Thursday, March 8, 2012

South Africa gives Nigeria apology for mass deportation

The Governments of the Republic of South Africa and the Federal Republic of Nigeria are considering implementing a variety of measures to strengthen the historic bilateral relationship between the two sister African countries.

South Africa and Nigeria have long-standing bilateral relations. The two countries share a common commitment to the unity and prosperity of the African continent as well as a just and equitable world – and we continue to work together at various levels to achieve this common objective.

Notwithstanding the above, recent unfortunate events involving immigration matters may have created contrary impressions.

On 02 March 2012, a total of 125 Nigerian citizens were deported from the OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) for allegedly being in position of fraudulent yellow fever vaccine certificates.

On this particular day, there was an operation at OR Tambo International Airport to check all passengers arriving from countries which require yellow fever certificates.

Subsequent to that, 28 South African citizens were deported from Lagos, Nigeria, after arriving at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport on a South African Airways flight in the evening of 05 March 2012.

The passengers were deported on grounds of invalid documentation and relevant health certificate clearance. Some passengers were also asked for their letters of invitation, stating their reason for visiting Nigeria.

The governments of South Africa and Nigeria view these developments in a serious light. Accordingly, the two countries have, through diplomatic channels, consulted at the highest levels on ways of avoiding a recurrence of such developments.

Furthermore, the South African government has sent a letter of apology to the Nigerian government following this regrettable incident which the South African government believes could have been handled better.

Amongst other things, the two countries agree that:

1. The Bi-National Commission between South Africa and Nigeria should be revived as soon as possible. There is also agreement that the Immigration Working Group should also be revived.

2. The National Department of Health and the Gauteng Health Department should consider re-opening the vaccination clinic at the OR Tambo International Airport so that passengers without the yellow fever card can be vaccinated upon arrival at the airport, rather than be deported.

3. The South African and Nigerian Health authorities would exchange vaccine batch numbers and details about the official institutions that administer the vaccine for verification purposes at the port of entry. This information would also be made available to the Missions in Lagos and Abuja who issue visas based on the proof of a yellow fever certificate. The airlines will also be informed about the verification process.

4. Immigration officials should be the first officials that deal with the passengers at the port of entry and if they experience challenges, they should invite other units (such as health) to help and not the other way round.

5. When it comes to mass deportations, it was agreed that senior officials at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (including Protocol) should be consulted by Immigration and Health officials at the airport before undertaking such action. This will provide the Senior Officials to consult with the Department before deporting large numbers of people.

We believe that these measures, when fully implemented, will address the current immigration challenges affecting citizens from the two sister African countries and help us avoid a recurrence of the regrettable incidences we have seen recently.

Related stories: Nigeria criticizes South Africa deporting 125 Nigerians

South Africa deports 125 Nigerians

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