“WE ARE all involved in a common problem,” writes Ngugi wa Thiong’o in his book Homecoming, “how best to build a true communal home.” On Saturday, the acclaimed Kenyan writer delivered the VS Naipaul memorial lecture at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine. His powerful presentation laid bare the role played by Caribbean writers in shaping African politics and ideas. It was a reminder of the irrelevance of borders in the realm of the imagination.
Yet while Ngugi was proving a compelling demonstration of the ties that bind, others were gearing up to discuss the dismal realities of international relations and to make a plea for African nationals to be deported.
Speaking on Saturday evening at the National Action Cultural Committee’s 37th annual Emancipation Day dinner at the JFK Auditorium, UWI, St Augustine, Nigeria’s High Commissioner Hassan Jika Ardo called for the deportation of those Nigerian nationals being housed at the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) who may have fled their homeland to avoid prosecution for crimes including corruption. At the same time, the high commissioner also called for equal treatment of Nigerian detainees claiming asylum due to political persecution.
Both individuals brought home the need for a more comprehensive refugee and asylum policy; for greater international co-operation; and for a deeper engagement of diaspora issues within policymaking, inclusive of public education.
This follows the granting of amnesty to Venezuelan migrants, and the subsequent extension of such asylum to include African people at the IDC, by the Dr Keith Rowley administration earlier this year.
The comments of the high commissioner point to the need for resources to be dedicated to processing and investigating claims and for the return of people wanted by law enforcement authorities.
With regard to the latter, there needs to be collaboration with international bodies such as Interpol and greater bilateral co-operation to iron out the funding issues that have prevented timely deportations from taking place. The delays have not only deprived individuals their freedom over prolonged periods, but they have frustrated the interests of justice.
The thorny issue of refugees fleeing political persecution is one that should not be ad hoc. It should be part of a robust and comprehensive policy that is transparent, and that is consistently applied.
Public education about the strong ties we have to African countries can also play a part in focusing the discourse away from poisonous rhetoric and xenophobia. That’s an important part of ensuring a more nuanced appreciation of foreign policy matters.
As Ngugi’s corpus of writing has shown, in the world of words, letters, essays, and ideas, there has already been a transatlantic commingling, a homecoming of sorts. That spirit must be replicated in how we implement a humane and just public policy with regard to asylum, residency, and repatriation.