Following the evacuation of 187 Nigerians from South Africa as a result of the recent xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in the country, there have been claims that the evacuated Nigerians may be barred from visiting the country for at least 10 years.
On Wednesday, September 11, 2019, hundreds of Nigerians were scheduled to be evacuated from South Africa by the Air Peace Boeing 777, but South African airport and immigration officials reportedly frustrated the evacuation operation.
According to Punch, the flight which was scheduled for 9 am did not depart the OR Tambo International Airport until 4 pm, due to various obstacles imposed by the airport officials.
Due to the bottlenecks, the plane eventually arrived the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos at 9.34 pm.
Punch reports that Pretoria was not happy about the evacuation operation as senior officials in the country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry described it as “a yellow card to Nigeria-South Africa relations.”
SA authorities were reported to have mounted impediments to frustrate evacuation of Nigerians from their country because it was seen as a thumb down for South Africa.
During the evacuation of the first batch of Nigerians, the returnees according to Punch had boarded the aircraft at the Johannesburg airport, when the SA immigration officials announced that they must carry out a biometric capture.
All of them were thereafter deplaned for the biometric exercise with the officials spending about 10 minutes on each of them.
One of the officials, who participated in the exercise told Punch that the valid South African visas possessed by Nigerians were cancelled during the biometric exercise.
It was also gathered that the biometrics was a ploy to blacklist Nigerians, who are leaving the country because of the recent xenophobic attacks on foreigners in South Africa.
A South African immigration official was reported to have said: “When you are evacuating your citizens from a country, it is like sending a strong message to that country about your relations with them. No country would be happy with the evacuation of foreign nationals from its territory.
“South Africans were very strategic. We arrived at Joburg by 6.15 am. The intention was to leave by 9 am, but after clearing about 85 out of the 313 who were scheduled for airlifting, they insisted they should do biometric capture for those who were willing to leave.
So, they had to come down from the plane and start the clearance process afresh. Now, there are reports that if they capture your biometrics and you leave, you won’t be allowed into South Africa again or you may be barred from visiting for at least 10 years.
“So, some Nigerians who planned to come to Nigeria to relax for some time and then go back eventually decided to stay back for fear of being barred from visiting South Africa, where they have investments and families.”
Investigation also showed that some Nigerian women, who wished to leave the country with their children were asked to present letters of consent from their husbands.
It was reported that about 135 women, who could not provide the letter had to go back home after spending several hours at the airport.
An airport official said: “The immigration asked those who were travelling with children to present letters of consent from their spouses. If they didn’t have the consent letter, they would not allow the children to leave with the mother.
“Initially, it was 313 persons who were billed to come back with the flight, but 135 went back. They included those who were travelling with children without letters of consent and those who did not want to do the biometrics so that they wouldn’t be barred from returning to South Africa again.”
When asked if South African authorities informed or explained the rationale behind the biometrics of the returnees to their Nigerian counterparts, another SA official disclosed to Punch that there was no announcement regarding that.
The official said, “There was no formal announcement to this effect, but there were reports that anyone who left may be barred from visiting South Africa for life or for at least 10 years.
“The credibility of the report was strengthened when the immigration officials were cancelling valid visas, as they were clearing those with valid travel documents.
“Even if you have one or two years visa, it was cancelled, and this means you have to apply afresh and it may be difficult for you to get the visa again. Nigerian officials were frustrated. The Minister of Foreign Affairs sent an official to represent him at the airport, but the person was not allowed access to the cargo wing for a long time.”
Punch also reported that the representative of Geoffrey Onyema, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was barred from accessing the cargo wing of the OR Tambo International Airport by security officials