I traveled out of Nigeria for the first time in 2003, and since then I have not stopped. I am one of many Nigerians who are usually harassed and humiliated even before there was a reason for it – and usually for no reason other than my “green passport”. I have had the opportunity to live in the so-called first world, to integrate as much as becoming one of them through opting for nationality, but my mindset has always been simple: “I am a Nigerian by birth and by lineage, whatever comes after that is secondary and I can do without”. I consider myself a traveller and not an immigrant. So I carry my Nigerian passport everywhere I go, bracing myself for the worst at every checkpoint.
In February 2010, one of my trips within Europe was brutally cut short and I was forced out of the continent. What did I do? I exceeded my visa for a period of eight days! I was stopped at the Schonefeld airport in Berlin by the Polizei (German federal Police), as I arrived from Paris. What followed next was a journey through the nightmares of so many immigrants and deportees of which none are written about because the government of most of these western countries continue to hide their disdain for immigrants under the carefully-crafted modern slave-tool called immigration policies. Moreover, the people who often fall victims to these humiliations are those who will never have the means of making their voice heard. So every single day, stories of organised crime under the disguise of the law go untold, while most of the citizens of these countries remain in the shadows of a truth veiled by their government. Once in a while, news come from the desert and the sea, of many immigrants who drowned or were shot dead as they try to traverse the borders, but a whole lot of them make it through the desert hell, only to find a colder hell waiting for them within the walls of deportation camps and the cruel fists of the police backed by scornful immigration policies.
More than a year has passed since my ordeal, but I do believe I owe it to many immigrants and deportees all over the world to recount my experience and indeed publish it.
Berlin – Shonefeld, February 2010.
Looking at me from afar, I fit the profile for those who are always stopped and checked, and then when checked, I fit the profile, of those who ought to be thoroughly checked, so that was what happened, my passport was taken to their office and they checked all of my visas one by one (they were probably surprised at how many visas there were, you know, that good-to-be-true feeling). Unluckily for me, I had all this while been reading the Schengen visa wrongly, I never knew my visa was expiring, I thought I still had at least a week to finish my business and head back to Lagos via Paris. I will not bore you with long stories, neither do I want you to get discouraged from reading on seeing the number of pages, but it suffices to say that what for me felt like a fiction got more and more real, as I was thrown into the detention room, told I cannot go into Berlin and finally I will have to see a judge who will decide how best to go back to Lagos right from that airport. But it got more interesting, as these procedures led me not only to the judge, but to the detention camp where I spent three nights with a whole lot of other deportees, mostly Africans, and – to be expected – Nigerians!
Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse
Like I said earlier on, my offense was that I exceeded the validity of my visa by Eight days. I was given a multiple Schengen visa by the French embassy which had validity of 6 months, but with a clause which says I can only stay for 90 days. From experiences with other countries I had visited like South Africa and Mozambique, this will mean that on no account should one overstay a period of 90 days in ONE entry. This was how I was thinking, but it turned out that according to the Schengen, the law is completely different. With this same visa, I have been to and fro Europe on three occasions. On the day of the incident, I was going from Paris to Berlin to spend four days there and then leave for The Netherlands where I was due to have a PhD entrance interview at the Leiden University. I had no luggage, because all my photographic equipment and luggage were still in Paris where I ought to return in a week’s time to board my return flight to Lagos. I had barely crossed the baggage hall when a German policewoman walked into my way in other to stop me. Well, I anticipated that, it’s the most normal thing, in fact, it has become so frequent that at times I resist the impulse of walking up to them myself and handing over my passport!
The Police lady flipped through my passport, (I guessed she was not blind to all the many visas and stamps in there and they were not all Schengen visas which means, there are other countries in the world worth visiting). She managed to find the visa in question, and according to the dates, it was valid, but she was not convinced. She worked away with my passport and came back in what seemed like 15 minutes to announce that I violated the law. First of all I laughed, and asked myself if she was that desperate to find a fault. Then she began to explain: although according to the dates, my visa was still valid, but I was given a 90-day stay, which means the summation of my three visits to Europe must not exceed 90 days, and here I already exceeded by eight days! So in those 15 minutes I waited, she was actually busy calculating my entry and exit dates for all my three visits to Europe since I was given that visa.
