A scandalous development reared its head during the week at the hotel used as quarantine centre for deported migrants from Austria and Germany in Lagos. Because they were stranded and vulnerable, the deportees were made to pay between N10,000 and N15,000 for SIM pack and National Identity Number (NIN) registration, both of which should not be more than N3,000. The centre was also said to have compounded their woes when it assured them of government support but later reneged. The deportees’ predicament appears to lend credence to the widely held belief that reintegration of migrants in the country is a charade, brought to the front burner only when issues of grants or redemption of national image are at stake, INNOCENT DURU reports
- Returnees stage protest over failed promise to give them stipends for transportation
- We’ve been battling with sleeplessness, psychological breakdown since we returned – Previous deportees
- I’m not aware of amount charged by NIN registrar – Hotel Manager
- Our projects don’t cover deportees – IOM
After years of unsuccessful attempts to regularise their stay in Germany and other European countries, more than 30 Nigerians were deported back home last week. For most of the deportees, their return was both sudden and shocking.
At the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, they looked pensive as they returned to their fatherland more wretched and frustrated than they were before leaving the country. “It is an agonising return. I never planned it this way,” one of them said downheartedly.
Their drooping spirit, however, got a lift when they arrived at a hotel on Airport Road for a seven-day quarantine programme.
“When we got there, one man told us that we would be there for seven days and that a government official would come and address us.
“He also told us that at the end of the exercise, we would be given some money. This calmed our nerves and made us happy,” one of the deportees who identified himself simply as Nmasi said.
When the deportees completed the quarantine exercise on Tuesday, they felt highly relieved and looked forward to going to see their loved ones they had not seen for years. In the euphoria of the moment, they exchanged banter with one another and the hotel workers.
But within a split second, the convivial atmosphere at the premises gave way to deafening altercations as the deportees were asked to leave the premises without being given any money, contrary to earlier promise.
Nmasi said: “On the day we were to leave, we met the manager of the hotel to ask for the money they had promised us, but she told us that we should depart to our various homes because no government official was coming.
“The statement infuriated everybody, leading to serious protest at the premises. We vowed not to leave until government provided money for everybody to go.
“At a point, the manager threatened to invite soldiers and policemen. But rather than douse the tension, the remark further provoked us.
“Some of the deportees told her that they were fully prepared for the worst. Others threatened to turn the hotel upside down while some others who are based in Lagos threatened to bring in hoodlums to vandalise the hotel.”
Nmasi’s claims were corroborated by another deportee who identified himself simply as Jetta.
Jetta said: “They told us that the federal government had made arrangements to give us money. That raised the hope of many and prompted them buy some things at the hotel.
“The story changed at the point of departure as we were told that no government official was coming.
“Crisis erupted instantly as the manager arrogantly talked down on the people instead of calming their frayed nerves. The whole place boiled for about two hours.”
Besides the unfulfilled monetary pledge, the deportees also accused the hotel management of cruelly ripping them off without consideration for their conditions.
Nmasi said: “There was massive exploitation of our people at the hotel. The manager brought people to sell SIM cards and register us for National Identity Number at N12,000 each.
“She knew that many of them desperately needed the SIM cards to reach out to their families. That plus other forms of exploitation at the hotel made tension rise.
“The manager thought we came with hard currencies and so should be milked dry. The rooms we were kept in were not cleaned for the entire period we stayed there.
“We were given just a towel each throughout our stay. After eating, they would ask us to go back to our rooms. They were treating us like animals.
“They said we were being quarantined but the hotel workers were not wearing face masks while attending to us and were shaking hands with us. “When they had guests, they would switch on the air conditioners. But when there were no guests, they switch them off.
“The government should investigate the hotel and mete out the right punishment to them.”
While the amount quoted by Nmasi sounded outrageous, one of the deportees from Austria, Obi Stanly, confirmed that he paid N15,000 for a SIM card and NIN registration.
Stanly said: “The manager brought one man who charged me N15,000 for SIM and NIN registration. Some other people paid N12,000, N10,000 or N8,000.
“I was alarmed when I heard this because it made me to wonder why they had to charge me so much. Unfortunately, the SIM card didn’t work. I had to pay N1,000 outside the hotel to make it work.
“The guy who registered it for me inside the hotel advised me to go and open it to avoid disconnection when I told him it was not working.”
Checks made by the reporter revealed that a SIM pack, including its registration, costs N500 in most places in Lagos while registration of NIN costs between N1,500 and N2,000. Many of the migrants believed that they would not have been so exploited and dehumanised if the relevant government agencies had been on ground to supervise their stay at the hotel.
