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Horrors of asylum seekers (iii) The Nation’s intervention saves stranded female deportees, children

BY INNOCENT DURU

Nigerian deportees from Germany

 

The Nation Newspaper’s intervention saved three female migrants and two of their children deported from Germany on Monday from another round of frustration. The distraught deportees were stranded at the Murtala Mohammed Airport and hopeless about what next to do with their lives but a light appeared at the end of the tunnel for them. INNOCENT DURU, who has been following the secret and inhuman conditions under which Nigerian migrants are deported by Germany, reports how this newspaper ended the miseries of the embattled deportees.

“I am frustrated. If I leave here now, I don’t even know where I am going to because when I was in Germany, my husband’s relations I left two children with, if they needed ordinary N500, they would call me. Is that the kind of people I would go and stay with?

“My grandmother is over 100 years old; my father is also going to 90 years. I don’t have a family to stay with. That is the problem I have and that is why I am crying. I don’t have any hope right now. It is someone who has money that has hope.”

That was the lamentation of Stella, one of the fresh set of Nigerian migrants deported by Germany.She wore a depressing look with her eyes red and swollen as a result of bemoaning the fate that befell her and the uncertainty of what awaits her here in Nigeria.

Her buxom daughter, who had planned to celebrate her birthday with her German school mates on Wednesday, continuously looked round in bewilderment as she tried to figure out the strange environment she had found herself.

The deportees were dealt the first blow at the airport when officials of the Nigerian Immigration Service only took their data, bundled them into a bus and dumped them outside the airport without caring about their welfare and if they had money to go home or even means of reaching out to their relations.

“When we arrived Murtala Mohammed Airport, Nigerian Immigration officers welcomed us. They wrote our names and where we came from and that was all. They didn’t give us a dime to go to our houses and neither gave us food nor water,” Stella said in tears.

Her allegations were corroborated by another deportee, who identified herself simply as Nelta. She said: “When we got to the airport, the Nigeria Immigration Service officials called Number 9 (my number on the list) and asked for my name. I told them Nelta.

“They asked me to walk straight to a box and asked me to fill a form. After filling the form, they asked us to enter into a waiting bus and dropped us outside the airport without giving us any assistance. No other government officials came to counsel or say anything to us. We were just thrown out like bath water. I don’t know where I am going from here.”

Activists rally round deportees

Prior to the arrival of the deportees, a Germany based activist, Rex Osa, had alerted our correspondent about the exercise. Besides, knowing the attitude of the Nigerian system to deportees, Rex, who is the co-ordination activist for Network 4Refugees, a political platform for refugees/migrant self-organisation based in Stuttgart, Germany, had made arrangements with a Nigerian partner and Executive Director of Super Mum Charity Initiative, Tolu Ayotade, to provide accommodation and necessary assistance for as many deportees that would be stranded.

Of all the deportees, it was only three who gave attention to Tolu. They were subsequently accommodated at a hotel in Ajao Estate, Aiport Road to calm their frayed nerves.

With support from our correspondent and an ally of Rex, the deportees were provided with food , water and drink.

Where next after the night accommodation?Overwhelmed by the heart-rending lamentations of the deportees about how they would cope after leaving the hotel, our correspondent reached out to the Nigerian Immigration Service Public Relations Officer at the Murtala Mohammed Airport to know if they were aware of the deportation and what help they would render to such people. He picked the calls and ended it when he was informed about the purpose.

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He subsequently sent a message saying that he was in a meeting and would call back. The service had earlier denied previous deportations.

The Nation thereafter called the national spokesmen of the service, Sunday James, who said he wasn’t aware of the deportation. When our correspondent pushed further, he demanded to have the pictures of the deportees to confirm that the matter was true.

With the permission of the deportees, their pictures where taken and forwarded to the NIS national image maker.

He thereafter demanded to know the number of the deportees, the country they came from, when they came and the time they arrived. Our correspondent provided all that.

After receiving the message, James promised to relay it to the comptroller for necessary actions but that was the last that was heard from the service.

