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I simply detest it whenever someone single me out, especially pertaining to the immigration issue.

 After all, there was no 9/11 yet. After all, I would never engage in anything

that may tarnish my image, and that of my country. 

 

 

Living with Immigration Torture

By Hakeem Babalola

 

X-rayed in Malta

In June 1990, I was subjected to a search at Malta Airport. The officers did their job with care and dignity as they stretched me to the limits. They had to take me to the hospital after about an hour delay. It was there doctors x-rayed my chest, or should I say my body. What were they searching for? No one cared to tell me. After they had satisfied with me, my passport was returned, and then I was allowed to go. "Enjoy your stay in Malta," said the immigration officers who had accompanied me to the hospital.

I do not remember what I felt on that day, but I knew they attacked my good name and reputation. I knew I was charged falsely or with malicious intent. Although the officers refused to tell me my offence, I had obtained from one of the doctors that it was drug they were looking for. I was not angry but I remember I was sad. I thanked God. What if they had deliberately planted it during the x-ray? May Tochi, a Nigerian youth whose soul was abruptly terminated by Singaporean government for drug peddling – rest in peace. Soul rest in perfect peace.

Dollar Before Entering Rome

In March 1995, I was on transit in Italy en-route Nigeria, my country. My transit visa allowed me to stay in Italy for two days if I so wish. I was the only non-white on the plane. Along the immigration control I was separated from other passengers by a man appeared to be immigration officer. He pointed to another route for me to follow. I refused, especially when he could not tell me the reason why among hundreds of passengers, I was singled-out. I was already furious but quickly suppressed such "evil" emotion. Anger has never helped me solve any problem. He followed me to the immigration counter where his colleague demanded for my passport. I handed it.

"Nigaria," he announced rather than said, grimly. He then leafed through my passport. "You live Budapest . . . show me ID card."

"My Hungarian ID is for Hungary only," I retorted though it was with me.

"You want stay two day in Rome."

"I’m on transit."

"How much you have?"

"You’re not my financial advisor."

It was at that moment he referred my case to his superior officer, who was not as rude. He too inspected my passport. "Okay, just show us $100."

"I have no money to show . . . I’m going to my country."

"Then you won’t see Rome."

"That’s fine with me. Absolutely fine with me."

Oh heck! I wasn't going to spend my money in Rome anyway.  Besides, Nigeria was where my heart was.

On my way back, Italian immigration officers ordered Africans to form a separate line. Some of us protested, while some obeyed. Among those who obeyed was a Nigerian lady whose two little children carried British passport. It was genuine for they eventually allowed her to go, but she had to stay in a different line specially made for non-whites. They turned a deaf ear to our protest to know the reasons behind such segregation.

How Many Kilo Do You Carry [Into America]?

In October 1996 – my first visit to the USA – America subjected me to their awful poetry of guilty by association. My ordeal started immediately we disembarked. I was not the only non-white, but I was certainly the only Nigerian. A woman positioned herself in front of the aircraft as if she had been waiting for a scapegoat. As soon as she saw me – someone must have previously described me in details – she flashed her badge (custom), pointing to me to move aside. I ignored her – completely. Being a custom officer even gave me added confidence to neglect her. Besides, I simply detest it whenever someone single me out, especially pertaining to the immigration issue. After all, there was no 9/11 yet. After all, I would never engage in anything that may tarnish my image, and that of my country.

I continued walking. She followed me closely while making use of her walkie-talkie. Honestly, I was not afraid even though I had not travelled extensively then. But I knew I would have to see the immigration before custom. Within a twinkle of an eye, two men had joined in pursuing me. They were far from me but I knew their mission. They were closely observing me. For what, I thought. It was then it dawned on me that I might have opened a can of worms. 

Miami Airport is quite long. By the time I reached the immigration, the two gentlemen flashed their badges. "Immigration," one of them said.

"Good," I retorted.

And so my agony started. They demanded my passport, and then other documents. I handed it but it was obvious they were not satisfied. And so the drama (for that was what it was) started.

"Why didn’t you take a direct flight?" 

"Because it’s much more expensive."

"What were you doing in Amsterdam?"

"I was on transit"

"What’s your mission in the United States?"

"To join the Meridian Ship as a crew member."

Furore in Amsterdam

Then it flashed into my mind that I had caused furore in Amsterdam when I refused to declare my mission upon interrogation by Delta Airline desk officers in Amsterdam. For fifteen minutes I stood my ground, claiming that my mission in the United States was none of their business since they were not immigration officers. Besides, I had crew member visa in my passport. My Hungarian colleagues with the same visa were allowed to pass without any question. It was humiliation that brought tears. But I was determined not to show them my documents other than my passport –  the only document demanded from my Hungarian colleagues. Eventually, they allowed me to board since I won’t burge.   

Now I was facing the penalty?

"Where is your Hungarian I.D or something?" asked one of the immigration officers.

"In my passport. It’s in my passport."

He didn’t check it. "Any document from your employer?"

"Yes" I gave it to them.

"Original?"

"That’s all I received. It’s what others received too."

"You’re not going to New York tonight," the woman charged or boasted. "You’re going back to Lagos."