How tension was doused
Explaining how the crisis was resolved, Nmasi said: “When I saw that the tension was getting out of hand, I had to quickly call on Mr Rex Osa, the Coordination Activist for Network Refugee4Refugee, a political platform for refugees/migrants self-organisation based in Stuttgart, Germany, to intervene. He subsequently sent N10,000 to each person, and that was what saved the situation.”
Jetta described the experience at the hotel as dehumanising. “Everything there was a big rip off. They sold everything to us at cut-throat. They prevented family members from coming to see us too. Imagine people coming from different parts of the country to see us being sent away. What does N10, 000 for each deportee mean to the government? It obviously amounted to nothing, but they would rather see us suffer than help. It has made me to hate Nigeria even more.”
Nigeria, deportees and challenge of reintegration
Nigeria, together with other members of the United Nations in 2018 adopted the Global Compact for Safe Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), part of which is to ensure dignified return for migrants.
Laudable as the country’s move is, the reporter who has been working on the return and reintegration of migrants, especially deportees, said Nigeria’s adoption of the GCM is merely ceremonial as deportees have continued to be treated in the most inhuman manner and in some cases as criminals.
The reporter noted that since he started monitoring deportation from Europe in 2019, various government agencies have continued to feign ignorance about the deportation of migrants. The Nigerian Immigration Service had on different occasions denied deportation exercises even when confronted with incontrovertible evidence.
Deportees were previously dumped and abandoned without help at the cargo airport in Lagos. The ugly development continued even at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. The trend, however, changed after our reports prompted the German government to make provision for the deportees to be accommodated and quarantined on return.
The authorities of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs in 2019 accepted to rehabilitate two deportees following intervention by The Nation. The commission then claimed that it had vocational centres where returnees could be empowered. There have been numerous deportations thereafter without any intervention by the commission or sister agencies.
How government’s attitude compounds deportees’ plight
Many migration projects in the country, according to findings, are carried out or supported by international organisations such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Unfortunately the IOM projects are restricted to voluntary returnees and do not cover deportation.
“Our beneficiaries are not deportees but voluntary returnees, so we cannot comment on this. Maybe state authorities could give a hand,” Stylia Kampani, IOM’s Head of Communication in Nigeria, said in reply to our request on what the organisation does to help deportees.
IOM’s absence from the management of deportees may have been responsible for the yawning gap and unbridled exposure of deportees to despicable inhuman treatment.
Following the abandonment of deportees by the government, many of them have continued to suffer psychological and emotional challenges. Some of the deportees who came before the recent set told The Nation how they have been battling with sleeplessness and trauma among other challenges.
One of the deportees, who identified himself as Ola, said: “When I arrived in Nigeria, I was dumped and abandoned at the NAHCO in front of the Lagos airport, without help.
“Life has not been easy since I returned home. In fact, I have not been coping well since I returned.
“For a long time, I could not sleep when I came back. I had a problem sleeping.
“It took about four to five months dealing with psychological problems and nobody was there to give psycho-social support.
“I felt seriously sick, especially when I just came back, because everything was down for me and I didn’t know what to do.
“It was my wife and my kids that were calming me down during those dark moments.
“In Germany, I could go to the hospital whenever I was sick without paying a dime. The German government would pay for everything. “But that is not the case in Nigeria. If you have ordinary headache here and you go to the hospital, you will have to pay for treatment.
“The Nigerian government has not done anything to assist us. I have not received any assistance from the government or its agencies since I came back.”
Ola added: “You cannot compare life in Germany with life here in Nigeria. They are never and can never be the same.
“When you work over there, you can live comfortably. But here in Nigeria, it is hard to feed oneself. I felt very bad when I landed in Nigeria.
“It is through the help of friends that I have been surviving. If I can get a lump sum, I want to start a business.
“I want to go back to selling baby clothes, shoes and the rest. That was the business that my wife and I were doing before I travelled. If I can get money, I will be able to expand the business.”
Another returnee, Nonso, who was deported in 2018, said life has been terrible since he came back. “It has not been easy for me since then,” he said. It took me a good one year to get over the trauma that I suffered. Even when I am sleeping, I do not see myself in Nigeria. But when I wake up, the reality dawns on me.
“Up till now, I don’t have anything serious doing. I have been engaged in some form of farming and anything my family gets we eat. If we get nothing, we sleep like that.
“I want to do transportation business. I was into business in the northern part of the country before I travelled. It was the Boko Haram menace that forced me to travel.
