Relevant authorities should press for redress on wrongful deportations
A fortnight ago, 27 Nigerians were deported from Spain for alleged criminal offences ranging from armed robbery, drug trafficking, forgery to illegal migration. They were handed over to the police at the international wing of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos.
Yet after a thorough investigation by a combined team of officers from the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the Police, the State Security Service (SSS) and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), 14 of the deportees were found not culpable for the alleged offences for which they were deported by the Spanish authorities. Consequently, according to the police, the 14 persons were released to their relatives on bail while the 13 considered liable had been sent to the relevant security agencies for further investigation and prosecution.
In August 2009, no fewer than 67 Nigerians were deported from Madrid, the Spanish capital for similar sundry immigration offences. On arrival, the deportees had complained of how they were dehumanised in detention camp in Spain for about two years before Nigerian authorities in collaboration with the government of Spain arranged to repatriate them. Unfortunately the 67 returnees were denied all consular privileges, even by their home government. They were simply sent away to bemoan their fate.
For us it is not just enough that 14 of the latest 27 deportees were found innocent and released to their families, there is need for the relevant Nigerian authorities to press for redress and restitution on their behalf. There is also a need to use diplomatic channels to register our government’s disapproval of these alleged maltreatment and wrongful deportations whether from Spain or any country for that matter. Our citizens cannot be deported on trumped-up charges as were levelled against the 27 recent deportees.
Unfortunately, this situation highlights the dilemma of illegal immigrants across Europe, especially in Spain where a number of controversial and inhuman legislations were recently introduced to discourage immigrants. Europe's debt crisis and widespread austerity have indeed fuelled social tension, reflected in rising anti-immigrant violence and growing influence of far right conservatives in many countries.
For instance, until recently illegal immigrants living in Spain had the luxury of receiving free medication if they have long-term, potentially life-threatening illnesses. But under a new legislation on healthcare, all that has changed. Henceforth, illegal immigrants who are over 18 will only get treated for free within Spain's healthcare system on condition of emergency, pregnancy or child birth.
Against the background of this rising tension whereby foreigners become the target for nationalistic and xenophobic reprisals, it is only advisable that Nigerians seeking to travel abroad should at the least ensure that they travel with proper documents. And while in the foreign lands, they should endeavour to live and work under the laws of their host country. It is no longer fashionable seeking to enter Europe through painful, life-threatening methods like stowing away or crossing the ocean in rickety and overloaded boats that do drown so often.
Lastly on the 14 Nigerians found to be free from any criminal activities, we demand that the Spanish embassy be made to apologise and possibly compensate them for whatever embarrassment and personal losses they may have suffered as a result of the improper manner they were treated. But we need to caution that in recommending this cause of action, we believe that the affected Nigerians had travelled to Spain legally and that as of the time of their predicament they were still legal residents with proper documents. Otherwise, they do not have any justification for enforcing such rights.
All said, it is equally important that Nigerian embassies across the world be more proactive on matters affecting nationals whenever they are in distress. That is why we have consular representation in other world capitals.