Painful Smile Of Nigerian Asylum Seekers

Sunday Iserian told a fantastic story about Nigeria in Iceland where he lives with his wife and eight-year-old daughter. This Nigerian, according to the story, had applied for asylum in the above-named country. But last July, after nearly two years of waiting, the Iceland Directorate of Immigration rejected his application. “I’m a dead man if I go back to Nigeria,” he said, “but this isn’t about me, it’s about my daughter. I want her to have a chance of a better life.”

Iserian, 32, and his wife, Joy Lucky, claimed to have been subjected to violence, poverty and threats while in Nigeria. Joy claimed to be a victim of sexual slavery while pregnant with her daughter, Mary. Her husband, on his part, claimed to be a victim of political persecution. According to him, he worked as a driver for a so-called leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, who was murdered when he was driving and his car burnt. He said he escaped only to be declared wanted by the government as he was suspected of killing the man.

A newspaper in Iceland quoted Mr. Iserian as backing up his claim with a story from the Sunday Observer indicating that he was declared wanted by the police following the murder. His plight got worse when Boko Haram members allegedly attacked his uncle’s house where he was hiding, killing his uncle and his son. He purportedly fled to a nearby church where he received money to get him away from Nigeria to Libya and onwards to Italy.

Like Sunday, many Nigerians cook up different pathetic stories to curry sympathy, migrate to foreign lands and escape the existential realities at home. Some say they are being persecuted in Nigeria because they are homosexuals. They present newspaper cuttings of some homosexual arrests and claim they are the ones being persecuted. As usual, they always escape miraculously to seek asylum status in foreign lands.

Canada appears to be the most sought after bride now. Many Nigerians reportedly risk walking from the United States to Canada to seek asylum. These Nigerians had either lived in or arrived in the U.S. but are uncertain about the Donald Trump administration’s immigration policies.

For instance, one Aisha, a Nigerian single mother of four kids, reportedly travelled from Philadelphia to Manhattan and then spent six hours in the bus to upstate New York and another 30 minutes by taxi to the dead end road at the U.S./Canadian border.

Almost crying, Aisha told CBC News, “Please we need a home; our children need to go to school… I left Nigeria with frustration… In Africa, they want them to go to Arabic school. At a tender age, they will give them to a man. I don’t want that to happen…I can work, I’m an African woman. If I see a job, I will do it. I want a better life for my children.”

Canada has been hearing this type of story. Now, it is not taking it lightly anymore. The country is currently tightening its border control measures. It is also suggesting to America to make its visa procurement requirements tougher for Nigerians. This is to prevent potential Nigerian immigrants from getting U.S. visa and then crossing over to Canada from the U.S.

So far in 2018, more than 7,000 people have reportedly been intercepted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after crossing into Canada at unofficial entry points. About 2,500 crossed into Quebec in the month of April alone. In the past 15 months, more than 26,000 people illegally crossed the Canada-U.S. border to file refugee claims. The majority of those intercepted are reported to be Nigerians with a valid U.S. visitor’s visa.

Last Monday, Canada’s ministers of immigration, public security and transportation hinted that three Canadian officials would be assigned to help U.S. visa officers in Lagos. Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Ahmed Hussen, is also billed to visit Nigeria this month to discuss the issue with Nigerian government representatives.

Soon, some Nigerians who have genuine reasons to travel to the U.S. will face undue interrogation from a combined team of U.S. and Canadian embassy officials. It is shameful that we have to face this type of humiliation. And it is indicative of the gross leadership failure the country is forced to live with.

Otherwise, why will any Nigerian wish to live in a country like Libya despite the hatred and humiliation the citizens of that country subject our people to? Some two months ago, there were reports that some Libyan returnees from Edo State went back to that North African country. More Nigerians are planning to flee to the country in spite of the inhuman and degrading treatment they encounter along the way. They reportedly prefer to die there to remaining in Nigeria.
Some of them were angry that they were brought back home with little or no serious plans to rehabilitate them. Even the aids the International Organization of Migration, IOM, the European Union and other humanitarian agencies sent to them through the Nigerian government allegedly never got to them.

Those who survive a deadly sea crossing to Italy and some other European countries never wish to come back to Africa. Some of them who succeeded in crossing to Italy last year were miffed that Italian authorities supported Libya’s efforts to return them to the North African country. Seventeen of them sued Italy for violating their rights. Last week, they petitioned the European Court of Human Rights, saying Italy violated multiple articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

I don’t really blame these asylum seekers. Even our President also seeks some form of asylum abroad. Or what do you call his frequent medical trips to London? If Nigeria was peaceful and working, many Nigerians would never seek medical or political asylum abroad.

As it is now, we are not fighting any war. But our condition is not better than those of war-torn countries. Virtually in every part of the country, there is one form of killing or the other going on. In the North, Boko Haram is terrorizing people. In the other parts of the country, Fulani herdsmen, kidnappers and armed robbers are the ones mowing people down.

The situation is such that over two million people have been displaced from their homes in Nigeria. That is why our internally displaced camps are growing by the day. And even in those camps, the displaced people are not safe. Sometimes, they face starvation or attacks from bandits.

In the midst of all these, the government whose primary responsibility it is to protect lives and property appears helpless. The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has been prancing about town and flexing muscle with the Senate. The upper chamber of the legislature summoned him apparently to answer to the poor state of security in the country. But he bluntly refused to appear. Nothing has happened and nothing may ever happen to him on that score.

What riles me most is the attempt to divert attention and justify the poor leadership style of the incumbent government. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo has been reeling out statistics of how much the PDP stole when it was in power and how the party underdeveloped Nigeria.

According to Osinbajo, the cases of grand corruption and open looting of public resources during the Jonathan’s regime pauperized Nigeria and left it with little or no savings in the years when oil was selling at 100 to 114 dollars a barrel. By contrast, the Buhari administration was said to be able to do more with less by stopping grand corruption and impunity.

However, whatever this administration claims to have done has not impacted much on the lives of the average Nigerian. The number of poor people grew higher from what it was before it came to power. The unemployment rate in the country rose from 14.2 per cent to 18.8 per cent in 2017. The country’s labour population also increased from 83.9 million in the second quarter to 85.1 million in the third quarter of 2017. People in full-time employment declined from 52.7 million in the second quarter of 2017 to 51.1 million in the third quarter.

That was why the Co-Chair of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, recently admonished our government not to concentrate on physical infrastructure to the detriment of human capital development. He advised that the country would do better with strong investments in education and health.

Gates stated, “Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad. One in three Nigerian children is chronically malnourished.

“In upper middle-income countries, the average life expectancy is 75 years. In lower middle-income countries, it’s 68; in low-income countries, it’s 62. In Nigeria, it is lower still, just 53 years.”

So, why will many Nigerians not struggle to check out of their country at all costs? The common thread among the asylum seekers is that they want good life for their children. If they were able to get such good life, good education and good health care, will they not think less of rushing to embrace refugee status in other countries?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind around the Presidency!

First published in The Sun of Monday, May 14, 2018

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