The shame and dilemma of Nigerian deportees

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BY CLEMENT UDEGBE

NIGERIANS suffer in many countries, to which they ran to for 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, because they have bedded into the culture and society of the host nation, have nothing to come back to here in their country. Our government and people have no plans, no policies, no 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, these nations just wake up and breach their agreement with Nigeria 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 that MoU! In the same Austria, letters or documents emanating from the Nigerian High Commission there are sent back to Abuja for authentication, at a cost as high as N130,000 excluding the travel cost for the authentication! All in the name of investigating their victim.

The Nigerian Embassy in Germany are more ingenious, they charge Euro 500 per harassed and distressed deportee for paper work!

The Austrian MoU, assured that 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 these 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 to print new notes, distribute mobile phones to farmers, when our sons and daughters are shamed in countries where they have lived for as long as 15 years with wives and children, and deported often so suddenly that these families are thrown into hardship and trauma and no one blinks. Rough handling of deportees overseas and here, remain 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 Nigeria Prisons and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Today we have 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 Prison in Kirikiri and other locations. This same batch has been detained in Thailand, for over two years after they were due for deportation due to the death of President Yar Ardua. They have arrived and still detained till now!

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. They are now exposed to different physical and psychological problems, in prison, including paralysis, some with 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 our officials. How would our officials feel if they were suddenly plucked out of their own families without their children?

The deportees conditions are complicated by the shame, degrading conditions of our prisons, and the lack of government arrangement towards restoring human dignity to them upon their arrival here. Our prisons are nothing to write home about and will remain so, until the correct leadership is installed.

Deportation is a thing that is in every country, as nations have their right to deport unwanted individuals, but the absence of means of sifting the cases of prejudicial deportation form the rest, compounded by the lack of any known policy on how deportees must be handled, upon arrival here, shows how this nation can abandon you at any time!

*Mr.  Udegbe, a lawyer, wrote from Lagos.

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