They say ignorance of the law is no excuse, and in nowhere is that so true than with the German police, at least from my experience. There was no common-sense consideration for my situation. There were many ways they could have resolved my problem, but the immigration policies were made to be hostile and severe, all to the ill fate of immigrants. There and then, I was taken to their office in the airport. Here, I must say that the only police officer who treated me with dignity was the man who took on my case from the Lady who stopped me. But after him, everything else was hell. He took his time and explained the situation to me, and made me understand that he too, is a servant (or rather a slave) of the law and must do what he must.
Now, I can’t go into Berlin, and I could not believe my misfortune when they told me I will have to go back to Lagos from that point. The painful truth is that I will remain on the transit area of the airport until morning when I will be presented to the judge. I was also told that I could be banned from Germany. Wow! Banned, I have been to Berlin over eight times, and even lived there for more than three months, on no occasion did I over-stay my welcome, not even in Paris where I lived for four years, but here I am, facing a ban for a flaw of only eight days! What kind of law is it that overrides common sense, if not the one designed to inflict pain rather than justify?
It was February and Berlin was cold. Trees, houses and all the greens where hidden under cakes of snow, swampy streets and foggy skylines. All these I could make out from the van I was been driven in, through a tiny window space. This van was built to transport criminals as the last half of it was a cage of metals and a lock. This was where I was sited – cage locked, and in handcuffs. To the policemen, they were probably doing another round of a routine, but to me it was horrible, humiliating, to be treated like a criminal, in a cage like an animal and much worse because it was a “crime” against freedom of movement. Every of my being rebelled against this abject subjugation of my freedom. Everything seemed strange and unwelcoming. The police, the air… Berlin.
I felt a sought of a surreal loneliness. Here I was, locked in this van, and I cannot even see where I was driven to or those driving me, all I could discern where series of stops and turns the vehicle made. It was not as if I was going to be physically tortured or killed, but the feeling of heading towards an unknown destination, and moreover against one’s will could play a nasty trick on one’s sense of being and existence. The fact that I am being transported by human beings who are more or less like trained robots in their attitude, made it all the more chilly.
Before the van ride, I had been held at the deportation room at the airport, a room of about 10m² with white walls and a long wooden bench. Nothing else. The first humiliation came when the police came in to do a routine search – on my body. He had clinical gloves on both palms and asked me to undress up to my bare skin, completely naked! I calmly refused, protesting that I passed through the airport surveillance and I had no dangerous object on me. They said it was routine, I told them they may have to skip this one, I could only go until my boxer shots but I will never show them my penis! The policeman stepped out for a bit, then came back and told me it is fine to keep my boxers on.
This scenario will repeat itself on two occasions at the deportation camp of which one of them lead to them trying to force my boxers down.
Now, before the judge, I stood, with the policemen who brought me. She was a female judge. To tell you how tolerant the Germans are to foreigners, none of the Germans in that room, the policemen and the judge inclusive – could speak any other language other than German. However, there was a translator (he was also a lawyer) from Mali with a greasy hair all combed backwards, he looked like he should replace one of those figures in posters of Dark & Lovely. He translated English to German and vice versa. Somehow he gave off the impression of being a puppet on their string.
My first question to the judge was if someone could tell me why I was in handcuffs. The police replied that it was for my protection. I asked, “Protection from myself, from you or whom?” Even though I was careful not to fall into the trap of Africans-are-violent? The answer to that came with an instruction from the judge not to put me on handcuffs henceforth.
The judge looked at my passport and admitted, that my case was that of an uniformed traveller, but the procedures ought to be followed: I will have to be deported to Nigeria! But before then I will be held at the detention camp until the police finalise the modalities of my deportation. By this time, I was having “fun”. I was caught up in the mixed feeling of ending all of this nonsense, and just leaving Berlin, and the curiosity to see what the detention camp is like. So I kept calm, and said myself, “Go with the flow”.
To be continued…
Next: Deportation Camp!