Germany has put forward a new proposal for the repatriation of some 30,000 undocumented Nigerian migrants to their home country. Dr Jan Hecker, foreign policy adviser to Chancellor Angela Merkel, visited Abuja last week to hold talks with Nigerian officials on the deportation plan. In an exclusive interview with the German international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (DW), Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama reveals the issues he discussed with Hecker and he talks about the German proposal and the position of his government on the deportation plan.
DW: Can you explain how this plan to repatriate 30,000 Nigerians is going to work?
Minister Onyeama: The German envoy came here to discuss the possibility of having a new arrangement and a new plan for addressing the large number of illegal Nigerians in Germany. Their cases have been heard by the German courts and they have exhausted all their legal procedures and remedies. So Germany was just coming to discuss if we would be agreeable to negotiate a possible new procedure – that’s all. Not that a new procedure has come into effect because it is a negotiation process. They are hoping we will negotiate.
What are you going to consider in these negotiations?
At the moment, if there is an illegal Nigerian in Germany – a migrant – they will go through the court processes. Usually they will ask for asylum and the courts will look at them. They have appeal processes. But at the end, when they’ve exhausted all the remedies or procedures available to them, the German government would then ask the Nigerian government to issue an emergency travel certificate, because very often they will not have passports, to repatriate them.
So, the Germans are saying that the time the Nigerian embassy and the consulate take in this process is too long and a lot of the work that the Nigerian embassy and the consulate do is to repeat what the Germans have already done. For instance, identifying that these people are truly Nigerians since they don’t maybe have a passport.
What they are proposing is, since there is a question of trust and since they carry out a thorough process themselves, whether Nigeria would be agreeable for them to just issue the travel certificate themselves and return those people to Nigeria without going through the Nigerian embassy or the Nigerian consulate. And that, when they return them to Nigeria, if the authorities there now go through a process and decide that some of them should not have been returned to Nigeria – maybe because they are not really Nigerians after all – that they will automatically and unconditionally take them back to Germany.
Is Nigeria comfortable with that?
Well, no. We pointed out that there are a number of issues that have to be cleared. Legal issues, for instance, Nigeria cannot surrender its right to issue travel documents to its citizens. That’s one issue which would be problematic.
Secondly, the embassy of Nigeria and the consulate are there to represent the country. So, if a country wants to discuss with Nigeria, you discuss with its embassy there. You don’t circumvent the embassy and come to Nigeria. To now circumvent the embassy, repatriate people and then come and discuss in Nigeria it would obviously be an issue. And thirdly, it’s not clear to us but we’re awaiting written details.
If you avoid or circumvent the embassies and send the people to Nigeria, then the Nigerian authorities are going to carry out the same procedures and processes that the embassy would have carried out. So all you are doing is moving what the embassy should be doing to Nigeria. So there are a lot of issues. It’s an opening gambit, Germany is putting something there.
What is the number of people involved?
Germany is saying there are 30,000 illegal Nigerians documented who have gone through the legal process in Germany and in a period of two-and-a-half years only 200 have been processed and repatriated. So for Germany, that’s too slow. They admit that some of the delays are also caused by their own procedures. They are also trying to make their procedures more effective and more efficient.
What is Nigeria doing to improve the procedure?
What Germany was complaining about is that a lot of what the Nigerian embassy does is repetitive. We have said that we will discuss with the Nigerian embassy to find out what they can also be doing to have a more efficient procedure.
© DW / The interview was conducted by Ubale Musa in Abuja.