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‘No Olvidado’: These Americans find and bury missing migrants

A three-part documentary about death and dignity on the US-Mexico border

By Alexandra King, CNN

Film by Craig Waxman, Alexandra King and Alfredo Alcántara

PART I
(Missing in the desert)

Five hours into the hike and 100 degrees in the shade, the exhausted men thought about water and their aching feet and how many bodies they would find that day.

Fanned out in a line across a remote patch of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, the 15 men in fluorescent vests reading “Aguilas Del Desierto” (Eagles of the Desert) freckled the Mars-like landscape. All morning, they had hiked over uneven black volcanic rocks, lava-hot and ready to split an ankle in two, into the heart of a valley, where thousands of giant saguaro cactuses waved their stubby arms.

For the last hour, Pedro Fajardo, a 56-year-old factory worker, had smelled death. As the men poked sticks under bushes and sweated through ditches dotted with the familiar detritus of migrants — water bottles painted black, discarded clothing and rosary beads — an occasional putrid breeze was their compass.

Members of the Aguilas del Desierto search for migrant remains in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, a remote area in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.

Stopping at the bottom of a small ridge, Fajardo caught it again — stronger this time. He pushed the men forward.

That’s when a whistle blew, and 12 radios crackled in familiar chorus.

“Encontramos un cadaver, encontramos un cadaver.”

We’ve found a corpse.

At least once a month, the Aguilas del Desierto, a group of 30 predominantly Mexican-American volunteers, travel to the Sonoran desert to search for migrants reported lost or missing. The names and suspected locations of missing border crossers are reported by desperate families on the other side of the border, usually via Facebook, though the group also receives as many as 20 phone calls per day.

Most of the Aguilas work 40-hour weeks, many as landscapers, cooks and factory workers. Money for their expeditions, including gas for the 14-hour round trip, comes from online donations and weekly collections at local markets in California, where most of the group lives.

Pedro Fajardo, a volunteer with the Aguilas del Desierto, prays over the remains of a dead migrant.

The body they had just found was fresh. The man had lain there maybe four or five days, they guessed. He was sprawled in the shadow of a small tree, flies fogged above his swollen chest. Pus and blood leaked from his eyes and mouth.

The man was the second dead migrant they had found that morning; a skull was found earlier. Once they’d found 11 sets of remains in an afternoon. Another time, two days before Christmas, they’d found nine bodies, huddled in a line — victims of dehydration.

Still, it was rare to find a fully fleshed body in the scorching heat of the desert, which can render a human skeletal in a matter of weeks. Even more unusual, the man would be quickly identified.

His name the Aguilas would learn after they had performed the grim ritual they knew so well — taping off the area, radioing coordinates to Border Patrol, saying a prayer for the dead man’s soul. José Inés Ortiz Aguillon. He was from El Salvador and 51 years old.

A member of the Aguilas del Desierto lays a cross next to the body of José Inés Ortiz Aguillon.

Found on April 22, 2019, Aguillon would become the 47th dead migrant to be retrieved from the Arizona borderlands since the first of the year. By August, as temperatures rose as high as 107 degrees, that number would more than double.

“It’s like a gigantic cemetery right now, crossing the desert. Only a few make it. Once they get into the desert, there is no return,” Fajardo says.

“We could be looking every day up there, and we can find (dead) people every day. Unfortunately, we can’t do that because we have to work.”

The Aguilas group was founded in 2009 by Mexican-American migrant Eli Ortiz after his brother and cousin died while attempting to cross the Sonoran Desert. Their story, he says, is common to many.

“They were crossing the border and their smuggler left them behind. I asked immigration for help, and they refused to help. I asked the consulate for help and they refused. I asked the police for help and they refused too,” Ortiz says.

“We found my family four-and-a-half months after they were left behind. All that was left were their skeletons.”

That’s when Ortiz knew he had to help. For him, the mission is simple.

“If it wasn’t for us, who would find them?” he says.

