Friday, 13 December 2019

Nigerian Government Official: Students Will Return Home from Croatia

Contrary to recent reports that the Bosnian government would be sending two Nigerian students, Abia Uchenna Alexandro and Eboh Kenneth Chinedu, back to their homeland directly from Bosnia, a senior Nigerian government official has confirmed in a press release today that the students will fly back to Nigeria from Zagreb, Croatia instead.

Accusations Against Croatian Police

According to the students’ uncorroborated account, they were approached by Croatian police in Zagreb on the evening of November 17, not allowed to return to their hostel to retrieve their passports and were taken instead to the nearby police station. From there, they were put inro a van with illegal migrants and sent to the Bosnian border where they were forced at gunpoint to enter Bosnia. The Croatian police and manager of the HI Youth Hostel, where the students stayed, have disputed the students’ version of events.

Fear of Returning to Croatia

According to N1 Bosnia on December 11, 2019 – Dragan Mektić, Bosnian Minister of Security explained that the students would be returned to Nigeria directly from Bosnia via the AVR voluntary repatriation program. He noted that the students had expressed fear of returning to Croatia. The students also insisted, in interviews with Žurnal and The Guardian, that they would not return to Croatia without UN escorts. However, a top Nigerian government official has confirmed today that the students will, in fact, be returning to Nigeria from Croatia.


Chairman/CEO of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission Statement

The statement, which was released two hours ago by Abdur-Rahman Balogun, Head Media & Public/Relations, on behalf of the Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), addressed a few of the details surrounding the students’ trip to Croatia. She noted that the Nigerian Mission in Hungary has been involved in securing their return to Nigeria. Recall that the Chairman had disputed portions of the students' account as reported by The Guardian after that article appeared in The Cable, a Nigerian portal.

“The Minister of Foreign Affairs is on this matter. It’s not as straightforward as you have reported, but the Minister has personally intervened. We should give an update as the intervention continues,” she revealed in a tweet on Saturday, December 7.

Didn’t Inform Nigerian Table Tennis Federation

According to today's statement, five students went to the Fifth World InterUniversities Championships in Pula to compete in table tennis. She also pointed out that they attended the event without the knowledge of the Nigerian Table Tennis Federation. She confirmed Croatian police reports that two had returned to Nigeria after the competition and that another student had applied for asylum in Croatia.


Must use Return Tickets Not Seek Asylum

She emphasized that, as condition of their release, the two students, who are currently being held in Bosnia, must use their return flight tickets from Zagreb and cannot seek asylum in Croatia. While she acknowledged that the Croatian police had denied the students’ allegations, she also noted that Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, has demanded a full investigation into the incident. She noted that the students are expected to arrive in Croatia anytime from today December 13, 2019.

The statement, which is printed in full below, can be found here.

The Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, (NIDCOM) Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa has assured that the two Nigerians in Bosnia Camps are hale and hearty and are expected to return to Croatia anytime from today Friday Dec. 13, 2019 preparatory to come back to Nigeria.

This was sequel to series of diplomatic interventions from the Nigerian Mission in Hungary and Mr. Geoffrey Onyema, Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs, who directed for full investigations to be carried out.

It will be recalled that two students of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), Abia Alexandro Uchenna and Eboh Kenneth Chinedu, who attended an international table tennis competition in Croatia, ended up in a Bosnian refugee camp.

She said arrangements have been concluded to send the two Nigerians back to Croatia anytime from today, Friday December 13, 2019, adding that the Nigerian Mission in Hungary has taken steps to ensure that the matter is resolved, and the welfare of the two Nigerians protected.

She said that five of them went for the table tennis event without the knowledge of the Nigerian Table Tennis Federation, two returned over two weeks ago, three of them stayed back while one already applied for asylum.

Although the Croatia Authorities through our Ambassador in Budapest denied the allegation involving maltreatment by the Croatian Police, the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama has demanded full investigation into the matter.

She said the conditions attached to their release include usage of their return tickets from Zagreb, Croatia back to Nigeria and must not seek Asylum in Croatia, just as one of them did already.

Dabiri-Erewa appealed to Nigerians to always inform relevant authorities whenever they go on such trips outside the country and be of good behaviour.

According to a report, Abia Alexandro Uchenna, Eboh Kenneth Chinedu, and three other students, arrived in Zagreb, capital of Croatia, on November 12, for the fifth world inter-university championships held in the country.

They were allegedly arrested while taking a walk around the country’s capital on November 18 as they couldn’t produce relevant documents to the police.