The Murtala Mohammed spokesman of the service, Edet, later called back at 9pm to confirm the deportation. “Twenty-six people were deported from Germany today,” he said. Asked to provide further details of the demography of the deportees, he promised to check with his officers and call back to provide the answer but he never did.

Seeing the heightening tension on the faces of the deportees, The Nation reached out to the Director, Refugee and Migrants at the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs, in Abuja, Hamidu Lawal. Lawal immediately got in touch with the head of the Lagos office, Margaret, who requested that the deportees should be brought to their office the following day.

End comes for deportees’ plight

The next day, Tuesday to be precise, our correspondent early in the morning returned to the hotel. The deportees’ countenance had improved compared to what it was when they arrived. Tolu, the Supermum Charity Initiative boss who was supposed to be part of the journey, had had her sickness compounded by the stress she passed through running around to assist the deportees the previous day. She was taken to the hospital after vomiting and collapsing.

Seriously concerned about the plight of the deportees, Margret, the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs boss in Lagos gave directions on how to get to the office and the officer to meet as she was out on official assignment.

Getting to the office in a chattered taxi, our correspondent met with the Head Migration Unit , South West Zone, Alexander Oturu, who allayed the fears of the deportees and assured them that they would be counselled, accommodated in the commission’s shelter, fed, provided their basic needs and trained in any vocation of their choice. Elated by the humanitarian gesture of our correspondent, the commission assured that it will settle all expenses incurred in the course of assisting the deportees.

The deportees heaved a sigh of relief at the development. The misery on their faces faded away as they watched their children gamboling around the office.

Deportees relive ordeal with German authorities

Narrating how she was deported, Stella said: “I was coming back from church on Sunday when a neighbour called to tell me that policemen numbering about 30 came to my house. I asked her why they were looking for me because I didn’t offend them.

“The neighbour just told me they were looking for me. As I was about taking a train to Munich, I saw a bus coming and I told my daughter that, that should be the police. They pulled up by my side and asked to confirm if I am the one.

“Thereafter, they asked for my advice(a document) . I gave it to them and immediately, they said I was going to Frankfurt. They first of all took me to my house and asked me to park my things.

“I told them that before I would park my things, I would have to call my husband to ask him to come and take my daughter but they refused. They collected my phones and didn’t give them back to me until we arrived at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos.”

Without considering her status as a married woman, she further explained how the German officials allegedly rough-handled her. “As we were engaging in the discussion, they handcuffed me and took me to Frankfurt with my daughter. We only came back with a hand bag and the clothes we were putting on. A whole me , coming back to Nigeria without a dime in my pocket.

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“They handcuffed me from Germany till we got to Lagos. Aside from the handcuff, they used belt to tie my stomach and hand. It was when we wanted to come down from the plane that they released me. My daughter cried all the way from Frankfurt to Lagos seeing me in chains.

“My concern is about my daughter. I took her out of this country when she was just four months old. What would she be doing here? She speaks German and how long will it take her to learn Yoruba or adapt to the situation in Nigerian school? It could take her as much as two to three years before she would adjust. I am confused and tired. I don’t even know what to do.”

The daughter, in an emotion-laden voice, condemned the treatment meted out to her mother. “They put handcuff on my mummy. I don’t know why they did that. I felt bad and cried all through the journey.

“The German officials gave me chips, bread and chocolate. In spite of that, I didn’t feel happy seeing mummy in that condition. I still want to go back to Germany but I don’t want my mummy handcuffed again.”

The deportation was still like a dream to Nelta, who intermittently asked rhetorically if it was true that she is in Nigeria. “Are we in Lagos? It’s like I am in slumber. It’s like I am dreaming. I left for Germany in 2015 from Libya. I got to Libya in 2011 and left when Ghaddaffi was killed. I went to school in Germany up to a year studying their language.

“After leaving the camp where they always keep refugees, they kept mr in in an apartment but I found out that the wall was getting spoilt. I complained and they took me out. Since then, I was in the camp. Life in the camp was another matter entirely. There was too much crowd and there was no privacy. You have to use your brain in all you do.”