Lagos? I laughed. It was a joyful laugh. And it was at that moment I knew they did not even know what they were doing. Because I did not even obtain my visa in Lagos. There’s no way I could have been deported to Lagos. I laughed again when I realised that my laughter was hurting her. Let her be tortured like they were torturing me – just for the fun of it. I do not remember all the conversation, but I definitely remember the woman cutting in.

"Don’t play with me," she said with authority, "How many kilo do you carry?"

My joyful laugh flashed itself again. I was indignant at the way I was being treated, but I remained  confident. "What!"

I was later told that my profile fitted that of a typical drug pusher. More than six months to be spent in America with only one hand luggage without any check-in; I did not only passed through Amsterdam where drugs are legalised to a certain amount, but I had caused furore. The drama was going on when one of them who had disappeared suddenly re-surfaced. "Let the boy go," he said. He had phoned my employer. What surprised me most was how quickly they changed their hostile attitude. They flashed their best smiles. It was contagious despite the sadness. "Welcome to the United States of America . . . it is because your country is in the black book of America."

And so what? I departed with the quote from one of their forefathers, "It is better for hundred criminals to go scot-free than to punish one innocent person." Although my subsequent visits were smooth, the experience of that day lingers on.

Egyptian Immigration Deported Two Nigerians

In July 2004, I witnessed a situation whereby two Nigerians – a man and a woman – were sent back from Cairo Airport to Murtala Muhammad Airport. The man on the suspicion that his British visa was fake, while the woman on the suspicion that she had improperly obtained her Nigerian passport. I found out what appeared to be the truth, but then Egyptian immigration officer is neither British nor Italian immigration officer.

Passport Scrutiny in Hungary

In July 2006, I was going to Ireland to participate in a Socrates Course for Secondary School Teachers. It was on that day I realised the advantage of arriving much earlier at the airport. Hungarian immigration subjected me to a forty-minute-passport verification. My grudge was not even the eternity it took them to accept the genuineness of my passport, rather the logic behind such scrutiny.

For example, I have in my passport several in and out Hungarian stamps. Doubting the authenticity of my passport means the officer who delayed me on that very day was either doing it as a routine (Hungarian authority has seized many "suspicious" Nigerian passports) or never trusted the judgement of his colleagues who had stamped my passport more than fifty times, or simply transparently being mischievous.

Although it pains each time they punish me for the crimes they usually claim are being committed by fellow Nigerians, or being discriminated against because of my race, I take a little surreptitious pleasure in the fact that I and others like me have shown that not all Nigerians are criminals. And that to tell you the truth is my consolation for the immigration torture.

posted 15 February 2007

Hakeem Babalola is currently teaching English Communication in Budapest, Hungary. He loves writing, a vehicle by which he rides to relieve himself of certain emotions. His articles have appeared in Nigerian newspapers including Nigerian Tribune, Daily Champion, Vanguard, Daily Trust respectively. He is also a contributor to several online magazines like Nigeriavillagesquare.com, Chatafrikarticles.com, voiceofnigerians and a host of others. Hakeem is a member of Association of Hungarian Journalists.  

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

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The Women Jefferson Loved

By Virginia Scharff

According to historian Scharff, Thomas Jefferson’s “most closely guarded secrets, the most fiercely maintained silences, all had to do with the women he loved.” It stands to reason that in order to fully understand a man as tremendously gifted and as deeply flawed as Thomas Jefferson, one must also understand and appreciate the women who collectively formed the foundation of his life and shaped the nature of his legacy. Although Jefferson’s mother, daughters, granddaughters, wife, and enslaved mistress were all fascinating women who played distinct roles in his life and legend, they were also creatures of their time and place, living, enduring, and playing by the rules of a patriarchal, male-dominated society. By studying these women Scharff not only opens a window to the heart and soul of one of our nation’s founders but also resurrects their own contributions to our nation’s history.—Booklist

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. Lisa Adkins, University of London

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Let Freedom Ring:  A Collection of Documents

from the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners

By Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Matt Meyer

Within every society there are people who, at great personal risk and sacrifice, stand up and fight for the most marginalized among us. We call these people of courage, spirit and love, our heroes and heroines. This book is the story of the ones in our midst. It is the story of the best we are.—Asha Bandele, poet and author of The Prisoner's Wife

As a convicted felon, I have been prevented from visiting many people in prison today. But none of us should be stopped from the vital work of prison abolition and freeing the many who the U.S. holds for political reasons. Let Freedom Ring helps make their voices heard, and presents strategies to help win their release.—
Daniel Berrigan SJ, former Plowshares political prisoner and member of the FBI Top Ten Wanted List.

Contributors include Mumia Abu-Jamal, Dan Berger, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, Bob Lederer, Terry Bisson, Laura Whitehorn, Safiya Bukhari, The San Francisco 8, Angela Davis, Bo Brown, Bill Dunne, Jalil Muntaqim, Susie Day, Luis Nieves Falcon, Ninotchka Rosca, Meg Starr, Assata Shakur, Jill Soffiyah Elijah, Jan Susler, Chrystos, Jose Lopez, Leonard Peltier, Marilyn Buck, and many more.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        

Enjoy!

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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