57 years ago, the Federal Government of Nigeria promulgated a law to establish Immigration Department now known as Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), in this interview with a team of migration journalists, the Comptroller General of NIS, Muhammad Babandede, MFR reflects on the activities of the agency and his desire for the establishment.
NIS has come of age since August 1, 1963, how will you rate its impact on the economy?
During the colonial era many people assumed immigration was all about stopping the ‘enemies’ from entering, and on the other hand prevent citizens from exiting the nation. As the global economy progresses, immigration develops links with the economy. In last few years that I have been on board as Comptroller General of Immigration (CGI), we have been looking at the relationship between the economy and immigration. Although, we are not revenue generating agency however if you look at what we have been able to generate in last five years, we have made appreciable impacts on the economy. The NIS internally generated revenue in naira was N25 billion in 2015. After I assumed office in 2016, we generated N36 billion. In 2017, we netted N38 billion, in 2018, it was N39 billion and in 2019, we made N52 billion. While we are not operating like a business agency, we are helping to build the economy through remittance to the national pulse and partnership with Nigerian companies generating revenue for the government. Aside that, we have been able to contribute to the growth of foreign exchange earnings such that between 2015 and 2019, we made $29 million, $30 million, $29 million, $36 million and $41 million respectively. All went directly into the government pulse. A very interesting dimension is the introduction of 79 visa categories by the NIS that is encouraging income to nation.
How has the visa increment from six to 79 categories improved the immigration policy and the economy, also what informed that decision?
Governance in the 20th century encompasses review of socio economic policies. During the colonial era, aliens were regarded as people who were not citizens of Commonwealth nations in Nigeria. When I became the CGI, we changed that political concept to migrant which is the global language of migration to determine people who are coming here for whether short, temporal or permanent stay. Simply put, if you are not a Nigerian citizen here you are a migrant. In relation to visa categories, for example, for those coming to fix machines for industries, we created short visit visa for them so also business people have their visa classifications, ditto for sports, health, religion and others with work permits. While selecting these categories of people, we have a duty to pick those who will make sense to the economy. Visa on arrival can be accessed by any qualified persons instead of traveling back to their country of resident or national. This is a major economic development between the immigration service and investors.
With huge investment and energy put into digitalization at the NIS headquarters, how do you intend to cope with the challenge of maintenance?
I agree with you that there are challenges of electricity and internet connection, but we have solved the problem of power to a large extent by connecting to the solar energy and electric inverter. For interment, though, we rely on galaxy but we are sourcing for other alternatives. Concerning maintenance and sustainability, I am happy to inform you that all our machines and equipments are now being installed and managed by the NIS officers because we have built their capacities to a level that we don’t need to look for consultants to do most of our services in relation to that. The brains have been developed and they are now working for us.
Many Nigerians at different times have expressed concern over porous nature of the nation’s borders in some areas, how is immigration addressing this?
When we talk about digitalization of NIS operations, border management is also involved. Frankly, one cannot address the challenges involved through manual approach only. We digitalized because we want transparent, quick, effective actions and services. There is no way the 25,000 immigration officers in Nigeria can patrol the verse land and sea border posts without digital equipment. To address the issues, we have developed a curriculum for land and sea border by training the border patrol corps specially. We now have as many as 84 management posts. We also have established additional 15 Forward Operational (FOB) Base stations equipped with patrol commanders, domestic facilities, patrol vehicles, armory and digital vices connected to the national grid where officers can reside while manning their different border posts. Now NIS operates e-border government approval. Border strategic plans and policies developed by the NIS for 2019-2023 are being implemented. As the first contact at the border, if there are issues beyond us we are in a position to involve the navy, military and the police. The border management system is such that accommodates biometrics of migrants and capture their identities. At different times, several people have been tracked and arrested for trying to either enter or leave Nigeria illegally via digital process. This month alone, 37 of them were arrested and have been prosecuted. In all we do, we also relate and carry along the border communities too.
Last year, the American government pronounced suspension of issuance of non-immigrant visa to Nigerians over failure to comply with certain security details, how was the matter resolved?
America did not ban Nigeria from accessing their visa categories rather they only restricted certain classes of people from being employed. We have done what they required from us. For instance, the issue of lost and found passport to invalidate the use of such document anywhere had been complied with. Once you appeared at the border, all the features about your data would be revealed accurately. We have complied with the security details as requested and they were satisfied. Nigeria now uploads on Interpol base on data relating to passports matters. It is a credit to our country that we achieved such feat even though America imposed it.
Thousand of NIS officers are being promoted under your leadership, what are other things to expect?