Recalling how she was arrested, Nelta said: “ I was at home on Sunday when more than 10 policemen came around 10am. I was about going to bed then and was only wearing a ‘nighty’ without bra when they barged into me. It was not up to two hours after I finished cooking and trying to rest when they came in. They parked a few things for me, and handcuffed me while holding me down. I was just screaming and asking why they were doing all that to me.

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

“Still tying me inhumanly, they were telling me to calm down. I subsequently saw myself at the airport; there at their airport, they removed the handcuff and asked me to pull my cloth because they needed to check my system to be sure that nothing was wrong with me. When I persisted in asking why they were doing all that to me, they said I was going back to Nigeria. I then asked if that was enough for them to subject me to all that bestial treatment and they said they were sorry for the assault and kept telling me that I should be calm.”

It was also a distasteful experience for Blessing, who was deported with her daughter.

“I went to Germany from Italy. I was in Italy from 2011 to 2016. It was when I was pregnant that my husband asked me to go to Germany. I had problems with the German authorities because of the document I was given to enter the country. The immigration officers here collected the document and told me it was not genuine and asked me to pay some money. I paid 100 Euro and got a lawyer. They thereafter detained me for six hours. I was taken from Colone to Bourne; Bourne again took me back to Colone. I was expecting to come back to Nigeria or Italy but they didn’t agree.

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“In the accommodation that they gave me, they gave me a condition that no man must come and visit me, not even my husband. I agreed because he was not in Germany. When my husband attempted to come, they arrested him and deported him. Yes, when my husband came from Italy to visit us, they arrested and deported him insisting that he would not see us. They placed three officers around me throughout the trip back home.”

At about 1am on Monday, the slim built mother said: “ My baby had a bang on the door and called ‘Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!’ I asked if she was the one knocking the door, she said no and added that somebody was knocking. The policemen kept quiet and were listening. When I opened the door, I saw more than six officers looking like ghosts by that odd hours of the day.

“They tied so many guns around their waists as if they were chasing criminals.

When I asked them what the matter was, they said: ‘Blessing, good morning; we are taking you back to Nigeria’. I said: ‘Really? Oh! Thank you Jesus’.

They were shocked. I didn’t really know what came over me, as I had packed my baby’s things the previous night. They asked me to take a luggage not weighing more than 20 kilos for me and 20 for my daughter.”

Activist decries deportees’ plight

The Co-ordination Activist for Network Refugees 4Refugees, a political platform for refugees/migrant self-organisation based in Stuttgart, Germany, Rex Osa, decried the plight of the deportees. According to him, “The silence of the government is condemnable knowing full well the positive impact of those diaspora Nigerians have been making on the economic stability of Nigeria. Even by playing it down to so-called diplomacy, can a government be so insensitive to the likely implication of deporting 30,000 suspected Nigerians with the ongoing insecurity in the country and the returning migrants from North Africa and South Africa?

“Quite a large number of those being deported from Germany at the moment are persons who have been working and contributing to boost the German economy. The Nigerian government should at the least engage in calling for regularisation even at our political stand of denouncing selection.”

Amongst the deportees, Rex said are persons with serious medical situation resulting from Germany’s racist tradition that forces people into bad working conditions and otherwise racist isolation that has created many psychiatric problems for migrants in Germany. “Nigeria is now witnessing a minimum of two deportation flights from Germany on a monthly basis accompanied by massive human rights abuse and violence on even children.

“The immigration claims to do the job of profiling and thereafter dump them outside the cargo airport premises to find their way. Those whose passports were handed over to the immigration are not able to get them back. Even health concerns that may require urgent attention in the interest of the Nigerian society are being ignored.”

Concluding, he said: “Germany on its own is not respecting its legal provisions on protection. Give us the names of those you are expected to issue deportation documents for and we will furnish you with enough reasons why they should not be deported even in the frame of the racist German laws.”

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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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