The group formed in response to a mass wave of migrant deaths on the border that have been hidden in plain sight for more than two decades, even as overall rates of illegal migration have decreased.

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Arizona’s numbers speak for themselves. Between 1990 and 1999, the average number of migrant deaths recorded each fiscal year in southern Arizona was 12. From 2000 to 2017, that number jumped more than tenfold, to 157 deaths per year,) according to the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner.

This increase can be directly attributed, human rights groups argue, to the U.S. Border Patrol’s 1994 adoption of “Prevention Through Deterrence” as its chief operational strategy. The new initiative was formed amid an intense outcry over historic numbers of illegal immigration from Mexico in the ’80s and ’90s. Named “Operation Gatekeeper,” it outlined a radical new tactic for deterring illegal border crossers — using the unforgiving landscape as a natural barrier.

The strategy said that as “mountains, deserts, lakes, rivers and valleys form natural barriers to passage,” known migrant routes at urban entry points should be fenced off and militarized. This left migrants with no choice but to cross over harsh, remote desert. Authorities assumed they would fear making such a hazardous journey — and if anyone tried, their deaths would act as a future deterrent.

In one aspect, this hypothesis proved correct. Illegal migration did go down after the implementation of Operation Gatekeeper. In 2000, more than 1.6 million illegal aliens were apprehended by Border Patrol. By 2010, that number had dropped by more than 80 percent, to just over 300,000.

Migrants who attempt a desert crossing frequently encounter wild animals, like rattlesnakes.

However, what soon became clear is that the challenges of crossing through inhospitable landscapes like the Sonoran Desert wouldn’t stop migrants from attempting to make the journey.

From October 1997 to September 2018, US Border Patrol recorded 7,505 migrant deaths in its nine sectors along the entire southwestern border. And this astonishing figure — more than the total number of US military killed in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan combined since 2001 — is likely a significant undercount.

A 2018 CNN investigation found that the Border Patrol had failed to count hundreds of migrant deaths on US soil. Border Patrol figure data includes only cases reported to them, and it’s estimated that agents only find about 50% of the remains that are recovered, leading to significant undercounting.

Border Patrol’s numbers also don’t account for the migrants who simply go missing in the desert, never to be seen again, their bodies eaten and scattered by coyotes and vultures. Some human rights organizations estimate the number of missing to be in the tens of thousands.

“The migrant people coming across the border, what they don’t realize is how hard it is to get across the desert,” says Gerardo Campo, a 58-year-old floral designer who moonlights on weekends as the Aguilas’ operations chief.

According to Border Patrol, most deaths occur as a result of dehydration. Many other migrants die after being left behind because of a simple, treatable injury. Migrants walk at night to evade detection, and rocky terrain makes broken bones a common occurrence. Even a bad case of blisters can cause migrants to be abandoned by the smugglers they pay to guide them, leading to almost certain death, Campo says.

“They may have an idea that they’re going to be walking for just a couple of days, as they’ve been told by the coyotes to hook them and make their money. But they don’t realize until they’re into the desert that it’s not two days. It’s going to be about five, six, seven, ten days walking,” he says.

“The traffickers, and even people and family members that are going with them along the journey, they don’t care because their life is in danger too. So if someone gets hurt, that’s it.”

Though all the Aguilas live in the US legally, most of them arrived undocumented, crossing before hardline policies militarized the border. They see themselves as the lucky ones.

“When I find remains of people in the desert, I honestly see myself in that process of dying,” Campo says. “That is me.”

PART II
(Identifying the dead)

Dr. Greg Hess, chief medical examiner of Pima County in Tucson, Arizona, points to the outdoor cooler –- capacity: 115 human bodies — the extra one they had to build in 2005 after the flood of migrant remains began to overwhelm his office.

“We ran out of room,” he says.

Pima County, one of 22 counties adjacent to the Mexican border, has long been ground zero for migrants who die trying to cross into the United States. The centralized position of its office, responsible for three of Arizona’s four border areas, means that more migrant remains have come through the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner than anywhere else in the state.

