May 18, 2024

After close to a decade of living in Germany, four siblings aged between 11 and 17 were deported to their home country Nigeria in May. Their return forms part of a trend of more and more minors being deported from Germany in recent months.

A tennis racquet, a pair of soccer cleats, a bible, a pencil case — personal items like these are all that’s left of the Ovbiagele family’s life in Germany.

Before their belongings were placed into a storage unit in May, police forcibly entered the apartment of Godsand, Victor, Miracolo, Victoria and their mother Bose in southern Germany on the evening of May 15.

“The police officers came into my room at night and woke me up,” 11-year-old Godsand is quoted as saying in a recent article published in German news magazine Spiegel.

“I was shaking. They said: ‘You will be deported. Pack your things, but only what you can manage.’ We weren’t allowed to talk to mommy. We were afraid. I heard Victoria cry in her room.”

The next morning, the family of five found itself on a chartered flight which took them back to Nigeria from Frankfurt airport. There were 35 other deportees on board, who had been living in Austria, Luxembourg, Sweden and Germany.

Also among the passengers in the coordinated group deportation flight were a number of alleged criminals, who were seen to be chained on their hands and feet.

Reluctant new beginnings in Nigeria

Different people have tried to provide support to the Ovbiagele family since their sudden deportation; one of them is Rex Osa, a native of Nigeria who has been living in Germany for 18 years.

The refugee aid worker was waiting for the four siblings and their mother in Lagos when their plane touched down there, who described their situation as “catastrophic.”

The family have since moved into a small room in Benin City, Bose Ovbiagele’s hometown, with the help of Osa. However, this is only a temporary solution.

According to the Spiegel, the city of 1.5 million people is notorious for being a center of human trafficking and forced prostitution and is considered to be one of the most dangerous places in Nigeria.

The children’s mother agrees with that assessment: she says she had left for Europe seeing no future for her children in Nigeria. She has been raising them on her own since her first husband died and since she separated from the second one.

Despite these many challenges in life, the siblings are now trying to start again in an unfamiliar place 4,600 kilometers away.

“I don’t know if I can find friends here,” 14-year-old Miracolo explains. “I don’t feel safe here. There are people stealing and kidnapping people; they have guns, too.”

Uncertainty for the future
For almost nine years, the family called Kempten their home — a city located in the southern state of Bavaria, about 100 kilometers away from Munich.

The siblings attended elementary school and middle school in the town of 70,000 people, they completed internships, attended church, played in the local soccer club, and learned how to ride a bike.

“Before Germany, I cannot remember anything. We were still young. I don’t know any other country,” 17-year-old Victor told the Spiegel.

“I was about to get my diploma,” Victor’s twin sister Victoria said. “I was already in tenth grade and had completed my oral examinations. I lived in Germany for almost nine years. Was this all in vain?”

The family is still trying to fight for their return with help of Osa and a lawyer, but a final decision could take months. Until then, they have to live in fear of facing assaults, contagious diseases and, above all, uncertainty.

Little hope for a reversal of fortunes
Back in Kempten, the siblings’ friends are also fighting for their return. In June, some 60 people protested in the city on their behalf with banners, saying ‘Bring the Ovbiagele family back!’

However, the overall protection rate for Nigerians in Germany is low: the Ovbiagele’s asylum applications were rejected all the way back in 2016 already.

As a result, for years, the family-of-five were among the around 300,000 people in Germany whose status is referred to as ‘ausreisepflichtig’ — or legally obliged to leave the country.

“Receiving negative letters from the authorities breaks down your psyche,” Victoria told the Spiegel.

“Deportation was always a threat we fought over a lot. It was too much for my mother.”

Deportations on the rise

According to the Spiegel, the Bavarian Refugee Council had criticized the state’s increasingly volatile deportation policy back in February already, highlighting that forced returns from Bavaria now appear to target families with children.

“The Interior Ministry and the foreigners’ offices have become unscrupulous. The cases, in which families are getting deported into hopeless situations, are on the rise,” the council stated at the time.

Almost 13,000 people were deported from Germany last year, according to Spiegel. Among them were 2,196 minors, including fully integrated school children, many of whom have little or no connection to their parents’ home countries.

In many instances, their language skills in German are superior to their abilities to speak their parents’ mother tongues.

Germany’s need for immigration vs. reality
Germany’s present deportation policy, however, is in stark contrast to the fact that the country needs immigrants rather urgently: At the end of June, the EU member state passed its new skilled labor migration law to fill the gap of an estimated 400,000 skilled workers.

Economists say, however, that even this target falls short, claiming that Germany needs a net influx of nearly 1.5 million people — per year.

But not everyone in Germany is in favor of welcoming more foreigners: A survey from May found that one in two Germans are scared of more refugees coming to Germany. Regardless, the government has pledged to invest more into attracting workers from abroad.

This new policy, however, is of little use to the Ovbiagele family; after living in the country for a total of for nine years, Germany eventually threw them out — shortly before they would finally become ready and able to start giving back.

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