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.
“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?”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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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