We have done well by promoting thousands of officers, by building barracks, commands, local government offices and the FOB as transit camps for officers at the border. All these were not there before. Every worker desires promotion even some that have retired got promoted because while in service they sat for promotion exams but for one reason or the other could not be approved for next rank. We have elevated them accordingly because it was not their fault. Out 29 Assistant Comptroller Generals (ACG), 15 of them have retired but they still got their rank and we are proud to do that. I will continue to sustain promotion and build accommodation units to make officers comfortable. We have identified a company with pedigree after due diligence that has fashioned out mortgage plans for officers that will make them own their own houses as they progress in the service. This is a year of enforcement of all our visa rules. Every migrant in Nigeria must comply with the dictate of the approved visa. For example you cannot come into Nigeria with a visa to install machine in a company and you are doing the opposite, we shall follow up on you and ensure that you are returned to your country immediately. I had personally arrested Indian selling things at Kano market on this. So, all the comptrollers and senior officers including the CGI Special Monitoring Team as backup to keep commands on their toes must rise to the visa enforcement. Nigerians’ labour and jobs must be protected.
What is driving force behind your achievements so far?
- I believe leadership should not be by accident. I became the CGI in May, 2016 and by July that year, I had already formed a team and we went for a retreat in Kano. When I assumed office I was dissatisfied with the state of facilities at many of our state commands. I set a target of completing and commissioning at least two new immigration offices in a year. In 2017 I was able to complete offices in Kano and Jigawa states. In 2018, we completed that of Plateau and Abia states. In 2019, Adamawa and Zamfara states offices got commissioned. In 2020, we had commissioned NIS office in Kwara state. As I speak with you Enugu and Nasarawa states’ offices and three others are ready for unveiling. What I am saying in essence is that a leader must have a plan and must be able to task himself with a deadline to achieve because success doesn’t happen by accident.How are you looking forward to the future?
My dream is to produce a better person to succeed me as CGI. That will be my greatest achievement. If the institution did not produce someone that is better than me, then I have not succeeded. Development of NIS as an institution is paramount to me as officer in charge now. All the senior officers from the rank of comptroller and above, I have ensured that they all partake in leadership training in the area of emotion intelligence and other skills to prepare them for the future.
Quarantine-free travel to resume on 19 July for fully vaccinated passengers returning from amber list countries
The government has today (8 July 2021) set out the details to enable people who have been fully vaccinated with an NHS administered vaccine, plus 14 days, to travel to amber list countries without having to quarantine on their return to England, from Monday 19 July. The recommendation for people not to travel to amber list countries will also be removed from 19 July.
The changes will come into force from Monday 19 July at 4am. Those who have been fully vaccinated with an NHS administered vaccine in the UK and are returning from amber countries will still be required to complete a pre-departure test before arrival into England, alongside a PCR test on or before day 2 after arrival. They will not have to take a day 8 test or self-isolate. Any positive results will be genomically sequenced to continue to manage the risk from importing variants.
Children under the age of 18 will not have to isolate when returning to England. While the recommendation that people should not travel to amber countries is being removed, children aged 4 and under will continue to be exempt from any travel testing. Children aged 5 to 10 will only need to do a day 2 PCR and 11 to 18 year olds will need to take both a pre-departure test and a day 2 PCR – as is the case for arrivals from green list countries.
The success of our vaccine programme has been aided by those selflessly taking part in clinical trials and those who are part of approved COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials in the UK will therefore be treated as vaccinated.
At this stage, there will be no changes to requirements for those returning from green or red list countries – even when they are fully vaccinated, nor for unvaccinated passengers travelling from amber countries who do not have a valid exemption.
Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps said:
Thanks to our successful vaccine rollout, we’re now able to widen quarantine-free travel to NHS administered fully vaccinated adults and children under the age of 18, and take another step towards fully reopening international travel.
As we continue with the domestic unlocking, it’s only right we get people travelling again – whether that’s for business to help create jobs, overdue holidays or reconnecting family and friends. However, protecting public health still remains our priority and we will act swiftly if action is needed.
Health Secretary, Sajid Javid said:
Vaccinations have severely weakened the link between COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths, building a wall of protection across the country.
As we learn to live with this virus, due to the tremendous progress of the vaccine programme – with more than 3 in 5 people now double jabbed – we can safely take steps to ease restrictions on travel, as we are doing at home. Allowing quarantine-free travel for fully vaccinated people means they can be reunited with loved ones overseas and we can return to normality as quickly as possible.
The government is taking a phased approach to amending requirements and is already exploring plans to remove quarantine for vaccinated non-UK residents arriving from amber countries later this summer where it is safe to do so. The Test to Release scheme scheme remains an option for non-fully vaccinated travellers returning from amber countries to shorten their quarantine period, by paying for a private test and being released early if they receive a negative COVID-19 test result.
