BY INNOCENT DURU
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
Risking it all crossing the Darien Gap, a treacherous trek no one should tackle
In the notorious Darien Gap spanning the Colombia-Panama border, a young pregnant woman and her husband from Haiti were left alone to face the unforgiving jungle along one of the world’s most dangerous irregular migration routes.
No roads, poisonous snakes, steep mountain ranges, raging rivers and groups of armed robbers had deterred Jean Horima, 25, and his wife Rose from risking their lives as thousands of desperate people from countries such as Haiti, Cuba, Bangladesh or Somalia do every year trying to reach the United States, Canada or Mexico.
More than 42,000 Haitians, including thousands of children, have tackled the perilous journey so far this year, hoping to gain refugee status and better futures. Many have not made it and Jean and Rose know they are lucky to have survived, especially as the baby came early.
“The jungle is brutal; it’s really, really tough. The hardest thing for me was to climb the mountains and cross the water,” says Jean. ”There are also people in the forest who will rob or kill you. I know some who got killed. Yes, people who left before me and when I arrived, I found them dead in the woods.”
The couple had started the week-long slog from the Colombia side with 50 others, but when the first hill loomed, the group abandoned them. After several days tackling the dense rainforest, Rose went into labour in the middle of nowhere.
“I was with my wife, and she told me what to do to help and save her,” says Jean. She gave birth and told her husband to cut the umbilical cord with a pair of scissors. “I also had a black string, so I told him to use it to tie the baby’s umbilical cord. Then, we used a t-shirt to make a bag to put the baby in,” says Rose.
The birth of a healthy baby boy gave them the courage and strength to continue and three days later, the exhausted but relieved family emerged at the Migrant Reception Station (ERM* by its Spanish acronym) in San Vicente, Panama, which is managed by the Panamanian Government with support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.
Vertulo Renonce and Guerline Mettelus from Haiti have also survived the Darien trek. They had travelled from Chile with their three-year-old son Louvertir, and crossed Colombia’s border with Panama in February. The couple has five other children and hope to join their two eldest in Guatemala. The other three are still in Haiti.
The parents have had difficulty communicating with their children since they arrived at the migrant reception centre in Lajas Blancas, but life there is not just an emotional drain.
“The can of milk Louvertir drinks costs USD 4.50 and about every two days I have to buy a new one,” says Guerline. The room in the Guatemala hostel where her children are staying is USD 20 a night, and her children in Haiti have missed school for more than a month because their fees have not been paid.
They arrived in Panama with USD 400 they had hidden from three armed attackers who had robbed their group of 14 people along the way and have only USD 3 left.
Lajas Blancas looks like a small neighbourhood where up to 500 people can be sheltered. Near the only entrance is a small kiosk where people gather to buy refreshments and biscuits and to charge their mobile phones. Off to the right are tents, showers and toilets. Down by the river is the quarantine and care area for people with COVID-19, where access is restricted.
Outside his tent, Jean François, who left Haiti in 2015, is grateful for the respite in his journey from Brazil with his four children. He greets a childhood friend who dumps firewood collected from the riverbank to prepare rice and beans.
“The food they give us here is not bad, but it is not made with love. That’s what we need,” says Jean François. They had survived a week in the jungle with very little food and travelled from Necoclí, Colombia. “Among the 230 people who crossed the jungle, there were around 100 children. It hurts to see them; the children don’t deserve this,” he says.
In the San Vicente ERM, Jean Paul, his wife and their four children are taking a breather on their way to the United States. After the perils of the Darien Gap, they must still travel through Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.
They travelled by boat to the border of Colombia and Panama, where they paid a “coyote”, or migrant smuggler, to walk them through the jungle in groups of hundreds of migrants, most of them Haitian nationals.
On the swings and slide in San Vicente, three of Jean’s young children play.
It’s noon. The officers of the National Border Service are handing out the food and people are crowding at the entrance waiting for their turn. Jean Michelet is sitting with a plate of food in one hand and, lying in his arms, is one-year-old Alejandro, who has not wanted to eat since they arrived at the station three days earlier.
Jean Michelet made sure the three eldest children had eaten and took them to play, giving his wife who sleeps in one of the houses a break. Unsuccessfully, he keeps trying to get his baby to eat. In his face you can see anguish – concern for the future and the pain of remembering the nightmare of the merciless Darien Gap.
*The ERM was built by the Government of Panama with support from international cooperation, intergovernmental organizations, civil society and private enterprise to reduce overcrowding in La Peñita, another ERM. San Vicente provides dignified conditions in which physical separation and other biosecurity measures can be maintained to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Story written by José Espinosa Bilgray, IOM Panama.