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José Inés Ortiz Aguillon, the man found by the Aguilas, was processed here. He was just

Dr. Greg Hess, Pima County’s chief medical examiner, pulls a body out of his office’s indoor cooler.

one of more than 3,000 suspected US border crossers documented by this office alone since the year 2000.

“In the 1990s, we’d have less than 20 a year. In 2000, that jumped up to about 75,” Hess says.

“Our busiest single year was 2010. We had 222 remains recovered that year.”

This enormous influx not only stretched the morgue capacity to its limits, but also left the office with a quandary: Federal law said nothing about what they should do with these bodies, and official record keeping was non-existent.

“There is no federal law that dictates what states should do with the bodies of migrants who die on the border. Arizona statute requires that the Office of the Medical Examiner be notified when remains of an unidentified person is found. But that’s it,” Hess says.

“There’s really no way to track these types of deaths unless you are keeping your own internal numbers.”

That’s why, as the bodies poured in, unidentified, and taking up space, the office of the medical examiner tasked itself with rigorously documenting the identities of those found and assembled a DNA database.

In doing so, they were able to chronicle, for the first time, a historic wave of death at the border.

Identification, from the start, was the main challenge.

“If people are not found right away, they can become very decomposed and, or skeletal remains very quickly …. you lose a lot of information,” Hess says. “So, when we do examinations on people, we essentially make a profile. Is that a man or a woman? How tall are they and what do they look like? And do they have any identifying marks or scars or tattoos?”

Medical examiners also look to see if the migrants carried any personal effects that might provide a clue to their identity.

That’s where the property room comes in.

At first glance, the metal lockers look just like the ones you’d find in an American high school.

Except each one holds a year’s worth of plastic pouches, streaked with desert dirt, filled with the unmistakable scent of decay and stuffed with belongings chosen to provide a semblance of comfort on a long trip to a new life. Prayer cards. Photographs of children. Hair clips. Reading glasses with a missing lens.

These belongings hold valuable clues that could reunite remains with loved ones, says Robin Reineke, the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Colibri Center for Human Rights.

Colibri works with the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, collecting detailed missing persons reports for people who disappeared while crossing the US-Mexico border and DNA profiles from family members desperate to locate their loved ones.

They currently have reports for more than 3,000 people.

“When we take missing persons reports, we don’t treat that as a legal law enforcement document. We treat that as a scientific document and a humanitarian document,” Reineke says. “We’re recording every detail that the family can remember about the person, about what happened, what size pants they wore, what size shoes … anything that the family can remember.”

Belongings found in the desert are not only useful in identifying the missing but also have tremendous meaning to devastated families.

“We work with families in crisis — families grieving unthinkable losses. The items also help us, help the family to heal,” Reineke adds.

The remains of an unidentified border crosser.

“To see his prayer card, to see his wallet, to see his glasses, to see her ring, her earrings, her scrunchy, her Bible. And then to hold those items and do their best to try to be with that person in that moment when they couldn’t be with them when they left the world.”

When skeletal remains are found with no belongings, DNA becomes the only chance of identification. Since 2016, Colibri has taken DNA samples from more than 583 individual family members in the hope of finding answers in the Pima office’s database of more than 1,000 samples.

So far they have helped families identify 45 loved ones.

But the relentless human toll is hard for Reineke.

“I’m an optimistic person, but at this point I’m pessimistic that we’re going to be able to identify everyone who has died here,” she says. “I keep waiting for the moment when the American public realizes we’ve allowed something really ugly to unfold.”

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PART III
(From paupers’ graveyard to proper burials)

The paupers’ graveyard at Terrace Park Cemetery in Holtville, California — some 15 miles from the Mexican border — is at the back, behind the manicured lawns with the marble headstones and fresh carnation stems wilting in the hair-dryer heat. It’s home to several large rattlesnakes and more than 500 unmarked graves. A large “WARNING” notice signposts the snakes. The rows of paupers’ graves, marked by numbered bricks, read “Jane Doe” and “John Doe.”

