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A new batch of 395 Nigerians stranded in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia arrived into Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja on Tuesday via Saudi Air Flight SV3401, the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) has announced. Another batch is expected before the end of the week.
The ICIR can report that at least 6, 975 Nigerians have been evacuated in the first quarter of 2021, according to records gathered from the NIDOCM and the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Five thousand persons were repatriated from Cameroon earlier this month, representing the highest number of Nigerian returnees from any single country this year, after fleeing their indigenous homes for six years due to Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East. They were received by Borno State government in Amchiide, a border community between Nigeria and Cameroon close to Banki in the Bama Local Government Area of the state.
From Saudi Arabia, 1, 969 stranded Nigerians were evacuated by the Nigerian government in direct response to a viral video showing hundreds of Nigerians held in unsanitary and abusive conditions at an immigration detention facility in Riyadh for many months over expired visas. Their evacuation was delayed due to issues around the Covid-19 protocol and the first batch did not return to Nigeria until 28th of January.
India, on the other hand, deported six Nigerians in January for overstaying their visas and not having valid passports.
Meanwhile, some Nigerian embassies have remained closed since Covid-19 pandemic started, making it more difficult for diaspora Nigerians to have their expired passports renewed. In some other cases, restriction to movements has stalled the process.
A doctorate student in Arkansas Oyeronke Afolabi applied for the renewal of her passport in Atlanta last year and was informed after the biometrics and necessary documentation that she would get her passport through the mail box latest by 10th of February.
“Up until now, we are yet to get the passports. My studentship status depends on this passport. I have mailed and called the embassy and yet no response,” she lamented.
Another Nigerian who simply gave her name as Busari narrated a similar tale. She had applied for the renewal of her passport online since December 2020 but there has been no communication from the embassy on how to proceed with the process.
“It’s so frustrating to be a Nigerian to be honest because of what you go through just to get things done using the Nigerian system. Here is the thing, I applied for Nigerian passport renewal at the consulate in New York City. (The) first problem is the appointment that will be automatically generated to pick up your passport after completing your online registration was not available,” she said.
She further explained: “I decided to visit the embassy at 828 2nd Avenue New York in person to know how to proceed. On getting there, no plan or communication as to what or how and reason for no appointment.”
Responding to this issue, spokesperson for the Nigeria Immigration Service Sunday James explained that some countries had directed that all embassies should be shut down, and that the Service would not contravene the law of any country.
When asked if they were plans to find alternative ways to address the problem, James replied rhetorically: “Can you guarantee the security of the passport booklets? If we say that we should take the process to a destination that is not a recognised centre, can you guarantee the country of the safety of the passports?”
It would be recalled that the NIS recently launched an e-temporary passport to afford Nigerians abroad the opportunity of returning to the country in emergency situations.
James confirmed that the circular to this effect had been sent to all the embassies. However, it would take two months from the 9th of March when the new document was launched for countries to perfect the administration process of acceptance before approvals for travels with the e-temporary passport could be granted.