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Horrors of asylum seekers (1)

The deportees after they were dumped outside the NAHCO premises

Chilling revelations of how Germany deported Nigerian migrants in hand, leg chains

*3 policemen attached to each deportee despite being bound in chains
*Returnees dumped outside airport without support
*Article 21 of the first ever Global Compact for Migration (GCM) adopted by Nigeria, Germany and other United

Nations’ members last year at an Intergovernmental Conference held in Marrakech, Morocco, seeks member – countries’ cooperation in facilitating safe and dignified return, readmission, as well as sustainable reintegration of migrants. But the deportation of some Nigerian migrants by Germany on Monday runs foul of the conference’s position as they (migrants) were brought back in the most inhuman manner. Germany is said to have been carrying out the brutish practice over the years. INNOCENT DURU, who monitored the deportation, reports.

Last weekend, we broke the report that Germany was going to deport anew set of Nigerian migrants by Monday.

Following the report, many news organisations detailed their aviation correspondents to monitor and report the exercise but that never happened as the migrants were brought in unannounced in a chartered plane.

A top management staff member at the Murtala Mohammed Airport contacted by our reporter to track the movement of the plane said although the plane was sighted on the radar, its movement could not be tracked. “I can only track Lufthansa, Air France, KLM, British Airways, and Turkish Airlines but that particular one is not trackable.”

The plane arrived the Murtala Mohammed International Airport before 3 pm from Frankfurt and flew back to Germany at about 4:30pm after refuelling.

Shortly after the deportees’ arrival, Nigerian officials at the airport, acting as if working in consonance with the German authorities, conveyed the migrants in a white bus, marked MUS 324BP, and callously dumped them outside the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company( NAHCO) premises around 3:40pm.

Relevant government agencies that were supposed to calm and counsel the crest-fallen deportees were not on ground to do so.

“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,” one of the deportees, who gave his name as Mike, lamented.

Some of the deportees lighted sticks of cigarette as they alighted from the bus and ceaselessly puffed the smoke into the sky, apparently to douse the frustration and disappointment they had suffered returning home unfulfilled. While some of them had some luggage of not more than two bags, some others were seen carrying nearly empty sacks, popularly called Ghana- must-go. One was particularly sighted carrying only a brown carton which he said contained medications given to him in Germany.

The man who was speechless, after roaming about for a while, dashed into a commercial vehicle without waiting to ask where the vehicle was heading to. His colleagues said he was seriously ill during the trip and had to be constantly given drugs and injections by the doctors attached to him from Germany.

Some of the stranded deportees begged to use sympathisers’ phones to inform their relations of their ordeal and also plead that they should come and take them home.

“Some of the deportees often suffer psychological breakdown when they are dropped and abandoned here. One woman instantly developed psychiatric problem immediately she came down from the bus that brought them here (shows the video recording on his phone). Some loiter around for days begging for money to go home,” an airport source said.

The source’s claim was corroborated by Mike. “While we were still in Germany, we heard a guy on a wheel chair was deported in July and was frustrated at the airport for three days because none of his relations was aware of his arrival.”

‘How German authorities chained us like animals from Frankfurt back home’

Disappointing and condemnable as the treatment meted out to the deportees at the Murtala Mohammed Airport was, they said it as inconsequential compared to the terror visited on them by the German authorities during their journey home.

The deportees recounted that they were put in hand and leg cuffs from Frankfurt and were only unchained when the plane was about to land.

“Coming back to Nigeria, we had our hands and legs in cuffs. When we asked them why they did that, they said it was for their own safety. We were 20 Nigerians and the security men were three times our number.

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“As if that was not enough, they also attached three security men to every deportee there in the plane. Because of my health condition, they attached two doctors to me in case I developed any problem during the trip. The authorities packaged my medication and gave them to me.

“Inside the plane, there was another guy who was sick and was being given injections by the doctor attached to him. As the plane was landing, they started removing the cuffs,” Mike said.

Another deportee, who simply gave his name as James, validated the claim. According to him, “After putting us in hand and leg cuffs, they put one policeman by the right seat, another one by the left seat and the third behind. I can’t really understand why they visited such inhuman treated on us.”

To check if the treatment was a new development, our reporter got in touch with some migrants who were deported earlier. The finding showed that it had always been the practice and females were not excluded from it.

A lady, Esther, who said she was deported on July 25, narrated how she was chained from hospital to the airport, adding that she remained in cuffs till they were about landing in Nigeria.

The mother of one, who said she had health challenges while in Germany, added: “Immediately I heard that I was to be deported, I had an attack and quickly used my inhaler. The doctors on ground checked me and called an ambulance. At that point, my blood pressure was reading over 140. They took me in an ambulance to the hospital.