Stitching hope: Empowering women in South Sudan towards self-reliance
It is only the first day of training in hand-sewing and the women already have big plans about how they are going to use their newly acquired skills to support their families to gain independence.
“Once I get the hang of hand-sewing, I will learn how to sew with a machine. From there, I will make bedsheets, curtains and tablecloths to sell and use the money to provide for my children,” says 50-year-old Adut Akwar.
Adut and 14 other women from the Hai Masna Collective Centre, an internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in South Sudan’s Western Bahr el Ghazal state, are part of the selected group to be trained by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in an array of techniques including sewing, business and entrepreneurship as well as leadership skills. The group comprises women living with disabilities, young mothers and female-headed households.
Adut lives in Masna with her six children. They fled their home in 2017 when renewed fighting rocked their village in Jur River, forcing thousands of people, including women, children and the elderly to flee to save their lives. Many found refuge in Hai Masna (hosting 3,850 IDPs) and other collective centres around Wau, while the majority of the displaced sheltered at Naivasha IDP camp, formerly known as the UN Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Wau.
She is among the 40 women from Hai Masna and Naivasha who have benefited from the training workshops through the Women Participation Project (WPP). Through this project, IOM’s Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) team facilitates women’s access to income-generating activities through vocational and leadership skills training to support them to become self-reliant, encourage them to raise their concerns when they have them and take up leadership roles within the IDP camp and within their communities.
“I am very impressed by the enthusiasm that the women have shown in learning these skills which will help them in rebuilding their lives,” says Titus Muniri, IOM CCCM’s Community Participation Assistant.
“Some women who participated in previous trainings have even gone up and taken leading roles in the camp’s governance structures. We have four women who completed our training who were elected as members of the Community Leadership Committee (CLC) in Naivasha camp,” says Titus.
Adut Akwar says that she “has a plan.”
“When I return home, I will go back to ploughing my fields to grow food for my children,” she says.
“That’s not it though,” she adds with a renewed sense of excitement. “I will also use my time to sew bedsheets that I can sell to make an income.”
Adut says that she hopes that as peace holds in Western Bahr el Ghazal, more women will choose to leave the camps and return to their villages.
“When we leave, we can come together and form women-led cooperatives putting to use the business management and craft-making skills we learnt. We can make some real changes in our lives,” says Adut.
Adut, who was born with congenital upper limb reduction, says that she has never been one to depend on others to do things for her because of her disability.
“I guess, being born with a disability, you are also born with an inherent sense that you have to push harder to show the world that you can,” says Adut. “That is why when I was selected for the workshop, I did not think twice about joining.”
“Sure, I may need help putting the thread through the needle, but the rest I can learn and do by myself,” says Adut.
The Women Participation Project (WPP) is supported by the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) under the global “Safe from the Start Initiative” through which IOM’s CCCM team facilitates women’s access to income-generating activities.
To find out more about the Women’s Participation Project, visit https://womenindisplacement.org/
Written by Liatile Putsoa, Media and Communications Officer.
Observatory on smuggling of migrants
The Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants is a research initiative funded by the Governments of Denmark, Canada, Japan and Italy, and is being implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime since 2019. The website of the Observatory was launched in May 2021.
Smuggling of migrants is a complex crime involving the facilitation of the irregularly entry of people into a country for profit. Migrants are smuggled across borders with the financial or material gain. In establishing an Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants, UNODC seeks to gather information, collect, analyze and disseminate data to enhance the knowledge on this crime and inform evidence-based policy and law enforcement responses.
The UNODC Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants gathers data on key areas including migrants’ plans and preparations for the journey – particularly in relation to contact with smugglers, key smuggling routes and experiences on the journey, profiles of migrant smugglers and networks of organized crime, prices for smuggling services and mode of payment, and the types of abuses suffered in the context of smuggling.
Building on data collected in Nigeria and other countries in West and North Africa as well as in Europe, the Observatory has already published findings on smuggling of migrants along the Central Mediterranean Route. Upcoming findings will cover the use of migrant smugglers by Nigerians on the move.
Moreover, UNODC is partnering with the Mixed Migration Centre to collect data in transit and destination countries in West and North Africa to gain specific data on Nigerian use of smugglers in the region. MMC has produced a snapshot of emerging findings based on this research partnership.
Risking it all crossing the Darien Gap, a treacherous trek no one should tackle
Stitching hope: Empowering women in South Sudan towards self-reliance
Observatory on smuggling of migrants
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