The three-acre dirt lot was opened in 1994, the same year that Operation Gatekeeper policies were introduced. Half of the men, women and children buried here are unidentified. Of those, most are migrants who died attempting to cross into the United States.

Usually this site is closed off to the public, chained shut. Burials stopped here in 2009, after officials realized cremation, at $850 a body, was more cost effective for taxpayers than the roughly $2,300 it costs to bury someone. After cremation, ashes were scattered at sea.

For years, the graveyard’s only visitors were the cemetery’s superintendent and a volunteer group named the Border Angels, who gained permission to pray over the graves every six weeks or so and leave flowers and crosses.

But now, a decade since the last pauper’s grave was dug here, the remains of unidentified border crossers are coming back to Terrace Park. Except this time, their cremated bodies aren’t buried at the back. Instead, a new policy is ensuring remains are placed in an endowed area of the cemetery that is marked and accessible to the public.

This new policy is the work of Imperial County Public Administrator Rosie Blankenship.

For years, it has been her job to break the news to any migrant families who came calling about the fate of their loved ones.

If the coroner can’t identify a migrant’s body within 30 days, the remains are sent to her department, Blankenship says. Her office then typically waits about 30 days before moving forward with cremation. However, by the time a family might call, it was often too late.

“When they would come to me and say, ‘I’d like to claim my loved one,’ I would have to tell them, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, we scattered their ashes at sea,” she says.

“There was no closure for the family. And I thought, ‘Okay, we’ve got to change that.’”

Blankenship’s first visit to the dirt lot at Terrace Park Cemetery left an indelible impression.

“As soon as I crossed those gates and looked at the area in which our decedents were buried, my heart just broke,” she says.

Changing the cemetery policy was one of the first things on her to-do list, Blankenship says. “To be able to bury them in the endowed area, a much more beautiful place, I mean that was the right way to go,” she says. “Why it hadn’t been thought of before, I don’t know.”

Which is why, on a blazing hot April morning, as three volunteers strum guitars and softly sing the Catholic hymn “Entre Tus Manos,” Blankenship reads out a list of 17 names — most of them simply “John Doe” — with an estimated date of death.

Volunteers take turns laying single red roses into an open grave. Her voice quivers as she reads the names aloud.

“No more unidentified migrant or identified person has to be buried in the back,” she says. “They too have the honors of being buried in the front with all the rest of us.”

Imperial County Public Administrator Rosie Blankenship reads during a funeral service for the unidentified at Terrace Park Cemetery in Holtville, California.

Seventeen people are interred during the ceremony. Not all of them were migrants — some were homeless and others simply locals who went unclaimed after their death.

“We bid them farewell in a very respectful and dignified way and at the end of the day, I can look back and say, we did well. We did well for them,” Blankenship says. “And that gives me great pleasure to know that their farewell was a grand adios.”

After the ceremony, a crowd files solemnly through the gate into the paupers’ graveyard, winding their way around the shallow graves to lay homemade crosses. A Catholic priest recites a prayer in Spanish as the freeway across the dirt fields rumbles with the sounds of Border Patrol cars and trucks of goods on their way to Mexico.

The crosses read “No Olvidado.”

Not forgotten.

(edition.cnn.com)

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Investigation

Migrant Return and Reintegration: Complex, Challenging, Crucial

Photo: Alexander Bee/ IOM

Cameroon — Since the COVID-19 outbreak, many Cameroonian migrants, like countless others from West and Central Africa, have been stranded, en route to their destinations due to lack of resources or because countries closed borders to stop the spread of the virus.

Despite these restrictions, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) continues to provide voluntary return assistance to stranded migrants along migration routes.

Between January and June 2021, 233 Cameroonians benefited from IOM’s assisted voluntary return and reintegration programme, including 194 men, 19 women and 20 children (13 boys and 7 girls). These returnees, who were already receiving holistic assistance from IOM’s protection teams in transit centres in Niger, were able to return home, where most of them have started their reintegration process.