The police officers were reported to have transferred the students to the country’s Bosnia-Herzegovina border, where Croatian authorities had gathered a group of illegal migrants attempting to cross into the country.


Abdur-Rahman Balogun
Head Media & Public/Relations

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Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Croatia MUP: Deported Nigerians are Lying According to Police

Croatia MUP representatives released a statement today regarding the Nigerian students who had reported to the Bosnian portal Žurnal that they were arrested by Croatian police in Zagreb, forcibly taken to Bosnian border and then left there.

Police Claim They Didn’t Act on Skin Color

Croatian police have dismissed those allegations, according to their statement as reported by Index on December 4, 2019.

"Claims that Croatian police acts and condemns individuals on the basis of their skin color are unacceptable and we strongly reject them! The police have verified the accusations of the alleged treatment of the Nigerian nationals in Zagreb on November 17. On November 18, they properly checked out of their hostel in Zagreb with their documents and left," they claim.

The police also announced what they have learned about the case so far.

"The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Croatia have reviewed the allegations made publicly on the Bosnian portal Žurnal, and have determined the following through their research:

- On November 12, five Nigerian nationals entered Croatia, legally and according to proper procedures, to participate in an inter-university competition in Pula. The group consisted of a team leader and four participants.

"The team leader and one participant legally left the Republic of Croatia via the Zagreb Airport, after competing," MUP reported.

Conflicting Accounts of Documents Loss and Dates

Police also say Nigerians checked out of the hostel a day later than they were allegedly expelled from the Republic of Croatia.

"The two Nigerian nationals, who are being mentioned in the Bosnian media, left for Zagreb a day earlier than the rest of the group, and stayed in Zagreb. Therefore, they checked into the Zagreb hostel on November 16 of this year. On November 18, they checked out of their hostel and went to an unknown destination, after paying their expenses and taking their travel documents and personal effects with them.

Therefore, its entirely inaccurate, and we reject the allegation that their documents remained in the hostel, and that police officers of the Zagreb Police Department had acted inappropriately against them. We call attention to the contradictions in their statements and their allegations about how the police officers allegedly dealt with them on November 17. The fact is that they appropriately checked out of their Zagreb hostel on November 18 (a day later). The police had no record their legal departure from the Republic of Croatia, nor did police officers working in the field of illegal migration deal with people with these names," MUP added.

Fifth Participant Tried to Enter Slovenia Twice

MUP also wrote about the group's fifth participant, whose visa expired while he was in Croatia. He received a judgement to leave the European Economic Area (EEA) within 14 days.

"Regarding the fifth participant in the group, it was determined that he left his accommodation in Pula on November 17 of this year. He tried to leave the Republic of Croatia and enter Slovenia at two separate border crossings. On both occasions, Slovenian border police officers denied him entry because he does not possess a Schengen visa. Following these two attempts to cross the border, the Nigerian national arrived at the Central Zagreb Police Station on November 18 and reported the loss of his travel documents. He was offered the option to contact his embassy ​​but refused.

Then He Applied for Asylum in Croatia

Given that his visa had expired on 17 November of this year, he was issued a judgement to leave the European Economic Area (EEA) within 14 days, following an administrative procedure. However, the Nigerian citizen did not leave Croatia, but returned to the Central Police Station in Zagreb on November 27th and expressed his intention to seek international protection in the Republic of Croatia. He was granted protection status and is currently in the Asylum Seekers' Asylum Reception Center in Zagreb. It is important to note that, on this occasion, he presented the travel document which he had previously reported lost," they added.

Police claim that third-country foreign nationals are using legal entry into the Republic of Croatia to attempt to move further to the EU after participating in the activities for which the permits were obtained.

Using Sports Competitions to Enter EU Illegally

"All of the Nigerian nationals had their return tickets for November 17 of this year. Two of them used their air tickets and left Croatia on that day, while the remaining three missed their opportunity to leave Croatia legally. This fact casts real doubt on the intent of their arrival and stay in Croatia.

Police officers had been encountering abuses of alleged and real participation in sports competitions in Croatia during their elevated campaign in the fight against illegal migration. Entering Croatia legally and participating in an approved sports activity is one way for foreign nationals from third countries to continue their journey illegally to their target destination countries in Europe.

The Republic of Croatia has refused entry to nine Nigerian nationals at border crossing this year due to non-compliance with conditions for entry.

Police officers will continue to investigate the allegations and review available facts in this case to determine whether this is another case of abuse of sports competitions for the purpose of illegal migration," MUP concluded.

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