Travel continues to be different from usual, and while some restrictions remain in place passengers should expect their experience to be different and may face longer wait times than they are used to – although the government is making every effort to speed up queues safely. We will continue to rollout e-gates over the summer, with many already in operation across airports and more to be added over the coming months.
Carriers will have a critical role in carrying out primary checks on all passengers before boarding, checking people have the right COVID-19 certification documents to ensure we can continue to safeguard against new variants. Anyone not complying with health measures could face a fine, and carriers will be required to ensure proper checks are carried out.
Airlines UK CEO Tim Alderslade said:
This is a positive move towards the genuine reopening the sector has been looking for. Opening up the market for the rest of the summer, this announcement will provide far greater opportunities to travel, do business and see family and friends, and enable many more of our customers to book with certainty. The summer season essentially starts here.
Airlines look forward to working with government to continue this momentum and further open up the market.
All passengers will still need to complete their passenger locator form, which will include the requirement to declare vaccination status and provide proof of their pre-departure test. Amber arrivals will be required to prove their full vaccination status to carriers before departing, either via the NHS app or via an NHS COVID Pass letter which can be obtained by calling 119 for travelling overseas (which could take 5 days to arrive by post).
Airport Operators Association Chief Executive Karen Dee said:
This is a significant step forward that will be a boost to airports and the local economies that rely on them. Many airports staff will be able to get back to what they do best: supporting businesses to reach customers abroad, enabling people to visit friends and relatives and help people take a well-deserved holiday abroad after a difficult period.
If travelling abroad, you need to take steps to keep safe and prepare in case things change before you go or while you are there. Check the booking terms and conditions on flexibility and refunds because the situation remains fluid. Many travel firms have changed their terms to be fully flexible. Check and subscribe to FCDO travel advice updates to understand the latest entry requirements and COVID-19 rules at their destination – and passengers are advised to check all entry requirements and FCDO travel advice before they book any foreign travel.
IOM releases recommendations to the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has shared its recommendations on migration and mobility with the Slovenian government, which yesterday (01/07) assumed the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) for the second half of 2021 as the world continues to adjust and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In three key recommendations, IOM encourages the Slovenian Presidency to promote the safe resumption of human mobility for economic and social recovery, advance holistic and coordinated responses to return migration and reintegration, and to factor safe and orderly migration into the EU’s green transition to a climate-neutral economy.
“The Slovenian government takes up the Presidency at a time when recovery from the pandemic is progressing but remains uneven, particularly for some countries and with some populations at greater risk of being left behind,” said Ola Henrikson, IOM Regional Director for the EEA, EU and NATO.
“At the same time, the EU is moving ahead with the European Green Deal while discussions on the new Pact on Migration and Asylum continue,” he said. “This is an opportune moment to factor migration into planning as a vital contributor to resilient economies, environment and public health in the EU, countries of origin and transit.”
IOM therefore encourages the Slovenian Presidency to promote the facilitated resumption of safe human mobility as we emerge from the pandemic to contribute to economic and social recovery in the EU and beyond. As part of this, the Presidency should prioritize digitalization in migration management to resume travel amid COVID-19 while promoting mutually beneficial labour mobility channels that protect migrant workers.
It will be equally important for the EU to ensure adequate and equitable access to health services and vaccination against COVID-19 for all migrants as well as migrant-inclusive policies that help to maximize their prospects for integration into communities and society. Measures to combat xenophobia and discrimination will be crucial to these efforts.
To ensure that intra-regional migration is safe, orderly and regular, IOM believes that the fight against human trafficking and migrants smuggling should integrate migrant protection and capacity building of border and law enforcement authorities in partner countries.
Return, readmission and reintegration are indispensable parts of a comprehensive approach to migration management for many governments worldwide. To be effective, IOM recommends the Slovenian Presidency to promote efforts to encourage balanced, comprehensive route-based responses which secure solid engagement and partnerships among all countries and actors involved. Coupling return with reintegration measures that respond to the needs of migrants and communities where they return can enhance the opportunities for sustainable development in countries of origin.
Under the Slovenian Presidency, the European Green Deal will continue to top the agenda. IOM is convinced that well-managed migration can support the transition to a climate-neutral economy. In line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and Sendai Framework of Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and in view of the COP26, IOM encourages the Slovenian Presidency to promote the mainstreaming of migration – in all its forms – into the key policy areas and anticipated measures of the European Green Deal.
IOM stands ready to continue its support to the Presidency, the EU and its Member States to implement balanced, comprehensive policies and programmes across the entire migration spectrum and along entire migration routes.
Afghanistan: Addressing child labour through a protection response for undocumented returnees
Child labour is a priority protection concern in Afghanistan with some estimates showing that more than half of children aged 5 to 17 are engaged in work of some kind (AIHRC, 2018). Children in Afghanistan endure some of the worst forms of child labour from being recruited into the armed conflict, to the production of bricks and carpets, as well as in agriculture, mines, and most visibly on the streets as beggars, shoe shiners and porters/vendors.
