SOUTH Africa is considering placing a 10-year visa ban on those Nigerians recently evacuated from the country as their biometric data was captured by immigration authorities before departure.
Over recent weeks, angry mobs of South African youths frustrated with their economic plight have vented their fury on African migrants in the country, burning down businesses and attacking foreign nationals. In response, Nigerian airline Air Peace, despatched a plane to evacuate those who want to return home and so far, 640 Nigerians have indicated they want to leave South Africa.
On Thursday, the first batch of 84 Nigerian evacuees landed in Lagos in company of foreign affairs ministry officials. Apparently, Pretoria was not happy over the evacuation operation which senior foreign affairs ministry officials described as a yellow card to Nigeria-South Africa relations.
Those 84 Nigerians had boarded the aircraft at the Johannesburg airport, when the South African immigration officials announced that they must carry out a biometric capture of all returning individuals. Officials who participated in the clearance process at the airport explained that the immigration service cancelled valid South African visas possessed by Nigerians during the biometric exercise.
Critics of the exercise believe that the biometric capture was a smokescreen to blacklist Nigerians leaving the country over xenophobic attacks. South Africa has denied this as the government is unhappy about the evacuation as it sends out an embarrassing signal that foreigners are not welcome in the country.
One Nigerian foreign ministry official 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.”
“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.”
In what was a messy evacuation, some women who wished to leave with their children were asked to present letters of consent from their husbands. Many of them who could not provide the letters were said to have gone back home after spending several hours at the airport.