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
Claire looks at her mum, who is in tears.
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On September 24th, 2006, Noruwa Oziegbe gave birth to triplets at Waterford Regional Hospital. She had been expecting twins, the third baby having been missed at antenatal appointments.
Today, in a cramped rented home in Lagos, the six-year-olds – David, Joshua and Miracle – jostle for attention as their mother praises the Irish midwife who insisted there was a third baby. She has a clipping from the Tipperary Voice as a keepsake for the triplets. She has two other sons, 10-yearold Paul and 13-year-old Ose, who is out at secondary school.
Oziegbe says that since their deportation, in March 2012, her boys frequently ask when they are returning to Ireland. They lived there for more than five years. “They go to school and are coming back saying, ‘Oh, Mummy, we are not doing what we used to do in St Mary’s [in Drogheda].’ It is an everlasting thing that will be in their memories.”
Oziegbe, who is from Lagos state, arrived in Ireland in September 2006. Her asylum application claimed that her twins (as was thought) would be made to undergo “a ritual” to “keep them safe”. Her requests for asylum and for subsidiary protection, an EU-mandated status that refers to a risk of serious harm if deported, were refused. She was also declined leave to remain, a status at the discretion of the minister for justice that is meant to consider humanitarian issues, including family circumstances.
On March 8th, 2012, there was banging on the door in Mosney. It was the Garda, who had arrived even though a legal challenge to the refusal of subsidiary protection had been appealed to the Supreme Court (and has yet to be heard).
The gardaí “came in the morning, just like that, and woke them up from the bed,” Oziegbe says. “They took us straight to the airport, and we didn’t leave until that night.
“I cried all the way. When we got to Nigeria it just dawned on me: the first thing was the hot air,” she says. “They felt it. They were all sweating. I don’t know how to explain it – coming down, the hot air, the people, the questioning. They were like, ‘Mummy, what is happening?’ ”
Oziegbe, a pharmacy graduate, has found work. Her husband, who remained in Lagos, is also working, but they struggle to make ends meet. “There are many things that are just not right in this country,” says Oziegbe, who maintains that she is still fearful of issues raised in her asylum claim.
Paul, quiet throughout, decides to say a few words. Speaking flatly and staring ahead, he remembers the Irish Sea, watching films on a Saturday, visiting Scotch Hall Shopping Centre, chatting with friends on the bus, attending church and school. He says school in Nigeria is very different, as it is “hot inside” and “they will beat you if you do something bad”.
Oziegbe says the boys often ask her to ring Dublin Airport and “just tell them we are coming back”.
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In Iyabo Nwanze and Elizabeth Odunsi’s sparse lodgings, a picture entitled Lagos: A Mega City sits on the floor. It reflects ambitious political plans to rehabilitate the infrastructure of this hectic metropolis, but progress will be slow.
Home for the two friends before they were deported from Ireland, in 2005, was a suburban estate in Athlone, in Co Westmeath. Home today is a small section of a house, with bars on the windows to discourage armed robbers, with a rudimentary cooking area just inside the doorway.
“Life has been really difficult,” says Nwanze, a mother of two, “but God has been so good to us and our kids and our families.”