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Once Upon a Time in Cold Berlin – Part 2

Before I delve into the reason that prompted a return to this subject, it is imperative that I continue from where I left off in Once upon a Time in Cold Berlin – Part 1.

As we would normally do at the debuting episode of a new season, let’s go back memory lane!

1. 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”…

2. 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…

3. 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 overstay 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!

4. 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 wishing all of this nonsense would end and I would just leaving Berlin; and the curiosity to see what the detention camp is like. So I kept calm, and said to myself, “Go with the flow”…

If you would like to have the full story, there you go: Once Upon ta Cold Berlin Part 1

Next: Deportation Camp!

The ride to the deportation camp mainly known as abschiebungsgewahrsam, köpenick in German was as surreal as driving to the Judge’s office. All I could make out from inside the van were trees covered in snow. The police officers murmured from time to time in German. There were bends and manoeuvres while they drove cautiously to make up for the slippery road. After what seemed like about 45 minutes, we arrived at the camp. High walls with an equally high gate which opened to allow the van in. It drove across a long expanse and stopped at a second entrance. My first thought was: wow, there is no way anyone can ever escape from here. I could easily be forgotten here and no one will ever know what part of the world I am. There was no sense of location or time(remember that my phone, wrist watch, and everything else were in the custody of the police). Such a situation simulates the feeling of being in prison much more than the actual prison. Imagine being in a situation where you cannot tell when day turns to night or the other way round. In any case, I was again ushered into a common room and subjected to the routine of a head-to-toe search, taking away the remainder of my belongings including my belt and shoe lace. Some German police lead the way until I was brought to a hostel-like kind of space that would be my abode for the next three days.

The room featured a series of bunk beds some of which were unoccupied. I was handed clean drapes and pillow cases and asked to pick my bed from one of the unoccupied ones. At this point I began to have a sense of who my fellow detainees were: Nigerians, Liberians, Ghanians, Camerounians, Ivorians, Guineans, and more – mostly black Africans. It won’t be too long before I got closer to some of them and was allowed a glimpse into their predicaments.

The best way to describe life here is to imagine living in limbo (yes, I know – such imagination is as distant as the afterlife, but I assure you, so is the experiencing of this place). Most of the detainees were awaiting final words from the Judge. Some of them had very complex situations which made it impossible to neither deport them nor grant them residency. A few of them had files currently under investigation and would have to wait out the process. They had lawyers working on their behalf in order to secure the best possible deal. There was this Nigerian man in his late 40s who in a conversation, told me he left Nigeria since 25 years ago. He was one of those who didn’t wither away in the desert or drown in the Mediterranean sea. He made it into Europe. But ever since he has been on the run. For 25 years he is yet to arrive at anywhere.

All those years he never had any official identity document to his name. He lived anonymously, existing like an intangible floating entity, always aware that each wind could blow him to a different corner of Europe or back to Africa. But here’s what’s worse: He would rather stay in the deportation camp than be deported or allowed into Germany. For him the deportation camp was a place of pause from his long, restless and uncertain wanderings from one place to the other for over two decades. He is tired of running, of coming and going, of not knowing what and where will be his bed for the next day. He would not as much as entertain the idea of returning to Nigeria. “To do what?” He blurted. “It’s been 25 years since I left, where will I begin?”.

In life there is no standstill. We twist, we bend, we break. You think life is about what you fall back to at the end of it all. But then you look back and the past is not there to cushion you. The future is far off and so is the light it shines. And you? Standing in the present, cold with trembling knees and a burnout. What will you do when in life there is no standstill?

One thing I found rather disturbing was the fact that the German officer whose post was situated just at the entrance of the cells (better to call them cells even though it gave off the impression of being less restrictive) did not speak any language other than German. If you did not speak German (which was the case for most of the detainees), all communication becomes gestural and subject to mistranslation. Many times I witnessed hostility from the German officers towards the detainees simply for this reason and not because the detainee in question was being uncooperative. Nothing could be more violent than the discouragement of successful communication between gate keeper and inmate in such context. I pondered the logic of this situation. How else could this make sense if not by concluding that as soon as one becomes a detainee he also loses every right to communicate and to be listened to? Does this not relegate human beings to the status of sub-humans no different from a horde of two-legged animals whose vocal utterances are mere garbling sounds to the detainer?

Food was often served at interval of three meals per day. Breakfast was modest with bread, butter, assortments of confiture, tea, coffee and juice. Lunch and dinner ranged from soup and bread to rice and meat. During my three-days stay, food was at our disposal, but never exceeding the practical purpose of filling the stomach. Forget about the quality, that was a luxury far from home.

As there was nothing to do besides wait, we played games. The most frequent of them was table tennis. Sometimes there were money baits of one to five euro. Those who have spent more time in the camp were already conversant with how and what to use money for. There was a sense of conviviality and to an extent relaxedness in the camp. They made do with what solace they had while waiting for their fate to be decided.

I felt more like an observer than a participant in this ordeal. Whatever feeling of apprehension I had was counteracted by a dangling awareness of the rarity of such moments: my ending up here was not solely the outcome of misfortune, but a revelation in disguise. It is a revelation of what lies underneath the prosthesis by which the European society (with its noble-laureate European Union) conceals the fractures inherent in an ideology which continues to illegitimise certain groups of persons, nationalities and races who are aberrations of a singularised notion of human diversity – those who do not fit into the ‘multi-culture’ propaganda driving neocapitalist intentions. I see no other justification for the criminalisation and humiliation of a human being who only happened to be on the wrong side of the line, not that she or he was in any way harmful to anyone or the environment in any form.

On day three, I was told that my flight was ready to take me to Lagos. I was picked up and taken to the airport. After some longer wait I was escorted into the plane by two policemen. There was a transit and change of aircraft in Frankfurt. Again I was escorted by two police officers, one of them a woman. More bureaucracy and finally I was in the plane to Lagos. For the first time, I am returned to my own country as a deportee. There were other Nigerian deportees in the flight as well – they had mixed feeling about going home empty handed and unplanned. As for me, it was a relief to be done with all the gruelling process.

We got to Murtala Mohammed airport Lagos and two immigration officers came into the plane to receive all deportees. On getting to the immigration checkpoint the officer in charge of stamping visitors through said to me: “welcome back to your country. Here you do not have to hide or run. It belongs to you”. A part of me savoured the relief evoked by this comment, the other part me however couldn’t help but cringe from how distant this certainty of home must be for many of those fellows with whom I exchanged goodbyes at the deportation camp.

It’s been 5 years so far. I often think of those detainees I met. What could have happened to them? Where could they be? I still cannot think of them in terms of a location.

Next: Once Upon a Time in a Cold Berlin – Part 3: “It’s not Border control, It is Identity control”.

1 Comment

  1. nia says

    how awful and humiliating and ridiculous, the handcuffs and searches and all. and yet its also, in a way, fortunate that you could have this experience and share your insight about it. there’s still so much going on behind the scenes that we don’t know.


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