Monday, 24 April 2017

Stories That Touch: Nigerian Deportees Speak of Desert Journeys, Torture & Hunger in a Bid to Travel Abroad

Though deportation of Nigerians from foreign countries is becoming usual, the trend has never been this frequent with over 1,000 Nigerians deported and repatriated between February and April this

From January 2017 till date, a total of 654 Nigerians had arrived from Libya, while 867 were repatriated in 2016. More are still being expected, it was learnt.

The gale of deportations from Europe started on February 1, 2017 with 41 Nigerians (33 males, eight females) deported over immigration related offences. It was learnt that the visas of some of the deportees had expired.

On February 23, a Hi-Fly chartered Airbus 330 with registration number CS-TQW  landed at the cargo terminal of MMIA at exactly 8:55 p.m with 43 Nigerians deported from Germany, Belgium and Italy.

The deportees comprised 33 from Italy; seven from Belgium and three from Germany. On February 27, 41 female teenagers who were victims of human trafficking were repatriated from Bamako, Mali through the intervention of the Office of the Senior Special Assistant (OSSA).

Amidst the hue and cry over xenophobic attacks in South Africa, the South African government deported 97 Nigerians on February 28. Six of them were repatriated for drug offences; 10 were arrested and deported for criminal offences ,while others committed immigration related offences, it was learnt.

The deportees who  included 95 males and two females were dumped at the cargo terminal of the airport via a chartered aircraft with tail number GBB710 from Johannesburg, South Africa.

The deportation spree would not abate in March as Italy on the 7th sent home 37 Nigerians for visa related issues. The deportees, who were all male, were brought back in a chartered aircraft with registration number OM-IEX, which landed at the cargo terminal of the airport in the late hours of the day.

On Friday March 31, another set of 23 deportees arrived from the United Kingdom while on April 5, Italy deported another set of 40 Nigerians. 39 were repatriated for immigration related issues, while one person was deported over alleged drug trafficking. The following day, another set of 50 deportees were also sent home from eight countries including Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Luxembourg, Austria, Belgium, Spain and Hungary.

Many Nigerians especially teenagers repatriated from Libya freely interacted with journalists on their experience in Libya. The stories are  narratives of pain , anguish, dehumanization which they suffered in various detention camps in Libya. Most of them had gone to Libya through the desert in search of greener pastures. Some hoped to cross to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.

After spending weeks and months to get to Libya, their hopes frittered away as they ended up in deportation cells.    

Narrating her ordeal, Joy Monday, 27, an indigene of Delta State said she would not even advise her worst enemy to embark on the journey, disclosing that they all came back empty-handed.

She said, “My experience in Libya was very bad and I would not advise anybody, male or female, to travel there because they (Libyans) do not value human life. They treat us as if we are animals. They steal, there was no freedom, no movement.

“You would be suffering for like 10 months or a year. Libya is not a country that you should advise your sister, a brother or friend, even your worst enemy to go. It is not a good country.”

According to her, she travelled to Libya with the hope of crossing to Germany. In the process, she said she was duped of N360,000.

“I was actually heading to Germany, but unfortunately my contact duped me of N360,000. So I needed to hustle in Libya. I was working as a sales girl. But along the line they burst into our house, killed many Nigerians even where I was living, 30 people died, and it is God that saved me. They came and started shooting, throwing bombs and killed black people.

“They don’t want to see any black in their country, it is not that we committed any offence. They hate black people. I am a hairdresser and caterer. I thank God for coming back to my country, a land of milk and honey. Nigeria is a free country. We used to dress like Muslims  in Libya, if you make your hair, you can’t open it. I am very excited to be in my country. Nigeria is a blessed country, it is a land of milk and honey.”

For Omowunmi Bello who hails from Ibadan, Oyo State, she was picked up on a day she was supposed to cross to Italy.

She narrated: “I was working as a cleaner for a white man who was paying 600 dinar which is equivalent to N600,000. I was trying to raise enough money to be able to cross to Europe. I was arrested 24 hours to the day we were to cross to Europe, and they said we were being deported.