High rates of poverty, insecurity, displacement, and natural disasters mean sending school-age children out to work is often essential to the survival of families, placing children across Afghanistan at significant risk.
The 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) for Afghanistan indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation further as loss of livelihoods, coupled with school closures to contain the spread of the virus, likely precipitated increases in child labour.
The economic downturn has seen poverty skyrocket in Afghanistan and, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), almost half the population is now in need of humanitarian support – 18.4 million people – , with 90 per cent of Afghans living below the poverty line (less than USD 2 a day). This poverty, coupled with the upsurge in insecurity since intra-Afghan peace talks began in September 2020, has seen unprecedented numbers of undocumented Afghan migrants crossing the border from Iran.
Between January-May 2021 alone, more than 490,000 Afghans returned – an increase of 65 per cent on the same period in 2020, of which more than half are deportees.
Undocumented returnees often return worse off than before they left, having sold property and assets or borrowed money in order to pay for their passage. 19 per cent of returnees surveyed in a Whole of Afghanistan Assessment (2020) were found to have taken on catastrophic levels of debt predominantly to cover food and healthcare needs.
The International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Protection Monitoring data shows that undocumented returnees increasingly turned to child labour to support their households during the course of the last year (from 19% reported in May-July 2020 to 35% in January 2021). This presents a key protection risk for children – exposing them to physical, sexual and economic exploitation including trafficking, and putting their physical, psychological and emotional development at stake. It constitutes a violation of their fundamental rights and compromises their ability to reach their full potential.
Like many fathers across the country, Noorullah* (40) took the tough decision to go abroad for work when he couldn’t make ends meet. For two years, he worked in Iran as a casual labourer in agriculture, picking fruit and sending remittances home to support his family of seven.
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Noorullah was deported for not having any legal documentation at a time when lockdowns and movement restrictions meant finding work in Afghanistan was harder than ever. For 11 months, the family survived on casual labour and the charity of neighbours, living in a damaged house without windows or a door, with no electricity or heating source. The one small solar light they had was stolen by robbers.
The casual farm work he had managed to pick up dried up when winter started, and the family slipped more and more into debt, borrowing from neighbours and using credit to get food from the shop.
To cope with this dire situation, Noorullah resorted to taking his children out of school. His teenage son was sent to work as a live-in servant for another household, and his two younger sons started to beg on the streets, collecting plastic and wood to meet the household’s heating and cooking needs.
The boys had previously been enrolled in the local government school but were forced to stop, joining some 3.7 million (48% of boys and 59% of girls) of all school-age children across Afghanistan who are estimated to be out of school – returnee and internally displaced children even worse off with 55 per cent of boys and 67 per cent of girls out of school (Afghanistan HNO, 2021).
To address protection risks faced by undocumented returnees, IOM’s Protection Programme works in provinces of high returns and opened a new office in Noorullah’s home province of Badakhshan in January 2021. Having received IOM assistance at the border, Noorullah approached the office for support and the Protection Programme caseworker visited him at his home to discuss his situation in depth and draw an action plan that would allow the family to re-enrol the children in school.
To mitigate the protection risks faced by Noorullah and his family, including child labour, the caseworker provided cash assistance enabling them to buy some essentials for their home – a buhari [a traditional wood-fired heater] and fuel for heating, a solar lamp for lighting the home – and enough to pay back their debts. Together with his wife, Noorullah bought enough flour so they could start a small bakery in their home.
“We started our bakery and, with the support from IOM, we can rent a house in the future and possibly extend our business, so we have income and are able to save for any future needs,” said Bahar*, Noorullah’s wife.
By reducing the economic vulnerability of the household, the protection risks associated with child labour and diversion from education were averted.
The support provided by IOM enabled Noorullah and Bahar to send their children back to school, helping to secure their futures. The two youngest boys stopped begging, and Noorullah brought his eldest son back to live with the family.
The parents are relieved that they can support their children’s education and provide them with a good life thanks to the income of their cottage bakery: “I was exhausted; really sick and tired of doing daily wage jobs. Now I’m self-employed, running a bakery and starting a grocery business which was a dream that has turned into a reality, thanks to IOM’s Protection Programme.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been disastrous in a multitude of ways, and in a country where educational needs are exceptionally high, the eradication of child labour remains a key priority for Afghans of all ages. By providing comprehensive assistance to undocumented returnees’ households, IOM aims to build their resilience and reduce the likelihood of child labour amongst some of the most vulnerable communities.
* Not their real names.
IOM Afghanistan is supporting undocumented returnees to access vital protection services thanks to EU Humanitarian Aid.
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