Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Illegal at Home: Are Deportees and Non-Admitted Travellers Criminalized in their Countries of Origin?



Time to read

5 Minutes

Guest post by Dr Maybritt Jill Alpes, a ‘Migration Law as Family Matter’ researcher at the VU Amsterdam. Jill’s research combines anthropology with law focusing on different aspects of the governance of migration. She has recently published on consulate officers in Social and Legal Studies, migration aspirations in Identities and flows of information on migration risks in African Diaspora. In this post, Jill investigates how migration control in Europe changes the position of foreign-nationals vis-à-vis their own state authorities. You’re invited here to contribute to the discussion on the insecurities and threats that deportees and non-admitted travellers face upon landing at the airport of their country of nationality.

International Airport of Yaoundé, Cameroon. (Credit: M J Alpes)
When they catch you there with a problem, no matter whether small or big, they will just frighten you to send you to prison.’ Miranda (not her real name) is talking about the police post at the main international airport in Douala, Cameroon. She had been deported from Germany after one month of visiting her family. I met and talked with her at the airport upon her arrival back to Cameroon in January 2014. ‘There are some people that when you arrive at the airport, they allow them to go,’ she tells me. ‘They do not trouble them,… but sometimes if they catch you, then you have to spend some money before you go.’ As Miranda didn't have money on her when she was suddenly forced to return to Cameroon, she relied on her sister to generate the necessary financial means to buy her way out of the airport.

From November 2013 to January 2014, I regularly went to the police post at the airport in Douala. As much as possible, I tried to talk with travellers who returned involuntarily to Cameroon and were now waiting at the police post to be allowed to leave the airport. Usually, the police post would fill up overnight with at least four or five people. These were deported migrants, participants in (voluntary) return programmes, or what in airport jargon is referred to as ‘non-admissables.’ People in this last category had successfully gone through the different exit controls at Douala airport and had flown to their respective destination, but were then rejected as ‘non-admissables’ by immigration officers at the airport of their destination. Immigration officers at control posts at airports of destination can refuse entry to travellers on suspicion of fraud, as well as on more formal grounds, such as a disrespect of a specific regulation concerning overlays or insufficient documentation to prove means of subsistence during travel. Since the introduction of carrier sanctions in Europe in the 1980s, airline companies are responsible for immediately returning to the country of origin―at their own expense―those passengers not admitted upon arrival.

Courtyard of the prison where Robert was detained for three months. (Source: CamNews24)
Amongst the different involuntarily returned travellers, ‘non-admissables’ are the most vulnerable to state authorities upon arrival in Cameroon. Robert (not his real name), for example, became a ‘non-admissable’ when he attempted to return to Turkey where he’d been working without a residence permit for several years. He had visited Cameroon for a few weeks to attend the funeral of both his father and sister. Although he hadn't been granted a visa to Turkey, he returned there by obtaining a visa to Dubai and purchasing a Turkish Airline flight with a layover in Istanbul. His passport and visa adhered to all requirements as he exited Cameroon. During his layover in Istanbul he attempted entry into Turkey with the passport of a Cameroonian friend who had a residence permit. The Turkish officers noticed that Robert was not the official owner of the passport and refused him entry. Turkish Airlines had to return Robert to Douala where the police prosecuted him for ‘having attempted to emigrate illegally.’ This is an offence based both on national law that defines the legal entry and exit of nationals and foreigners, and on what constitutes fraud according to the Cameroonian criminal code.
Prison convoy arriving at the court where Robert's case will be heard. (Credit: M J Alpes)
I met Robert in prison and followed his court proceedings. His cousin spent €50 on officers at the judicial police, €50 on the state council’s secretary, €150 on the State Council himself, and €200 on the Judge. During his imprisonment, Robert relied on money from his cousin to avoid the prison meals that caused him digestive problems. For Robert to have a bed in a separate cell, his cousin spent €150. When prison officers added other inmates to his cell, however, Robert started sleeping on the ground in the open courtyard with everyone else. In the Cameroonian prison system, preventive detainees are held with convicted criminals. Inmates can become subject to rape, murder, or other acts of violence. After three months of imprisonment, the cousin’s financial contributions led to a court sentence of three months, meaning that Robert had already served his sentence by the time it had finally been pronounced.

As a deportee, Miranda wasn't put into prison. She did, however, have to spend three nights and three days in preventive detention upon arrival to Cameroon,  the country of her nationality. During three days in detention at the airport of Douala, Miranda was allowed to wash herself once. She was able to eat because her sister brought her food. Miranda told me how a female police officer lent her a private phone so that she could call her sister: ‘[My sister] was doing all the negotiations. Otherwise I believe they would have sent me to prison.’ After three days, the police commissioner asked Miranda’s sister for the equivalent of €1,000 for her release. Her sister first brought the equivalent of €300 and later added another €150. Miranda refused to buy an additional bottle of whiskey to encourage the release of her passport. With another €10, Miranda was eventually able to retrieve her passport a few weeks after her release.

Miranda and Robert had to negotiate their exit from the airport and prison with police officers and judges who considered it an important part of their work to combat fraud. The European Union and its member states are involved in this combat against fraud by mobilizing migration and development funds to finance civil registry reforms and police training. Furthermore, France, for instance, has two international liaison officers in Cameroon, who amongst others regularly patrol both the international airport of Douala and Yaoundé. When I interviewed these liaison officers, neither showed an interest or awareness of how Cameroonian state actors receive national deportees or not-admitted travellers upon their return. Their priority lay with the confiscation of fraudulent French civil registry documents.

The Cameroonian case raises important questions with regards to how deportation and non-admission in the European Union can transform relations between involuntarily returning third-country nationals and authorities in emigration countries. What happens to deportees and non-admitted travellers upon their return from Europe to their countries of nationality? How do police officers in emigration countries receive these ‘failed’ travellers? What are the responsibilities of the European Union and its member states when collaborating with police forces of emigration countries?

In the follow-up of research findings in Cameroon, a group of colleagues and students from Sciences Po Paris and the VU Amsterdam set up a collaboration to better investigate the human insecurities that deportees and non-admitted travellers can face in the hands of state authorities upon return to the countries of their nationality. The project is exclusively concerned with direct air travel between emigration countries and EU member states. In particular, we seek address the following questions:

  • In which countries are (i) deportees and/or (ii) non-admitted people subjected to (a) monetary extortions, (b) threats of imprisonment, and/or (c) imprisonment upon arrival at the airport of their country of nationality?
  • Which emigration countries prosecute their nationals for having attempted to emigrate illegally?

Findings of this collaborative project will be presented at two events in Brussels in May 2015. In the meantime, I welcome any comments, feedback, and recommendations for sources. You may contact me via email, but please feel free to provide your feedback in a comment to this post so it's available to others who may also be interested in it.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style): Alpes, M J  (2014) Illegal at Home: Are Deportees and Non-Admitted Travellers Criminalized in their Countries of Origin? Available at: http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/deportees-non-admitted-travellers/ (Accessed [date]).

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