The various obstacles reportedly imposed by the South African airport and immigration officials during the evacuation of the first batch of Nigerians that opted to leave the country over xenophobic attacks, seems to have a strategic end-game of a travel ban.
It was learnt that the South African Foreign Affairs ministry saw the evacuation as “a yellow card to Nigeria-South Africa relations”, hence the imposition of a biometric capture of all returning individuals.
Some officials said that the biometric exercise which saw the cancellation of South African visas possessed by the Nigerians, was instituted to blacklist the evacuated Nigerians.
An official told Punch, “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.”
A Nigerian foreign affairs ministry disclosed that about 135 Nigerians decided to stay back following the new conditions imposed by the immigration authorities.
He stated, “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.
On if the Nigerian authorities were informed of the rationale for the biometrics of the returnees, 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.”