Emotions were rife penultimate Tuesday, February 26, 2020, to be precise, when 45 Nigerian migrants deported by Germany landed at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos.
Like people who were bereaved, some of the crestfallen deportees, stood at akimbo with their head drooping, while some others paced up and down intermittently muttering words of consolation.
“We don come now. Shebi na dem say make we come. E don happen. Make dem find us work wey we go dey do as dem don bring us back now,” one of the embittered said amidst begging this reporter to buy water for him to quench his thirst.
The deportees said they were each handcuffed and manned by four security men and were brought back in an EU chattered plane. The plane, according to them,, landed few minutes past 4pm and flew back after refuelling as it is usually the practice.
After their harrowing experience in the hands of the German authorities, who allegedly put the migrants in chains while on air, the traumatized deportees were expecting to get some sympathy from the plethora of government agencies who are saddled with the responsibility of addressing the challenges of migrants.
Unfortunately for them, there was no such gesture from any government official. They got a shock of their life when they were conveyed to the gate of the Pilgrim and Cargo Terminal of the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja, and asked to go without anybody showing concern about their plight or how they would go home.
“All they did was to take our profiles. Nobody made attempts to counsel us.As deportees, most of us didn’t come back with a dime and nobody cared if we are hungry, thirsty or even have means of contacting our family members of money to go home.
Some were even asking us for money. That was the height of their insensitivity to our plight, ” Ovie, one of the deportees, said despondently.
A female deportee, Joy, who said she is six-month pregnant, started crying and slumped after receiving a telephone call. She was immediately assisted by other deportees.
“They told me that my fiancée took poison when he heard that I have been deported,” she said, still sobbing.
Another female deportee, who did not want her name in print, said by the nature of her health challenge, the German authorities ought not to have deported her.
The stranded deportees relied on the support from representatives of Refugee4Refugee to pay their ways back home. The organisation had also made hotel accommodation plans for deportees who might not have somewhere to stay.
The deportation, it was learnt, was the fourth by Germany this year. About 20 of such were said to have taken place last year.
Article 21 of the first ever Global Compact for Migration (GCM) adopted by Nigeria, Germany and other United Nations’ members in 2018 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. The deportation and previous exercises have hugely fallen short of the GCM stipulations.
Efforts to speak with Hon. Tolu Sadipe, the Chairman House Committee on Diaspora, was unsuccessful as she neither answered calls to her mobile phone not respond to a text message sent to her for comment.
Nigerian authorities covering up deportation?
In what appeared like an attempt to cover up the deportation, the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) said it wasn’t aware of the deportation.
The National Public Relations Officer of the service, Sunday James, said he wasn’t aware of the deportation when The Nation sought his comment on the exercise.
“Not to my knowledge,” he replied when asked if the service was aware of the deportation,” he said to the chagrin of this reporter.
The spokesman of the service at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Edet, did not fare better. “Sorry, I travelled. I am in in Uyo. I may not know exactly. I travelled,” he said. when some Nigerians were deported by Germany on August 19, 2019.
Despite confirmation by the airways authorities, the Nigerian Embassy in Germany and pictorial evidence by The Nation to show that the deportation took place, the NIS brazenly insisted that the deportation never happened.
The Nigerian Embassy in Germany did not also come clean about the deportation this time around.
Responding to questions on the deportation, Nigeria’s envoy in Germany, Peter Lambat, said: “By our records, 33 Nigerians were scheduled for deportation on 26/2/20. However, recall my last explanation the last time on variances that that could arise against the official figures.”
Asked if by their records, the deportation had not taken place since he said that the deportees were scheduled for deportation, he said: ”I used the word because I do not know if the flight took place as scheduled.”
Since he is an envoy right there in Germany, Lambat was asked to verify if the flight took place, as the deportees were seen in Lagos. The envoy was yet to respond as at the time of filling this report.
On the claim that three deportations had earlier taken place this year, Lambat said: “Yes, there have been other exercises but of fewer persons since the beginning of the year.” Signs that denials could trail the deportation emerged when the authorities surprisingly drove and dropped the deportees at the Pilgrim and Cargo Terminal of the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja(Gate 2) instead of the usual cargo section (Gate 1).
Our reporter and others had strategically positioned themselves at the cargo section waiting fruitlessly for the deportees to be brought to be dropped there.
While they were waiting, the authorities drove the deportees to the Gate 2, apparently hoping that the information would not leak.
Before all the deportees could disperse, information came that they had been driven and dropped at the second gate.