“My brother and I waited five months in Niger. The situation was not always easy but what helped us hold out under this circumstance was the fact that despite how long it would take, we would soon be back home,” said Youssouf, a returnee from Algeria.

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Photo : Alexander Bee/ IOM

Under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, IOM works closely with the Cameroonian authorities and non-governmental organizations, through a transparent and inclusive approach at all stages of the process.

Eric Atangana, reintegration counsellor at the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Civic Education, said the reintegration process starts with screening migrants, including checking their identity A reintegration plan is then developed in counselling sessions between the migrant and a counsellor.

“Subsequently, a project summary sheet is drafted and validated during a sectoral committee made up of several actors, including a government representative, a civil society representative and IOM staff,’’ Atangana said.

“After the committee has validated the project, the business plan is developed and adjusted accordingly. This ensures that the case is completed and finalized, then forwarded to the reintegration unit for the funding process.”. In practice, this process is far from a smooth ride.

Photo : Alexander Bee/ IOM

It is complex, multidimensional, and requires the continued collaboration of all stakeholders. For example, some of the migrants have trouble establishing their national identity cards, which are crucial to receive economic support. Then there are lags for some reintegration projects because of lack of constancy and/or dedication of some returnees applying for socioeconomic reintegration.

Arnaud, 31, who returned from Algeria in January this year, initially faced a tough time but has settled in, although challenges remain. “Since I started keeping and selling broiler chickens, I am focused on this activity. Before my reintegration, I worked on construction sites and that was exhausting and poorly paid. Now I focus on my chickens,’’ Arnaud said.

‘‘Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the business is quite precarious; suppliers are having trouble delivering the products, so I face delays in meeting my commitments and this compromises my production schedule. However, this activity enables me to fully address my needs and, gradually, I am rebuilding my life.”

On top of these hurdles in the reintegration process, more migrants are applying for voluntary return assistance. “Since January 2021, the number of assisted voluntary returns has been increasing. The main challenges in organizing these returns are related to the COVID-19 pandemic response that has entailed decreeing restrictive measures,’’ explained Lonje Bernard, Reintegration Assistant at IOM in Cameroon.

“Returnees must submit negative tests upon arrival dating back three days. They still have to retest at the airport and wait for the results on the spot. This makes everyone feel stressed and nervous. There has been a considerable increase in operations between January and June 2021,” Bernard said.

From June 2017 to date, with funding from the European Union Emergency Trust Fund under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, this programme has enabled more than 5,450 Cameroonian migrants to return and reintegrate.

Support Voice for African Migrants


Support VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS journalism of integrity and credibility.

Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

For continued free access to the best and latest migration, trafficking, displacement and humanitarian reports including thorough investigative reports in these areas, we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.

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Investigation

Alarm as Nigeria receives 60 new deportees from countries ravaged by COVID-19

  • Returnees melt into society without observing protocols

  • We’re not aware of deportation – Foreign Affairs Ministry, NIDCOM

  • 42 people already deported – FAAN

  • Development portends grave danger – NARD

On May 23, the Federal Government declared 90 returnees from Brazil, India, and Turkey wanted for violating the provisions of the COVID-19 Health Regulations Protection, 2021. The Chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, said the affected persons travelled into Nigeria from restricted countries and evaded the mandatory seven-day quarantine for persons arriving from such countries. Surprisingly, the same federal government accepted 60 deportees from Germany and other European countries without plans for them to be quarantined or subjected to fresh COVID-19 tests in the country as stipulated in the guidelines. INNOCENT DURU reports that health experts say the development portends grave danger for the country and the efforts to stop the spread of the pandemic.

 

A number of Nigerian migrants who went in search of greener pastures  to Germany, Austria and Poland were deported penultimate Wednesday amidst the ravaging Coronavirus pandemic. They arrived at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos at exactly 13:30 pm via Air Tanker Airline, which flew back after refueling.

