By Clement Udegbe
Israeli immigration officers escort an African migrant carrying luggage in south Tel Aviv. Baz Ratner / Reuters
Nigerians suffer in many countries to which they fled for political asylum during the military reign of terror in the mid-1990s. Many are denied asylum and subsequently face deportation. Some of them die in the course of resisting deportations, resisting because they have nothing to come back to here in their country. Our government has no plans, policies or arrangements for them.
In March 2010, a 29-year-old Nigerian went on hunger strike in Switzerland to resist deportation. He was stayed with 15 others whose asylum bid failed, and subsequently died at the airport tarmac. Reports say that Nigerians filed 1,303 applications for asylum in Switzerland in 2011, while more than 180 illegal Nigerian immigrants were deported from Switzerland in 2012.
In 2010, America deported 33 Nigerians for various reasons. In the same period, 46 Nigerians were deported from Ireland. In September 2012, the nation of Israel threatened to start mass deportation of Nigerians. The conditions of these Nigerians are not assessed with a view to assisting them, and same year, Saudi Arabia deported more than 170 women who entered without a male escort. About 1,000 Nigerian women intending to make the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca were to be deported, but for the firm and urgent intervention of Vice President Sambo which averted that embarrassment. Often, nations breach their agreement with Nigeria at will and nothing is done. Our government is yet to come out with clear and realistic policies on how to handle Nigerian detainees in many countries, and how to handle deportees upon their arrival in Nigeria.
Nigeria recently was reported to have signed an MoU with Austria which includes that any Black person whose identity in Austria is in doubt would be deported to Nigeria. The effect is that Nigeria will soon be the destination of all Black deportees from Austria, while about 1,000 Nigerian asylum seekers in Austria may be deported following the signing of that MoU. In Austria as well, letters or documents emanating from the Nigerian High Commission there are sent back to Abuja for authentication at a cost as high as ?130,000 (excluding the travel cost for the authentication).
The Nigerian Embassy in Germany is more crafty, charging €500 per harassed and distressed deportee for paper work.
The Austrian MoU assured that the Nigerian government through the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic In Persons and other related matters (NAPTIP) has pledged to look after the deportees, but can NAPTIP honestly take care of 1,000 Nigerians, knowing that millions here find it difficult to have three square meals in a day?
The UN Refugee Agency Report stated that some 10,500 Nigerians sought asylum in industrialised countries in 2011. Most, if not all, will not be granted asylum, but they will not return because there is nothing for them to fall back on at home, and there is no government effort to provide for them upon their return. They are detained instead in prisons, with no clear plan to resettle them; hence they would rather die than be deported.
Nigeria spends billions of naira to print new currency notes and distribute mobile phones to farmers, while its citizens in countries where they have lived for as long as 15 years with wives and children are deported often so suddenly that these families are thrown into hardship and trauma and no one blinks. Rough handling of deportees overseas and here, remains part of the shame of our nation.
Nigeria has a prison exchange treaty with Thailand, but that treaty is implemented according to the whims and caprices of the combined efforts of the Nigerian Prisons Services and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Today. there are deportees held in Kirikiri Prison that were deported from Thailand. The first batch had no difficulties in being released to their families, but this batch that arrived Nigeria since last year are languishing in Kirikiri and other locations. This same batch of deportees was detained in Thailand for over two years after it was due for deportation due to the death of President Yar Ardua, yet the deportees have been detained in their own country for an unjustifiable length of time.
The Nigerian authorities either ignored or jettisoned part of the signed document that stipulated the length of time a deportee from Thailand should stay, giving ground for these deportees to resort to litigation to gain their freedom in their own country. The deportees have been affected by a variety of ailments icluding paralysis and emotional distress bordering on insanity. The Thai police has been reported to be very prejudiced in the use of their power, and this ought to guide the attitude of our government in the implementation of the treaties.
Government must evolve ways to achieve quick release of these deportees, while not granting instant pardon to undeserving detainees upon returning home, but ensuring that those who have really changed or were unfairly detained are released. The real pain and trauma lies in the subjection of these families to forced separation from their bread winners in such countries, and that should be given adequate consideration by immigration officials.
The deportees conditions are complicated by the shame of deportation, the degrading conditions of Nigerian prisons and the lack of government arrangement towards restoring human dignity to them upon their arrival here.
Nations have the right to deport unwanted individuals, but the absence of means of identifying cases of prejudicial deportation, compounded by the lack of any known policy on how deportees must be handled upon arrival here is a clear indication of the Nigerian government's nonchalance about the welfare of the country's citizens.