By Temitope Ponle and Isaac Aregbesola
Nigeria and European Union (EU) are working to have an agreement that will facilitate the repatriation of Nigerians living illegally in EU countries.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Sunday in Abuja that the EU also sought to engage with the government in providing vocational training for those who had been repatriated.
The EU for now, he explained was trying to have a collective agreement with Nigeria covering all the EU countries so that there can just be a one-stop-shop and everybody can repatriate Nigerians.
“We are looking to see whether it will not be fairer to just have separate bilateral agreements rather than one omnibus agreement with the EU.
“In fact, the EU wants to engage with us in helping to provide vocational training programmes for Nigerians who have been repatriated so that they do not come back, have nothing to do, have no skills and have no choice but try and go back again.
“So they are also keen to cooperate with us to provide skills development for them.”
The minister noted that the issue of migration had become a priority for most EU countries.
He said it was pertinent to engage with the EU to ensure that the “legal rights of Nigerians, be they irregular or regular migrants, are fully respected”.
Onyeama dismissed claims that some Nigerians were deported from some countries without the knowledge of the Nigerian Government.
He explained that opportunities were given for migrants to exhaust all legal rights open to them before repatriation.
He said this was in line with bilateral agreements on repatriation which Nigeria had signed with some countries.
“The ones from Libya wanted to come home because the conditions in which they were staying were deplorable so it was a question of facilitating their return home.
“Of course, you know that Libya is almost a failed state at the moment so it is not advisable for any Nigerian to be in that country at the moment.’’
With regard to the UK, he said Nigeria had an agreement which stipulates that that country could not deport without Nigeria’s cooperation.
“So, you have to first identify and be sure, we insist, that the person is Nigerian and we insist also that the person has exhausted all their rights.
“At the moment, these things stand; it is not possible for the UK to unilaterally repatriate without our cooperation,” he said.
The minister further said the government was not oblivious of the economic situation in the country and stressed the need for an enabling environment for all citizens.
“The prime responsibility rests with us; we, as a government, have to provide for our citizens and that is what Mr President is trying to do in the restructuring of the economy.”
No fewer than 250 Nigerians have been deported from different European countries since January, including the 50 that were repatriated on Thursday from eight countries for immigration-related offences. (NAN)