The returnees were subsequently moved out in three batches in a white Coaster bus that dropped them outside the airport. Three women and four children were sighted by our correspondent among the deportees.

Many people at the airport distanced themselves from the deportees with some warning their colleagues to stay away from them because they were coming from regions hard-hit by the deadly virus.

“You better stay away from them if you don’t want to put yourself in danger. How can you stay so close to people who just came back from Germany where the coronavirus infection rate is very high?” one of the workers at the cargo section said as he hurriedly walked away from where the deportees stood despondently.

Contrary to directives by Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 that returnees must “show evidence of payment/appointment for a repeat PCR test in the country and proceed on seven-day self-isolation as per protocol and present (themselves)  at the designated sample collection sites on the 7th day of arrival,” the deportees were merely cleared based on the test results they brought and  presented to the authorities when they arrived at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos.

Some of the deportees who had the means started taking taxis to their various destinations within Lagos. Some who had no relations in Lagos State boarded taxis that took them to where they could get vehicles going to places like Edo, Delta and other states.

“I didn’t pay money in Germany for a repeat Covid test in Nigeria before I was deported. When we landed, I gave them the result of the COVID-19 test I did before coming back.

“They only checked our temperature after profiling us. They didn’t ask us to go and do a repeat COVID-19 test anywhere here in Nigeria. After the profiling, they brought a bus that dropped us here,” one of the deportees said.

His claims were also corroborated by other deportees who spoke with The Nation, saying: “We weren’t asked to do a repeat COVID-19 test here. I was even surprised because I was expecting that they would ask us to go for a fresh test on arrival. In Germany, testing centres are everywhere. You can see them in vans in open places. You can walk into any of them anytime to do your test. I am shocked to see that there is nothing like that here.”

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More than seven days after they returned, the deportees neither went on self isolation nor presented themselves for fresh tests. The authorities did not make any preparation for all that, and this has continued to raise questions about the genuineness of the campaign for people to wear face masks and observe social distancing, among other precautions, while the government and its officials continue to bring in deported migrants from high risk countries without considering the implications for the populace.

Three of the returnees evacuated from Dubai last year tested positive for COVID-19 infection following the tests conducted on them upon arrival in Lagos. They had earlier tested negative in Dubai but the test conducted on them on arrival in Nigeria by the Lagos State Government proved otherwise.

According to the World Health Organisation, the incubation period of coronavirus infection is an average of five to six days and can also take up to 14 days. This is the period between exposure to the virus and patients showing symptoms. In other words, the three patients could have been infected but asymptomatic when they returned, and thus initially tested negative.

Checks conducted by our correspondent revealed that it was  not the first time Nigeria would allow deportees to melt into the society without subjecting them to fresh tests. Last year, December 20 to be precise, The Nation had reported how deportees from Austria and Germany were quietly let into the country without subjecting them to fresh tests or considering the implications of such for the country and its inhabitants.

Surprisingly, government officials are in the habit of denying such deportations or feigning ignorance of them.

FAAN, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NIDCOM disagree on deportation

Three federal government agencies were in disagreement over the veracity of the deportation exercise penultimate Wednesday.

The Federal Airways Authority of Nigeria told The Nation that the deportation took place, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) said they were not aware of the exercise.

Spokesperson of FAAN, Henrirtta Yakubu, in a reply to a test message sent by our reporter, listed the countries the deportees came from thus: “Germany (24), Australia (16), Hungary (2). They   arrived on 26-5-21 At about 1330hours on airplane with no GYM registration.

Spokesman of NIDCOM, Rahman Balogun, in a text message, said: “I am not even aware of such deportation. You may wish to get it from the respective embassies or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

When contacted, the spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Ferdinand Nwoye, simply said: “I am not aware of the deportation.”

When our correspondent reached out to the National Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Monday James, he said: “ I am no longer the PRO. I have been promoted.”

Spokesperson of the service in Lagos, Edet, also said he had been promoted and not in a position to respond to the enquiry. He promised to provide the contact of his successor but was yet to do so at the time of filing this report.