“When we got to the hospital, they poured tablets in my mouth and the doctor closed my mouth until the drugs melted. The next thing I saw was needle in my hand. As I was about to remove the needle, they just put cuffs in both my hands and legs. They chained me to the hospital bed. They used that same ambulance to transport me to the airport. While we were going, a policewoman slapped me in the ambulance.

“I was in chains until the pilot announced that we were about to land and that we should use our seat belts. It was at that point that they removed the cuffs and gave my son to me. 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. I never believed that they could do treat a nursing mother that way. It is disheartening.”

Another deportee, who gave his name as Isaac Baresi, spoke of how he was deported wearing prison uniform.

“The first time they came to take me out for deportation, the policemen that came were about five but when they came the second time, they were in four different groups. They promised to bring my clothes for me but they didn’t. I came back wearing prison uniform and shoes. The very day I was deported, they gave me a very big prison uniform like Baba Suwe cloth (laughing). I still have the prison cloth but I gave someone the prison shoes at Ojuelegba.

“They handcuffed me and cuffed my legs when we were coming. It was a chest handcuff they used. It was such that you would not be able to scratch your face even when you feeling some itching. They would belt you and chain you like this(demonstrates it) such that your hand cannot move.

“When you call on them that you want to scratch your face, they will loosen it a bit. Three policemen were attached to each deportee despite putting us in chains. We were 27 deported but 93 policemen were attached to us.

“When I landed at the airport, the reality of what was awaiting me dawned on me. I am 39 years. Life has been very difficult since I came back. The day we came, immigration officers only took our names and number. Nothing has happened since then.”

Also reliving his ordeal, a 30-year-old deportee, who gave his name simply as Emmanuel, confirmed the development. According to him, “They handcuffed me from the deportation camp to the airport and thoroughly searched us after making us to go stark naked to know if we had drugs on us. After the search, they chained my hands and legs and attached three security men to accompany each one of us on the trip. Some Nigerian Immigration officers saw the hand and leg scuffs and asked why such was done to us. It was on May 20, you can go and verify this from them.”

Activists protest inhuman treatment of deportees

Prominent activists working on migration issues have condemned what they described as insensitive treatment meted out to the deportees. The treatment, according to them, is against global migration laws.

Alluding to the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) position that Nigeria adopted, the Director of the Centre for Youth Integrated Development, Aihawu Victor, said: “If the document says members should cooperate in facilitating safe and dignified return, under which term can we say this return is dignified? The returns we are having now, are they in line with that article 21?”

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Migration, he said, is not a crime and “there is no reason anybody who is being returned under migration issue should be handcuffed. I don’t know why you even handcuff somebody in a plane. I think there are certain things that could be done to prevent all of those things.

“They may have to do a proper departure counselling. We did it before in about nine prisons in the UK. By the time we finished, about 95 percent of them were willing to come back home. Nigeria government should take care of the citizens.”

The Co-ordination Activist for Network Refugees 4Refugees, a political platform for refugees/migrant self-organisation based in Stuttgart, Germany, Rex Osa, also decried the deportation of sick migrants.

“According to international standard, when someone has a critical health condition, there is the possibility of granting them humanitarian protection, especially those whose asylum has been exhausted, even when the letter they were given says they were obligated to leave the country, it said if you have any medical reason why you have to stay, you should present the document.

“There is a law that guards such possibilities that these persons can get resident permit. It doesn’t matter whether the person’s country has the medical facilities to take care of him. What matters is, does the person have the financial capacity to take care of the condition? But Germany is not respecting this. Most of the people who are being deported are being taken out of the country without giving them access to this,” Osa said.

Deportees relive experiences, journey to Germany

For intending migrants planning to seek asylum in Germany, the experiences of the deportees provide a huge lesson.

The journey to Germany for Emmanuel, who was deported two months ago, wasn’t an easy one. According to him, “I went to Germany five years ago. I travelled from Benin to Lagos. From Lagos, I moved to Niger and from Niger to Libya and from Libya to Italy. When I was in Italy, I heard that Germany opened their borders for refugees to enter the country. That was in 2014 and we all went because it was free.

“I went to school there and obtained three different certificates. I worked there for 18 months. I was surprised the day they sent me a letter asking me to stop working. I went to the embassy and they said I should bring my passport. I told them I didn’t have and they said if I didn’t have, it meant I wasn’t a Nigerian and that they would not be able to issue me a passport or travel document.

“I was sleeping in my room one day when they came around 4am. They were about 20 policemen who came to pick me up. We had some argument and in the process, they injured me with a sharp object that was like a knife (shows the scar on his hand). Thereafter, they took me to hospital and stitched the hand. I only spent two hours in the hospital. From there, they took me to a police station where they detained me for about four to five hours before taking me to court.”

