Guest post by Jill Alpes, migration researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and co-author of the new Policy Brief on Post-Deportation Risks. This policy brief proposes a typology of different forms of post-deportation risks, discusses how migration management is implicated in the creation of these risks and calls for effective human rights monitoring during and after forced returns. Jill is on Twitter @MJAlpes.
New Bell. Makala. These are infamous prisons in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), respectively. I first heard about New Bell from Florence in 2008 (all names have been changed) – a dynamic young woman who at the age of 22 was already an orphan and the only breadwinner for her family of five siblings. Florence wanted to travel abroad to work and better support her family back in Cameroon. She was confident about her capacity to do any kind of work to earn money. For her, the only real danger of leaving her country through irregular means, she told me, was the possibility of being detained and imprisoned by the Cameroonian police in the case of a forced return. ‘You can die in New Bell’, she asserted.
Florence’s story stimulated my interest to examine post-deportation risks. Following my research on transcontinental migration in Cameroon (2007- 2014), I commissioned a desk study with students from Sciences Po Paris, who carried out a survey of references to post-deportation risks in country of origin reports in 2014. In addition, I conducted first hand empirical research with deportees and state agents in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Turkey in 2016.
People can be forcibly returned at different stages of their migration journey. Some are deported long after arriving in the host country. Others are never allowed entry and are returned immediately from the border. Robert for instance, who I met in the prison of New Bell in Cameroon in 2013, had not been admitted into Turkey upon arrival at Istanbul airport. Upon return to Cameroon, he spent one month in prison for the offence of 'having attempted to emigrate through irregular means'.
According to the principle of non-refoulement, countries are prohibited from returning individuals to unsafe situations. Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights protects individuals from being returned to countries, where they are likely to be subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment. Notwithstanding such provisions, reports of torture, disappearances, and deaths of returnees provide evidence that forced returnees can face insecurity and threats by state and non-state agents in the country to which they are returned. Despite this evidence, states and international organizations do not systematically collect information about what happens to forced returnees. A country catalogue published by the Post-Deportation Monitoring Network points out this gap and reports post-deportation risks, such as monetary extortions, detention and torture in a number of countries, including Albania, Algeria, Cameroon, Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Haiti, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Tunisia and Pakistan.
Failed asylum seekers, in particular, can be in grave danger upon return. In theory, deporting states are not allowed to pass on information about the asylum history of deportees. In practice, leakages can occur. Based on information gathered in the field, through interviews with Congolese police officers, newly developing collaborations between deporting states and foreign police officers and the potential presence of intelligence agents at some countries’ Embassies in Europe facilitate such leakages. Failed asylum seekers can be at risk upon return in cases where their application was unduly turned down, if they fabricated fraudulent documents in their quest to overcome the high threshold for evidence in asylum claims or because officials in countries of origin accuse asylum seekers of having tarnished the regime in power during their asylum application.
During a research visit to Kinshasa, I came across the case of a deportee from Belgium who was sent to Makala because his asylum application contained fraudulent documents. Another man, called Vincent, a Congolese national who had lost his refugee status following a criminal offence in Canada, was detained for 55 days in a military prison under extremely harsh and degrading conditions. I also met a voluntary returnee who was detained for two days in an underground cell of the Congolese intelligence service. In Cameroon and Congo, prison inmates rely on family members to bring them food and other vital commodities. A mattress to sleep on, access to toilets and access to water are all ‘extra’ services that prison inmates need to pay for themselves.
To avoid problems upon return, a large number of those deported to DRC with whom I spoke had arranged for safe passage by asking family members to make informal arrangements with police officers at the airport. These arrangements cost between 20$ to 200$. Me and women who fail to make these arrangements can see themselves confronted with the arbitrary behavior of police officers, such as the confiscation of their luggage –often the only belongings they managed to save at the time of deportation after years of living abroad.
Besides risks of detention, financial extortions and potential inhumane and degrading treatment, deportations also have consequences for family ties and social protection. How will a woman who gives birth just after a forced return be able to maintain relations with the father of her child who is still in Europe? How can deportees access their pension claims after their forced return? How do children born in Europe adapt to their parents’ country after forced return? How can a deportee from eastern Congo raise money for a flight from Kinshasa to Goma? These are all questions, which have been overlooked in the policy domain so far. A Policy Brief of the Danish Institute for International Studies provides tools to close this gap and rethink the costs of deportations.
Despite stringent migration control practices, Robert today is living and working in Kuwait. Vincent fears a renewed appraisal by the intelligence police in Kinshasa and is thus talking with migration brokers to help him leave Congo for Europe. As for Florence, she passed away in 2010 because she did not have access to health care in Cameroon. Her younger siblings had to quit school and now work to provide for themselves.
It is important that what happens after deportation does not go unnoticed. A better examination of the human costs of forced returns and the political responsibilities of European states for post-deportation risks is called for. Only by listening to the human stories behind the closed doors of Europe, can we engage in an informed discussion about the security effects of European migration policies in a comprehensive manner.
Acknowledgements: I wish to thank and acknowledge the work of Charlotte Blondel, Marie Conciatori, Nausicaa Preiss, Meritxell Sayos Monras, Suzanne Seiller and Janine Uhlmannsiek, who contributed to the “Airport Casualties: Migration Control, Human Rights and Countries of Origin” project at Sciences Po Paris, Barbara Harrell-Bond, Themba Lewis, Annemarie Busser and the editors of this Blog.