No response was also received from the image maker of Nigeria Port Health, Morenikeji Okoh. A call made to her mobile phone went unanswered. She later sent a text message asking our correspondent to send his request by text message. She didn’t respond to the request either.

When our correspondent called her for a similar request last year, Okoh had said: “You need to know that I cannot give you any information from the ministry because I am not authorised to speak to the media. So, I cannot answer any of those questions.

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It portends grave danger for our health system – NARD

A medical expert and First Vice Chairman of the National Association of Resident Doctors, Dr Arome Adejo, says the practice of allowing people from abroad to mingle with the larger society without carrying out necessary tests on them portends grave danger for the country and its people.

In a telephone chat with our correspondent, he said it is not enough for them to present test results they had done over there on arrival, adding: “If people are leaving here for Germany and on arriving there, they are meant to do the test again. They should also do the same thing here because of the incubation period.

“You might have been exposed after you did the initial test at the airport. They have to repeat the test. If they are allowing them to enter the country without doing the test, it means we don’t know what we are doing.

“If they have been allowed to mingle with the larger society, it is the fault of the people whose responsibility it is to make the deportees do the test.”

Such practice, Arome said, is the reason why they as resident doctors are lamenting  that  people are not held responsible in this country.

He said: “Ours is a country where things are not taken seriously until they escalate. We are not setting our priorities right. They need to repeat the test here on arrival.

“Obviously, it is right for them to come back here and do another test if they have not been vaccinated. If they don’t do the test, it is wrong.

“We have some countries that are seeing their third wave now. We don’t need to introduce the third wave into this country. It is absolutely wrong.”

He also expressed disappointment at claims by government agencies that they were not aware of the deportation, saying: “It is a shame if government agencies say they are not aware of the deportation. Was it not a plane that brought them?

 

“Even if those people are not deportees, everybody coming into the country has certain protocols they must observe.

“We have travelled abroad. There was a time I was kept at the airport abroad for six hours. They should not be saying that they are not aware. If they say so, it is an embarrassment.

“This is why we are saying that people should be held responsible.”

A public affairs analyst and former president of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, Mazi Okechukwu Unegbu, blamed the development on inconsistencies in government policies.

He said: “Our government is like a government of triple or quadruple standard. What you hear today is not what you will hear tomorrow. There is no consistent policy from them.

“Allowing deportees from Germany to come in without subjecting them to tests is very unfortunate, and that is part of the double standards I am talking about.”

He feared that the action of the authorities was tantamount to joking with the lives of the entire citizens.

“They are endangering most of us, particularly those of us that have not had the opportunity of taking the jab.

“Our government needs to be consistent with what they are doing, otherwise, the implication is that they will be endangering the lives of many Nigerians.

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“Economically, it is also very dangerous for the country. The government should realise that any policy they take has an implication on the larger economy.”

Asked if the cost of the tests could have made the authorities take such a decision since the deportees might not have the wherewithal, Unegbu said: “If the government didn’t subject them to tests because of the cost of doing so, it would be dangerous. The government has the responsibility to protect the citizens.

“If possible, the government can bear the cost and make claims on them later. Since they have their passports  they can trace them later.

“But I must tell you that it is  dangerous for them to have allowed them to enter the larger society without the normal process of testing and quarantining them.

“Testing is very important because without it, some of them may not show the actual result.

“The government needs to protect the citizens through their policies. Unfortunately, some of the civil servants are just too careless. If you come out of the airport and see how they behave, you will wonder how Nigeria is not having a pandemic escalated beyond what we have.

“Honestly, Nigeria is blessed through nature and not through the actions of our workers.”

German authorities snatched our children from us – Deportees

Some of the deportees alleged that the German authorities took their children from them before they were deported.

One of them, a fair complexioned woman, had lost her voice crying over the loss of her only child to the German authorities. She was said to have cried from when they left the airport in Germany till she arrived in Lagos.

She said: “They took my 18-year-old daughter from me. I don’t know how I will see her again.

