When asylum seekers go home
What kind of life awaits asylum seekers who are sent back to their native countries? The Irish Times travels to Lagos, in Nigeria, to find out
In Lagos: Noruwa Oziegbe and her six-year-old triplets, Joshua, Miracle and David, who were born at Waterford Regional Hospital. Photograph: Akinola Ariyo
In Lagos: Claire Ojomu, who was born in Our Lady’s Hospital in Drogheda, with her mother, Funmi, outside their lodgings. Photograph: Akinola Ariyo
In a rundown one-bedroom home in Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city, Funmi Ojomu sifts through remnants of another time and place, papers that unfold an abruptly terminated narrative. An Irish birth certificate records her daughter Claire’s arrival at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, in April 2007. As she was born after January 1st, 2005, Claire was not automatically entitled to citizenship. Ojomu also still has adult-education scrolls with grades that fostered a quiet hope that she would be allowed to stay in Ireland, and the worn letterhead of the Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan, an immigrant advocate, reflecting a search for help as the end neared.
After three years as an asylum seeker in the Mosney accommodation centre, in Co Meath, and a few days in Mountjoy women’s prison, pending “removal”, a narrative of uncertainty became a tale of daily survival. “You are thrown back to a bleak place where there is no hope,” she says.
Claire sits quietly on the sofa. She is light in complexion, owing to an expatriate father who may have left Nigeria. On the thronged, sandy streets she goes into a shell when people call out “oyinbo” (“white person” in Yoruba). The kidnap-for-ransom gangs present a sharper concern. “They wouldn’t know that I don’t even have a penny,” says Ojomu. “I whisper it to God: ‘Don’t let her just be a victim, because I don’t know what I would do.’ ”
Since their deportation, in December 2009, Claire, who has had malaria “several times”, often speaks of Ireland. “Claire, what do you always tell mummy? Don’t be shy,” Ojomu gently prompts, and Claire says softly, “Want to go back.”
A grubby curtain shrouds a tiny kitchen without running water. A torch on Ojomu’s table speaks of a shaky electricity supply.
Nigeria’s economy has grown strongly in recent years, but most people have not benefited in this nation that is tired of paradoxes. Corruption and mismanagement facilitated by western organisations – the NGO Global Witness reported in 2010 on British banks and “dirty money” from Nigeria, for example – have long thwarted the enormous potential of this oil-rich nation, and daily sustenance, employment and school fees are all huge challenges for Ojomu.
She bears a painful-looking hand injury, which she cannot afford to have treated. “You fall victim to so many things,” she says, “because you want to survive.”
Ojomu came to Ireland seeking asylum in December 2006. Applicants must show a “well-founded fear of persecution”. She claimed that a member of her family threatened her pregnancy, as Claire’s father was a Muslim and her own family were Christian.
A “friend” arranged her travel to Ireland and met her in Dublin, advising that she “declare” herself in the country. At Mosney she got three meals a day and €19.10 a week (as well as €9.60 a week for Claire) but was not allowed to work. Ojomu kept busy with volunteer work as the weeks, months and years ticked by.
Since they were deported they have had no contact with the person who she says threatened her.
Ojomu’s main concern is her daughter. “By the time the person spends over two years adapting to the culture and everything, they are thinking, Oh, things might be better now, I’ll get myself together here,” she says. “But suddenly you are back to square one again. For a child who was born over there and who had never been in this country . . . the first thing they will be faced with is no light, no water, mosquitoes. If it is only me . . . I can go through it, but she is too small for this.”