara and Mediterranean Sea, as well as being at the mercy of unscrupulous human traffickers.

“If you are an illegal migrant, you have no right wherever you are; you are likely to be manipulated, exploited,” the cardinal said.

“You cannot even complain if you are not being treated well, because when you do and go to the police, the first thing they ask you is, where are your papers? If you have no papers, then you have no standing,” he continued. “It is a terrible thing to live in a nation where you are considered unwanted, and because of the difficulty of crossing these boundaries, illegal migration leads to trafficking.”

The prelate said the solution was for the country to make Nigeria a better country to live in, so young people wouldn’t want to leave.

Ishu agrees.

“Let the Nigerian government provide employment for its youths,” he told Crux.

“The government should develop a policy that will attract investors to Nigeria and generate employment. Those who want to be self-employed should have grants from the government to own their businesses,” he said.