“They brainwashed her seriously and immediately they took her from me. I was put in prison before they deported me.

“I have not eaten for the past five days because I didn’t want them to poison my food. They handcuffed me and tied me to my seat with a belt.

“My concern is about my daughter.”

Another deportee said: “They took my children from me and kept me in prison for 18 months before deporting me.

“I would advise you not to travel to a white man’s country because they are very wicked.”

Nigeria’s coronavirus cases compared in Germany, Austria, and Hungary

Checks on countries where the migrants were deported from showed that they have extremely higher cases than Nigeria.

Germany, at the time of compiling this report, ranked 10th on the global COVID-19 chart with over 3,692,908 cases and 89,316 deaths. Hungary placed 32nd with 804,987 cases and 29,774 deaths. Austria placed 38 with 645,552 and 10, 621 deaths. Nigeria ranks distant 81 with 166,534 and 2,099 deaths.

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Investigation

IOM launches urgent $140 million appeal to support communities and refugees in Cox’s Bazar

Cox’s Bazar – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has launched an Appeal for USD 140 million to support over 1.3 million host community members and Rohingya refugees residing in Cox’s Bazar District in Bangladesh.

For the nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, 2021 marks the fourth year since their mass displacement from Myanmar, preceded by decades of influxes spurned by systematic discrimination and targeted violence.

While the Government of Bangladesh and the international community have maintained the provision of immediate life-saving assistance, the needs are immense and complex challenges continue to emerge and reshape the nature of the response.

“Under the leadership of the Government of Bangladesh, we will continue to work closely with our partners and uphold our commitment to safeguard the well-being and dignity of both Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and their host communities,” said António Vitorino, IOM Director General.

“At the same time, the international community must continue to advocate for sustainable solutions in Myanmar that would eventually facilitate what all Rohingya refugees have consistently voiced as their main concern — to return home.”

READ  How Nigeria 'imports, spreads' COVID-19

The humanitarian community swiftly shifted priorities in 2020 to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on the Rohingya residing in the 34 congested refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district. COVID-19 interventions were scaled up, and other humanitarian services adjusted, according to guidelines on access and presence to reduce the spread of infection.

A recent UN survey revealed a decrease in shelter maintenance and livelihoods, and deterioration in the protection environment. These challenges, and others such as monsoon and cyclone preparedness and response, will remain at the forefront of the response in 2021.

IOM will continue to provide life-saving emergency shelter and core relief items to support households affected by the recent devastating fire, monsoon and other disasters and shocks. The team will strengthen safe and dignified living conditions through rationalized and participatory site planning and through environmentally conscious construction and site maintenance initiatives.

The activities outlined in the appeal promote equitable access to mental health and psychosocial support services for all crisis-affected individuals. IOM also aims to encourage the use of essential healthcare packages among refugees and host communities by countering misinformation and supporting community engagement.

READ  Alarm as Nigeria receives 60 new deportees from countries ravaged by COVID-19

The impact of the crisis on the affected areas in Cox’s Bazar District likewise requires concerted efforts to support host communities affected by price increases and strained livelihoods.

IOM will enhance the livelihoods and resilience of women, girls, men and boys who are part of vulnerable host communities, and support social protection interventions in cooperation with the Government of Bangladesh. The organization will also continue to address the urgent cooking fuel needs of refugees through the provision of alternative clean fuel and technology.

“Together with the Government and our local partners, we will contribute to the peaceful coexistence of Rohingya refugees and host communities,” said Giorgi Gigauri, IOM Chief of Mission in Bangladesh. “Ensuring a community-based approach to the response, the teams will continue to improve the participation of affected people through community feedback and collective data analysis.”

IOM’s Global Crisis Response Platform provides an overview of IOM’s plans and funding requirements to respond to the evolving needs and aspirations of those impacted by, or at risk of, crisis and displacement in 2021 and beyond.

READ  We’re in dilemma! Nigerians in India lament as COVID-19 ravages Asian country

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