The Federal Government of Nigeria has demanded an explanation from the South African government over last week’s deportation of 125 Nigerian travelers who were turned back at the Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johanesburg for allegedly carrying fake yellow fever clearance certificates.
The government also vowed to react in a “calculated” manner, depending on the outcome of talks between Nigeria and South Africa on Monday morning (5th March) in Pretoria.
Nigerians aboard Arik Air and South African Airways flights were refused entry to South Africa on Friday. The passengers were denied entry by the South African Port Health authority and the immigration service on the ground that they had invalid yellow fever vaccination cards.
Following the action, Arik Air suspended its flight operations to South Africa. It later rescinded the decision, pending further discussions.
Reacting to the deportation, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru said:
“On Friday, I directed our High Commissioner to South Africa, Amb. Yusuf, to formally send a protest note to South African Government about this maltreatment of Nigerian passengers. And that South Africa should stop this harassment.
“First of all, the Federal Government deplores what the South African Immigration officials did to Nigerian passengers by sending them back to Nigeria on the excuse that they were in possession of fake yellow card certificates.
“Number one, the same yellow card certificate is a requirement at the South African Embassy before they can issue you visa. So, the visa officers at the embassy in Nigeria usually crosscheck yellow card certificate submitted by the applicant.
“Having crosschecked and given them visas, why should the Immigration Department at the point of entry say the same certificate that have been crosschecked by their embassy officials is fake.
“And the standard international practice, for countries requiring yellow card, is for them to quarantine passengers without yellow card certificates at the point of entry.
“It is improper to send them back. It is a harsh treatment of Nigerian passengers, it is not good to send them back.
“They should realise that they do not have the monopoly of sending back passengers or ill-treating them at the point of entry.
“Our officials and the South African officials will be meeting on Monday in Pretoria. And thereafter, Nigeria would react in a mature and calculated manner to this obvious maltreatment of Nigerian travellers.”
Ashiru also said Nigeria had been certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a Yellow Fever-free nation and, as such, he did not see why the South African Immigration Services turned back the travellers.
“That is why countries in Europe and the United States do not demand Yellow Fever cards from Nigerian travellers; it is only South Africa and a few countries in the Southern Hemisphere that demand Yellow Fever card from Nigerian travellers.”
Nigeria and South Africa in 2001 established a Bi-National Commission to, among other issues, promote trade and investment. The pact is also to ensure easy visa process.
There are no assurances on what the policy of Monday meeting will be but Arik will make a definitive decision on flight operations between Nigeria and South Africa after this meeting.