When he was charged to court, Emmanuel said: “They asked why I didn’t want to return to Nigeria and I told them I came to Germany because they asked refugees to come in and asked why they wanted to send us back. After the whole thing, they insisted that I must be deported and gave me a month to appeal. I got a lawyer and was paying him 40 Euros every month.

“Each time I had to go to court, I would pay the lawyer about 300 Euro. Some would take 500 Euro. I was doing that believing that it would change the decision. If I knew I would be eventually be deported, I wouldn’t have paid a lawyer to appeal the decision.

“After terminating my job, they started paying me 300 Euro monthly. It was from there I was paying my lawyer. I had my money left in their bank and properties too. I came back with about two pairs of trousers and two shirts, some of my colleagues came back with nothing.”

Narrating how he got to Germany, Isaac Baresi said: “ I travelled to Libya and from there, I moved to Italy where I spent a year and three months. When I didn’t get work to do in Italy, I went to Germany. I spent four years before I was deported. I went to school to learn how to speak the language and later got a job as a welder.

“When they informed me that my asylum was limited to two years, I got a lawyer to appeal the decision. As I was going to court, I had the feeling that I could win and be allowed to continue my life there. It was looking good for me but at a point, the Nigerian Consular spoilt it. He gave them a travelling certificate to bring me back.

“Many people who are not Nigerians are deported here because they claim they are Nigerians. One of the guys we came back together with is a Ghanaian but he was deported to Nigeria. He claimed that Boko Haram menace made him to flee Nigeria. Once people don’t have passport to travel, they will look for any country going through challenges, claim it is theirs and use that to seek asylum.”

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He added: “The police came to my house around 4am when they wanted to pick me up for deportation. I heard Baresi from the window and immediately I knew trouble was looming. I wasn’t always sleeping well while I was there. My heart was always beating as I was always checking the window to see what was happening. When they eventually came, they took me to court and told me the date for my deportation and put me in prison.

“When they came on the day fixed for my deportation, I said I wasn’t going. They left me and gave me another date which was just 10 days from that day. I didn’t want to come because there was nothing to do here.”

READ ALSO: Homecoming agony 1: Returnees bemoan failed promises by UN body, govt to empower them

For Mike, the unpleasant experience he had couldn’t have taken place but for the health challenges that took him to Germany in 2013. According to him, “I was in Belgium and went to visit my brother in Germany and because I was having some ailments, my brother said Germany would be the right place for me to undergo the treatment. I had tumor on my neck and had it operated. After the operation, I decided to stay back so that I could be getting my medication and treatment. I actually sought asylum there.

“After a year, I was feeling unwell again and went back to the hospital and found that the problem had come back and I would have to undergo another operation. After the second operation, they were giving me medication. The doctor even told me that I would have to live on the medication because I was feeling serious pains.

“They knew that if I should continue to go on with the situation I was, I might be able to get legal power to stay, so they were trying everything to kick me out of the country; they were working with the doctor so that he will not give the appropriate report about my condition. They work with doctors and lawyers to make sure they win their case and kick you out as an immigrant.

“I got a lawyer who contacted my doctor and wrote the first appeal concerning my situation. My lawyer asked my doctor to write a specific report concerning me but it was difficult for the doctor to do so because he was working with the immigration. The doctor said the tumor wasn’t there again, that I was just taking medication because of the pains. My lawyer was writing the court but the court was rejecting it. The court said since I have a brother in Nigeria, that if they deport me, I should contact him to be sending me those medications.”

Mike said he was eventually arrested on May 6 and was kept in a place they call detention centre. “For me, the place is a prison. I was there for almost four months. They were supposed to deport me on July 2, but because I was very sick, the police came and brought out 11 different types of drugs and asked me to take them. I told them I hadn’t eaten but they said it didn’t matter, that I should take the drugs.

“They just wanted me to be fine for the journey. They put me in their van. When we got to the airport, they took me to Lufthansa, and I asked for water because I was feeling dizzy. The pilot was watching and as I climbed the plane, the pilot asked the policemen why they brought a sick man on board but the police said I was fine but just tired. The pilot insisted that I should be taken to hospital.

“At that point, one of the policemen got mad and said: ‘You want to remain in Germany, right? You want to stay here and want our government to be treating you? Can I come to Nigeria and expect the Nigerian government to be treating me if I am sick? Why would you think the German government will take care of your sickness? He said, ‘in two weeks’ time, there would be no pilot to ask if you are sick because we are going to use a chattered plane.”

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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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