Luckily, The Nation and representatives of Refugee4Refugee, a political platform for refugees/migrants self-organisation based in Stuttgart, Germany, met some of them.
Govt’s actions can discourage remittances from abroad- Economic expert
An expert in economic matters, Dr Austin Nweze, has warned that meting out inhuman treatment to deportees is capable of discouraging remittances from abroad.
“It is not okay for the country to treat deportees with scorn because using the Philippino example I gave you, it can discourage remittances because it means the government is not supporting them and will not protect them anywhere they are.
The nation should be able to protect its nationals wherever they are. Nigeria is not a good case. International diplomacy is like you have a child and your child commits offence outside.
As a father, your role is to rescue that child back with whatever you have. When he gets home, you lock the door and scold the child. But Nigeria scolds you in front of your enemy.
“When an American is deported, the country takes the person up. They rehabilitate the person, and make sure the person is well taken care of to start life all over again, just to show that ‘Hey, we appreciate what you did in the past, sorry about what happened but life goes on’.
“The deportee would be rehabilitated because he was a source of income for them. They would not abandon you. If you don’t have a job, you can fill in for a social security until you get a job.
Wicked soils are in charge over here. Without these people, your economy cannot grow. The whole economy is about consumption. When nationals have problems, it is the nation that should suffer the problem.”
Highlighting the gains of foreign remittances to countries, especially the developing ones, Nweze, the Lagos Business School don, said: “Do you know Philippines, during the Iraqi war, they contributed about 50 soldiers to the allied forces and one of them was kidnapped.
The condition they gave was the Philippines government must return any of their soldiers that was part of the allied forces. The Philippines called George Bush to return all the 50 soldiers. Bush wanted to argue but she said no, that if one of those people is killed, that it would discourage other people who are remitting money.
It was a major earning for them. It was about $7 billion. That money is passed through the Central Bank, so the national income is captured. That money is used for developmental purposes to set up businesses.
The money is kept in the bank and you know what banks do with money. The remittances shored up the exchange rate Philipino currency. The current account is always higher and that is good for the economy of the country. The currency also appreciates.
“Nigeria imports between $11 and $21 billion annually in foreign remittances. Such monies, even though they are all not through the right channels, if every penny is captured, it helps in shoring up the currency.
It is a whole lot to capital importation for development purposes. That was how Indian, China, Philippines developed.
Indians in Diaspora, Philippino’s in diaspora, Chinese in diaspora, they were the ones that developed the economy of these nations.
“They are working and bringing in not just the money but the skills into their countries. If Nigeria is organised the way it should be, with all those remittances, such monies would help to shore up the currency, and for developmental purposes, the economy will grow.
Such monies would be loaned out to businesses and everybody will be happy. It is always good for a country to bring in foreign remittances. It is a huge development for the economy of the country.”
‘Govt has responsibility towards deportees’
The Coordination Activist of Refugee4Refugee, a political platform for refugees/migrants self-organisation based in Stuttgart, Germany, Rex Osa, berated the country for its attitude towards deportees, saying that there is no any sign of intervention from the side of the government.
“For the country to constantly deny that its nationals are deported shows they are not doing anything about the issue. If the government has not admitted that people are being deported from Germany, it is very unfortunate. No fewer than 20 of such happened last year through a chattered plane. This excludes people who were deported individually.
“In a saner clime, the government would be interested in how they are brought in and make provisions for their reception and reintegration but the reverse is the case in Nigeria. Here, especially in this period of coronavirus, deportees are just allowed to melt into the society without adequate check.
The country has the humanitarian agency of the government, the refugee commission and several others, yet nothing is being done. Hordes of the citizens are in psychiatric homes, many are traumatised here in Germany but nobody cares.”
Tayo Elegbede, the Media Officer of the Migrant Project, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) based in Lagos, called for a clear identification of the government agency responsible for handling issues of deportation.
According to him, “The government plays a critical role because first, these people are Nigerians, and once they come into the country, they need to feel welcomed.
If you are a child, it doesn’t matter what you have done to your parents or outside, once you come back home, your parents will still receive you, although they may scold you.
I think that is the approach we need to take. The question is, what government agency should be handling deportation issues, providing psychological support, counselling and reintegration into the society?
“These are the questions we need to ask. We need to begin to see a clear-cut approach or clear cut organisations among government agencies on the reception of deportees, on the counselling of deportees, on health issues concerning deportees right from the airport.
The way we approach them and talk to them is also very important. If they would start off on a good note back in the country, it starts off from the moment when they get into the country or even before they get into the country because some of them would have had contact with Nigerian embassy, consulate and the likes.”
