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Returnees from South Africa… new beginning and challenge of integration

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Abuja
21 September 2019   |   4:24 am
So far, a total of 502 Nigerians have been evacuated from South Africa in the wake of renewed xenophobic attacks against foreigners.

People disembark from a plane as a first group of Nigerians repatriated from South Africa following xenophobic violence arrives in Lagos, on September 11, 2019. – Almost 200 Nigerian migrants were repatriated from South Africa on September 11 following a wave of xenophobic violence that swept through the country and sparked sharp exchanges between the two countries. A flight carrying 189 Nigerians landed in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos, with some of those onboard punching the air and singing their national anthem while waving pictures of burnt shops. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

So far, a total of 502 Nigerians have been evacuated from South Africa in the wake of renewed xenophobic attacks against foreigners.

This figure included children and youths, most of whom were in various schools but had to abandon their dreams and aspirations for survival first.

Recall also that more than this number was evacuated, in 2018, from Libya and other parts of the world, where Nigerians had explored in search of ‘better living.’

On February 15, 2018, for instance, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) received 180 Nigerians from Southern Libya. In April, two additional batches were received, majority of whom had no skills or formal education.

Yet, many more Nigerians are still stranded in their various host countries, including South Africa, either because they cannot afford the airfare or they have chosen to stay back and face the consequences rather than return to a country they once loved but departed for lack of reliable source of livelihood.

One of such Nigerians who were still hanging on in South Africa told The Guardian that he felt safe in Pretoria where he resides. According to him, things were settling down and they felt safer now.

He also attributed some of the problems to few Nigerians who engage in illicit drug business in the country. He noted that no parent or country would be happy to watch his youths to be destroyed by drug peddlers from another country.

“South Africa is not that bad. Though they have their problems but there is no perfect country. Nigeria is not perfect; not even America that is perfect. Nigeria has its problem; South Africa also has its problem. That is how it is,” he stated.

But Ndubuisi Udeze, who lived in a different part of the country, held a contrary view. To him, South Africa is horrible at the moment. He therefore, thanked God for the priviledge to return home alive.

According to him, there were many Nigerians who would have loved to return but were not aware of the evacuation exercise.

“There are several Nigerians who are still stranded there because they did not hear the announcement for evacuation.

“I must say that their lives are in danger there. As I talk to you, there are lots of Nigerians whose lives are in danger in South Africa,” he insisted.

Udeze wished that the evacuation exercise would be sustained to allow some other Nigerians to benefit from the gesture.

“Those people are wicked. A typical South African man is like a hunter. They are always carrying weapons as they move about. They even know where to stab someone and he dies instantly,” he said.

Udeze, who had spent 10 years of his life in South Africa, stated that he was tired of their killings. “I have had enough of their killings”, he lamented.

Another returnee in the second batch who refused to give his name decried that he had gone in search of greener pasture but his adventure unfortunately turned sour.

According to him, the current xenophobic attack was not his first experience as his shops were touched last year.

“It was my brother who sent me money to secure another shop. Even though the new shop is still standing, there is no hope that it would be spared.

“Nigerians are being threatened on a daily basis and we have also received messages, asking us to leave the country,” he said.

According to him, he had lived quietly in the country without being involved in any criminal activity.

Noting that most Nigerians are killed and buried in South Africa for no justifiable reason, he commended the Federal Government and the management of Air Peace airline for the collaboration that led to their evacuation.

But how does the government intend to integrate these returnees back into the society as they begin a new phase in life. This is the question on the lips of many stakeholders given that most of them lost their sources of income to the violent attacks on their shops and are yet to be compensated by the South African government.

A source in the office of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) told The Guardian that state governments had been directed to design plans for the integration of their citizens. In addition, the Bank of Industry (BoI) has also started the process of assisting returnees with soft loans. However, this has to come after profiling of the people in line with their skills and professions.

Beyond these, the source disclosed that the Federal Government was in the process of negotiating compensation for the returnees, particularly those whose businesses were destroyed by the ravaging South Africans. It is not certain if and when the compensation would come, given that the South African government had declared that its laws do not provide for the compensation of victims of xenophobic attacks. Nevertheless, the experiences of the returnees call for a concerted effort by various stakeholders to put them back on their feet. Some of the second batch of returnees gave fresh tales of hostilities, attacks on their lives and investments by their hosts. Below are their stories:

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