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Homecoming agony (2): Concern over how deported sick migrants, ex-convicts are managed

By Innocent Duru

 

Homecoming agony

On August 19, this year, Germany deported a crop of Nigerian migrants who had gone to the European country to seek greener pastures. Among the deportees, according to Nigerian envoy to Germany, Peter Lambat, were some convicts who had finished serving prison terms for committing violent crimes. The deportees also included sick people who came back with heaps of medications given to them by physicians in Germany.

Surprisingly, none of the deportees was subjected to any check by the Nigerian authorities as they were secretly whisked out of the airport. The denial by the Nigeria Immigration Service that the deportation took place apparently shows that the system is porous and prone to allowing deportees find their ways into the society without minding their health conditions and criminal records and the attendant implications for the country.

Findings showed that what happened on that very day was a usual practice, especially when it affects deportees and expelled migrants. One of the August 19 deportees, Mike, who said he was nursing health challenges before his deportation, said no government agency attended to them when they arrived. “No government agency came to say anything to us. We were only welcomed by Nigerian Immigration Service officials on arrival.

They said: “Welcome home brothers and sisters” and that was all. I wanted to even report what I experienced in the hands of the Nigerian Embassy over there but a lady I met said I should explain to one oga. “When I met the man, he said I should go and explain to one man over there. They kept tossing me around and I said, ‘What is going on?’ At the end, they said I should put it in writing and send it to Abuja. I feel disappointed about the attitude of the immigration officers.

I left Nigeria several years ago and I’m sad that I came back to see it in a very bad situation. “Inside the plane, there was a guy who was sick and was being given injections by the doctor attached to him. While we were still in Germany, we heard that a guy on a wheelchair was deported in July and was frustrated at the airport for three days because none of his relations was aware of his arrival,” he said. Esther, a migrant who was deported on July 25, this year, also said she was nursing health challenges before her deportation but got no attention on return to the country.

She told The Nation that her health challenges assumed a worrisome dimension when she arrived the country, adding: “I can’t even explain what they gave to my son and because from that very day, we started vomiting and stooling. My son is still having some challenges now.” An airport worker, who identified himself simply Emma, said many deportees dumped outside the airport are always exhibiting all manners of health challenges. “When you see some of these people, you will pity them because aside from psychological challenges which they expectedly manifest, you will see a number of them showing disturbing signs of ill-health. We have seen those with mental challenges abandoned here, and also seen some with other with visible health problems too loitering here because they had nowhere to go. “Allowing these people to just find their ways into the society has grave implications.

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Some of them could have contagious health issues that could affect innocent citizens. Those who were into all manners of criminality will easily go back to it on arrival because they have nothing to fall back on.” Another worker at the airport, who gave his name as Ohens, described the system at the arrival point as too loose. “ The attitude of Nigerian authorities towards deportees and expelled migrants is always horrible.

Most of the deportees are brought in and moved out of the airport quietly. They are always dumped outside the Hajj Camp from where they were expected to find their ways to their various homes and relations. “The immigration service doesn’t subject them to checks to know if they have sicknesses or have criminal records. This has a grave implication because those who have serious health issues could spread it.

Those who have not so much money could go home and die in the long run if they do not have the means to take care of themselves.” The Director of the Centre for Youth Integrated Development, Aihawu Victo, also frowned at the development. “Most of these people didn’t leave this country as criminals, drug addicts or rapists. They developed those characters over there and Nigeria is just receiving them without proper monitoring. Nobody monitors them; when they enter the country they disappear and that is all,” he said.

Retired Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Abubarkar Tsav, said it is dangerous to allow deportees with criminal records to find their ways into the society without checks. His words: “Deportees who have criminal records should be kept in custody when they come before they are released into the society. When they come with that mentality, they contaminate this area again.

They would continue with their crime.” For those who have already found their ways into the society, Tsav said, the government could still do something to arrest the situation. “What government should do about those who have found their way into the society is to try and inquire about their lives. If there is need to rehabilitate them, they should do so. Definitely, they must need some rehabilitation. Why should the country not accept them when they return? They are our people. It is only if they have no passport that they can be denied entry into the country.”