“They collected all my money and luggage, and I couldn’t come home with anything. We came in empty-handed. If I were to travel out again, I will never go to Libya again, because the people there are not hospitable.”

Also speaking, Efosa Edegbe from Edo State said he would never attempt to embark on the journey through the desert in his lifetime again ,even as he advised other youths not to try the journey.

He said, “I travelled to Libya by land, and went through the desert. It was very difficult, and it is not that easy. And I want to advise anybody who has not embarked on that journey not to try it, because it is very risky. I travelled through the path because I wanted to make quick money; I was searching for greener pastures. The Arab people are hostile, they are not like Nigerians. Bad blood flows through their veins. Later, I came to realize that there is no place like home. Nigeria is the best place to stay.

“I spent seven months in Libya and those seven months were very terrible. I started suffering from the day I left Nigeria. The journey was not easy. I am advising those who have not embarked on that journey not to try it at all. I remember they (the security men) broke into our house and took us to the deportation camp. That place is very terrible. You can see I am lean, they are very wicked. The three-square meals  they gave us are not up to one-square meal a day. It’s terrible.

“We came home empty. They broke into our homes and they did not allow us to take along any property. They told the United Nations that they arrested us on the sea which is not true. They arrested us on Saturday January 14th.”

The case of Libyan migrants is more pathetic as a recent report from the IOM revealed how they were sold off as slaves; some are raped and murdered, while a lot of them were washed away in the sea.

That is why the Federal Government repeatedly warns Nigerians illegally migrating outside the country in search of greener pastures, to remain in the country. Hajia Sadiya Umar-Farouk, a commissioner with the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced (NCFRMI) says the government would continue to sensitize the youths especially ,to shun dangerous adventures to Libya or any other country for that matter, in search of greener pasture.

From Africa to Europe, it is not an entirely different song. Some of the deportees had gone through the desert, got to Libya and successfully crossed the sea to Europe. However, these efforts became futile with their deportation. They were looking desolate and despondent as they disembarked from the plane; some of them even prevented cameramen from taking their photographs .

The  thought on their minds would be where to start from in a nation where the unemployment rate has been described as staggering.  

However, the deportees said the best the government could do for them, having failed to stop their deportation, is to provide them jobs. having gone through the Libyan desert for months before crossing to Europe.

Uhummumoma Felix, from Edo State told our correspondent that he left Nigeria in August last year and arrived Italy in January, saying he had only spent five weeks in the European country when he was picked up for deportation.

Felix who spoke in pidgin English, berated Nigerian embassy officials for signing for their deportation. He said other African countries do protect their nationals abroad, but the reverse is the case with Nigeria.

He said, “We crossed to Europe from Libya, I just dey enter Italy a month and a week, they carry me come back to Nigeria. Wetin you say make I come do?

“If you call Ghana embassy to come and deport their people, they will tell you that your own people are in their own town. Why will you call me to come and sign and deport my people? Our people would come and sign documents on your behalf.

“What am I doing in this country? We need job ooo because you cannot bring me back home and start making me hungry again.

“I left Nigeria August 13 last year and I finally entered Italy January 14 this year. Just a month and a week, they brought me back home. We dey kill our image, Oyinbo no dey respect us again at all. If they don hear anything about Nigeria, they go just dey grow feather.”

Another deportee  who refused to be named said, “After we have suffered. We have passed with death yet they brought us empty and you think we would be happy. I suffered trying to cross to Europe.

“I’m not a drug addict, I did not fight. I did not commit any crime. You sent me back to my country and you think I would be happy.

“Our embassy would be supporting the deportation while other African nationals are everywhere. We have Senegalese, Cameroonians, Malians, Gambians, a lot of them. Now that we  are back they should provide jobs for us. Or do they want us to come and become a nuisance and terrorists? Is that what they wish? After taking the worst risk of life to enter Europe and we came back empty handed ,and you think I would be happy with anybody. I cannot be happy with anybody.”


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