He added: “If you look at the way the issues of deprotatation has been handled in Nigeria, I will say that a lot more can be improved overtime.
The question first of all is, who pays for the deportation process? Once you get to Nigeria, how are you being received? Are you received by government agencies who think that you are worthless for having to travel and been deported?
“The first thing we need to do is the psyche of the people receiving the deportees to always give them a sense of hope and not despair to say that yes, you may be back in the country, it really doesn’t mean that is the end for you. That, for me, is a major thing we need to improve on, which is how we help the mindset of the people that have been deported back to the country.
“If we see them as people who are disadvantaged and who have no good in them as we always do, then we would continually build that very bad sense of stigmatizing deportation and deportees in general and that will not help how we handle that aspect of migration.”
Lamenting the fate of deportees, the Project Coordinator of Idia Renaissance Roland Oha, said: “The government of Nigeria is always aware of deportation because when they return, they are profiled by the Nigeria Immigration Service.
But what needs to be done like we always advocate is that the government should always take responsibility. These are Nigerian nationals coming back in that manner. The government of Nigeria should take responsibility for the citizens.”
Roland explained that deportees, especially from Germany, have the opportunity of being empowered by a German organisation here in Nigeria.
“When people return forcefully, it is a German government project in Nigeria. When people return forcefully, they are usually asked to go to the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) office. GIZ can provide some support like training and some other things for them.
“GIZ can refer some of them to us. When they refer anybody to us, we would send the name to Germany to confirm if we can assist these group of persons. Our focus is actually on those who return voluntarily.”
Explaining what his organisation does for voluntary returnees from Germany, he said: “Those who return voluntarily receive documents from Europe, which states that they consented to come back home. We provide a wide range of support for voluntary returnees and that is mostly business start ups.
“Some of them may want to rent accommodation with their money; some of them may be sick and need medical support. But many of them are business start-ups. But individuals can choose whatever they want. In the last one year, we have assisted 230 persons, who voluntarily returned from Germany.”
Controversy trails training of deportees by Germany body
Controversy is trailing a training exercise organised for deportees and other members of the public by a German organisation, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in Lagos.
Some of the deportees, who participated in the programme, alleged that the GIZ has reneged on the promises the organisation made to them when the training started.
One of the deportees, who did not want his name in print, said: “The training took place between November 4 and January 17. It held from 9am to 4pm each day from Monday to Friday. We were given neither water nor food all through the nine-week training. We only got N2,500 at the end of each day’s training.
“At the beginning of the training, GIZ promised to provide us with start up kits (tools) that we would need to start what we learnt during the training.
This gladdened our hearts because we had while in Germany acquired great technical skills but had no means of getting the tools to work. That was why we felt very happy when we heard that we would be provided with tools at the GIZ training.
“Close to two months after the training, GIZ has failed to provide the promised tools. Initially, they were giving us appointments to come to their office. We were going, hoping that something would come out of it.
At the end of the day, they asked us to find the means of getting the tools because they would not be able to provide them.
That came to us as a rude shock because it meant that the nine weeks’ training was tantamount to a waste of our precious time. They raised our hope and heartlessly dashed it. It is quite unfortunate. Sincerely, it is.”
Reacting to the allegation, the Director of Corporate Communication of GIZ, Sophia Pietsch, said the GIZ takes complaints very seriously and will thoroughly investigate.
“GIZ regularly visits training facilities to enable direct exchange with participants and supervise training activities. GIZ repeatedly invites participants to address complaints, feedback and suggestions either directly to the management of the training centre or to GIZ employees.
“Regarding this training, training costs are covered by GIZ. In addition, all participants received a daily allowance covering their expenses for transport, food and drinks during the training period.
“Every participant is informed about that prior to the training. The amount you are mentioning is not correct. Please, note that benefits such as starter kits differ according to each training conducted in Nigeria.”
On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Sohia added: “GIZ implements the programme ‘Returning to New Opportunities’ to support partner countries to improve living conditions and enhance people’s prospects.
Within this framework, in Nigeria, GIZ and the Nigerian-German Centres for Jobs, Migration and Reintegration (NGC) organise professional training, consultancy and job placement.
Benefits include: training costs, accommodation, full board, daily allowance for necessities, starter kits with tools as a basis for self-employment as well as career counselling and support during the transition to the labour market (placement into vacancies and paid internships).”
On why deportees are brought back in inhuman manner, she said: “GIZ is not involved in the process of repatriation as such. Please, get in touch with the German Embassy in Nigeria regarding questions on migration and repatriation.”