“There in Europe, there was power supply, but that is not available here. You cannot compare Europe to Africa and Nigeria in particular. Life here is frustrating. That is why everybody is struggling to travel.
“In Europe, you are comfortable and live without fear. We worked, made money and lived very well. The reverse is the case here.
“Here, police will stop and search you but I never experienced that in Germany. Here, police can come and arrest you where you are sitting down. There are a lot of anomalies here.
“There have been temptations to engage in ungodly lifestyles but when I look at my experience in Germany, I tell myself that I must not be involved in anything stupid here in Nigeria.
“I will keep struggling, believing that things will get better.
“Before I travelled, I would always make myself available for any trouble. But when I travelled, my life changed.
“Since I came back, I don’t like noise or having issues with anyone. I avoid trouble and stay on my own. That is what I learnt in Europe. I stay away from anything that could cause problems for me.”
For Maria, life since coming back to the country has been hell of a sort.
She said: “This country is a hell and that is what it is. Life here is too strenuous. When I arrived here, I felt I had come back to my problem.
“I ran away from stress here and I am back to it. If you are sick here, you cannot go to the hospital because you don’t have money. In Germany, I would only go to the hospital with just my card and the government would pay.
“I was working but the government was paying half of my rent. When I was not working, the government was paying the rent every month. Why won’t you feel relaxed in that situation?
“I never wanted to leave, so when they took me to the airport to be deported, I was crying. “While at the airport on arrival, my brain was not telling me where to go. From nowhere, a member of Refugee4refugee came and asked if I wanted to be accommodated for some days free of charge. I said yes. I never knew that any organisation could do such for me.
“When I went to a relation to stay after leaving the hotel, the wife asked me to leave after three days because I came with nothing.
“I couldn’t go to my state, Imo, because I have been hearing that the place is on fire. I later used the money I had to rent an apartment. My challenge is how to renew the rent when it expires.”
Speaking about life overseas, Maria said: “Life in Germany was totally enjoyable. I was totally relaxed there. It is only when you don’t have a residence permit that you will be tensed up because you don’t know what will happen. Those who were lucky not to have been deported are in second heaven.
“The cost of things here is in thousands and millions. Everybody is struggling to get thousands and millions, and when you get it and go to the market, everything will vanish and you will start struggling all over. There is too much stress here in Nigeria.
“In Germany, we were making use of cents. The highest amount you would use to do shopping is 25 or 50 Euro. But here you must have N10,000.
“The other time I went to the market with N10,000, I thought I was holding too much money. But when I started buying things, I was surprised that the money didn’t get anywhere. It makes me feel uncomfortable.”
I am not aware of amount charged by NIN registrar
The manager of the hotel, in a telephone chat with our correspondent, claimed she was not aware of the amount that the NIN registrar charged the deportees.
“Please can you come down and let’s discuss and I will call the person that did the NIN,” she requested.
When our correspondent declined her invitation and insisted that she should react to the allegations, she said: “It is a lie. They said they needed NIN and I called the person that is doing it in the MTN office to come and meet them. I don’t know how much he charged them.
“Is it a crime to call the person that is doing it when my guests needed assistance? I don’t know how much the person charged. It is between them and the person. I wasn’t the one that did the negotiation. Did I have any special interest in it?”
She also debunked the allegation that the deportees were promised that government officials would come and give them some money.
“They were told that there is a man that comes to give money to deportees voluntarily. The person is not a government official.
“They were not the first or second set that the man would support. The person was telling them that he is not a government official but that he is doing it voluntarily. The person works in Germany.”
In a telephone chat from his base in Germany, Rex Osa, denied the manager’s claim. His words: “We didn’t tell them to communicate anything to the deportees. The manager has my phone number. She promised calling me for the past two months but she didn’t. When the problem escalated she started calling me to handle the situation. She took my time the other day and I started talking with the deportees from 8:30am until 1pm when they were leaving. I had to within one hour organize money to support 36 deportees, otherwise they were ready to bring the hotel down.
“ I think they just used that strategy to calm the deportees for the first two days and giving them hope until the last day when they are going to dump them out of the hotel. The hotel doesn’t discuss with us, they don’t negotiate with us and they didn’t ask us to be offering anything. The hotel told them that people will come from the Nigerian government to give them something. Some of them were even informed that on the last day they would be taken from the hotel to the airport, get a briefing before they leave. There were different information that I was getting from these people.”
The head of NCFRMI in Lagos, Mrs Erinfolami in a brief telephone chat that was truncated by unstable network connection said the commission has been doing a lot to assist deportees.
She had yet to respond to a text message seeking adding reaction from her as at the time of filing this report.