By Femi Akinola & Yahaya Ibrahim, Lagos
Majority of the Togolese immigrants who are living temporarily at the Lagos State-owned camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) at Igando and Agbowa are women and children who have lived in Benin Republic for 10 years until recently when the Beninoise authority expelled them from the neighbouring country.
Most of the younger ones among them looked malnourished. The elderly too are not different in their appearances. Although few of them could speak English, majority of them speak their dialect while some of them speak French fluently.
Apparently not aware of the travail of their parents, children of the immigrants were seen playing around in the camp when Daily Trust visited the relief camp.
The literate ones among them knew they are yet to reach their final destination as they have been made to understand that Agbowa and Igando Relief Camp were meant for Internally Displaced People within the state and not meant for foreign nationals seeking asylum. Thus, they were not sure of what decision the Federal Government of Nigeria will take about them.
These Togolese immigrants who are 199 in number, 85 of them camped at Agbowa Relief Camp and 110 housed at Igando are presently being fed daily by the Lagos State government.
Daily Trust learnt from officials of the camps that the 85 immigrants at the Agbowa camp have been there since last Saturday. Our correspondents report that the halls at the camp were well kept with beds and mattresses to lie on and have a clinic, recreation facilities.
Before the Togoles were expelled from Benin Republic, the they claimed they have live in the country for 10 years after they have ran away from their country due to alleged persecution.
They explained that they entered into Nigeria through bush path and spent weeks to arrive at the United Nations Office for Refugees in Ikoyi, Lagos, but lamented that the agency was unable to cater for them before they took to the streets and begged to survive.
Speaking to Daily Trust at Agbowa’s camp, the leader of the immigrants, Aholou Koffi said they fled Togo 10 years ago due to the country’s presidential election which resulted in political unrest in the country.
According to him, they were hunted down by the government for campaigning against the re-election of the son of the former Head of State, Faure Gnassingbe Nyadema in 2005.
The 50 years old man who said he was detained by the Benin police three times said the government of Benin Republic refused to grant them the status of refugees throughout their 10 years in the country adding that more than 20 of them have died.
“We were treated like outcast by the government of Benin Republic throughout the 10 years of our stay in the country. Our living there was like living in hell. For those 10 years, we stayed in open tents and the government refused to give us the status of refugee. Right now, as I speak the office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Benin Republic has been closed down,” he alleged.
Koffi who showed pictures of bruises on his head and other parts of his body while in detention to corroborate his allegations said: “We are all African brothers. I don’t know why we should be treated like animals by our home government and the Beninoise government for ten years.”
Giving details about how they arrived in Nigeria, he said, 705 of them left Benin Republic in batches but have to pass through bush paths to avoid immigration and customs men at the Seme and Idi-Iroko border.
“Only six of us arrived Nigeria on the 10th of June, 2015 and we went straight to the office of the National Commission for Refugee were I introduce myself and I told them about the others coming on their way but a woman at the office accused me of bringing refugees to Nigeria.”
He said, the Refugee’s Commission gave them two rooms at Igbogbo near Ikorodu where more than 20 of them were staying in a room.
“When we continue to increase in number, we went back to the UN Refugee Office before the Lagos State Government brought us to this place,” he added.
On how they are faring at the camp, he commended the Lagos State government for taking care of them stressing that they are staying in the kind of rooms provided for the first time since 10 years.
Some of the immigrants that speak with Daily Trust at the Igando camp said they were not thinking of going back to their country in the nearest future. They argued that they fear the Togolese government would still hunt for them.
One of the immigrants, Sallah Songo Kojjo who was at the camp with his wife and four children said that they are not thinking of going back to their country in the nearest future. “There is no freedom and liberty in Benin and Togo unlike in Nigeria where there is democracy. We will be happy if the Nigerian government can grant us asylum,” Kojjo said.
Their leader, Koffi also called on Nigerian government to grant them stay permit in the country. “We appealed to the government of Nigeria to give us asylum because the government in Togo who hunted us for campaigning for the opposition is still in power so we cannot go back and we are not thinking of going back for now,” he said.
In an interview with Daily Trust at the Agbowa camp, the General Manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Michael Akindele explained that the State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode directed the agency to ensure the immigrants are temporarily camped when he was informed that they were loitering about at the office of the UN for refugee at Ikoyi.
According to him, “since they arrived, the state government through LASEMA has been responsible for their upkeep.” He however, pointed out to the fact that the Togolese were not refugees but people who found their way into the country illegally.
The LASEMA boss stressed that the state decided to camp them in order not to constitute nuisance in the streets of Lagos pending when the Federal Government would do the needful.
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