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A medical expert and principal partner of Kamyk Clinic, Dr Monsurat Kadri, said the development portends grave health risks to The Nation. “ There are lots of implications when deportees are allowed to enter the society unchecked. The most important is the spread of infections such as tuberculosis, Hepatitis, HIV, among others. Apart from infections, we also talk of lifestyle influence. Most of these deportees might have committed offences and incarcerated in inhuman conditions which may affect the way they relate with the society if they are allowed to enter the community without screening or rehabilitation. They need psychological and physical rehabilitation. As a result of their experiences, they pry on innocent citizens and may actually corrupt the young ones by recruiting as their foot soldiers.

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The innocent young ones may only be carried away by the fact that the deportees came back from abroad. The deportees could also constitute economic burdens as they have no jobs and accommodation. They also serve as security risks as they are not quarantined and cannot be traced. Government will have to have a database for whoever is deported. They should be screened for diseases, quarantined and rehabilitated before they are reintegrated back to the society. The government should also provide training and empowerment for them so that they can engage in something meaningful to make both ends meet. .

NDLEA, Immigration, NCFRMI react

National spokesperson of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Sunday James, in a telephone chat with The Nation, said the service has never failed in its responsibility of giving the needed attention to deportees and others coming into the country. “When people are deported, they come to the immigration and we refer them to the appropriate quarters. If it is an EFCCrelated issue, we refer them and if it is drug-related issue we send them to the NDLEA.

The quarantine workers are there at the airport to attend to the people on arrival. “The same way they check ebola, that is how they check people coming in. it is only when the officials are not there we can quickly call their attention that they need to be on ground. But I don’t think they can desert their duty for any reasons. “The deportees are Nigerians and they would be rehabilitated.

Definitely, the government would always take care of them and rehabilitate them. You can’t refuse them coming back to their country. It is just like you going back to your father’s house. Nobody can stop you from going to your father’s house just because you are sick.” In a separate telephone chat, the national spokesman of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA., Jonah Achema, said the agency has from time to time had deportees with drug cases referred to it. ”We have deportees referred to us on a regular basis.

They are arrested abroad not necessarily because they moved drugs from Nigeria to those places. They are arrested because they went into drugrelated activities while in those countries. “Each time they are arrested, they are made to serve a jail term and then returned to Nigeria. Sending them to us is for us to document them and keep tab on their activities thereafter.

There is this argument that they should be tried in Nigeria again but there is this international human rights policy of double jeopardy, where one doesn’t need to serve jail term twice for a single offence. “Once they are deported, we keep tab on their activities to ensure that they are no longer continuing with their criminal activities. I can assure you that they are always in good numbers. We refer to this as an equal opportunity criminality. “Incidentally some of them go under the guise of studying abroad. As I am talking to you, we have what we call visa clearance strategy.

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As you are travelling abroad to study, we would screen you. Before you are even granted visa, we would screen you, ask for guarantors who must be responsible people in the society and who ordinarily would not subscribe to somebody going abroad to commit crime. “There is nobody who has passed through strategy that has been found wanting.

I can tell you that over 5, 000 to 6, 000 visa applicants have to pass through us, especially as it affects about 15 countries that we have memorandum of understanding with to that effect. When deportees referred to us for drug cases come, they stay with us for a day or two.” The Director, Refugee and Migrants at the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs, Hamidu Lawal, also gave details of how the organsation works with sister organisations to attend to deportees.

“If you are talking about deportation, it always has to do with criminal offences. If they have criminal history, They would be incarcerated in the place they are coming from; when they are coming here, their names and other details would be communicated to Nigeria and then, other records would follow. . “It is not a matter of dumping them here. Medical checks are also done. If people have health issues that are deemed to be serious, they would not be deported. We have a system to save this people.

We have all stakeholders, including health officials, immigration, and others are always there to receive them. “We have different categories of people coming back. We have deportees; there are returnees and there are evacuees and we have different people seeing them. It is against the law to bring back people with serious health challenges. But if it is something that is manageable, you will come with the history and we would take over here.

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

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“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

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“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

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UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

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“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

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“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

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Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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