The early evacuation of Nigerians from South Africa due to the xenophobic attacks in that country was stalled by the South African Immigration Services, it has been learned.
The chairman of the Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said the South African Immigration Services had insisted on conducting another round of documentation on the returnees.
She said this situation caused the delay in the take-off of the Air Peace flight which was originally scheduled for 9.30am today.
Air Peace flight, which left Nigeria 11:30 pm on September 10, arrived OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg at 4:00 am and Nigerians turned up in their hundreds for the airlift.
The Nigerian High Commission was reported to have prepared travel documents for the returnees but the South African Immigration stalled the process and wanted to know how the Nigerians came into the country and began to arrest them, an official of the commission disclosed.
“South Africa is frustrating Nigeria. The Air Peace aircraft has been there since 4:00 am but their immigration started giving our High Commission problems. They said some Nigerians didn’t have papers. Immigration started arresting them, asking them to explain how they came to South Africa.
“About 10 minutes ago, only 182 Nigerians were allowed to board the flight; the rest were barred by South Africa Immigration. The aircraft has on, burning fuel since 4:00 am. They are not happy that Nigeria is evacuating its citizens because they don’t want the world to know that a Nigerian airline and the Nigerian government are evacuating them.
“Our high commission is having a tough time with the South African government. They are stopping and arresting Nigerians, saying they should explain how they came into the country,” the official said.
About 188 Nigerians eventually boarded the Air Peace plane after over seven hours delay.
Flight time from South Africa to Nigeria is approximately six hours; so the plane is expected to land at 8.30pm.
Air Peace said the evacuation of Nigerians from South Africa would cost the airline about N300 million, which includes the payment of passenger service charge, aeronautical and other charges in addition to the cost of operation.
Dabiri on her part said that on arrival, the returnees would be profiled and given stipends in the form of transport fares that would take them to get to their respective states of origin.