One such is ten-year-old Adeoti Ogunsola, who recently tried to hang herself at a British immigration removal centre where she and her family were being detained prior to deportation.
Adeoti’s case underlines the urgent need for Nigeria – and indeed other African countries – to come up with workable solutions to the plight of our ‘undocumented’ citizens in rich countries. Her family may have been part of the everyday routine of illegal immigration and deportation that is the lot of many undocumented migrants, but recent events suggest that opponents of further immigration into Europe, and outright racists and xenophobes, are becoming increasingly assertive about reversing non-white, non-Christian immigration into ‘Fortress Europe’.
There is Dutch Freedom Party leader, Geert Wilders, who visited London last week after an earlier ban on his entering Britain on the ground that he might provoke religious violence was overturned. Wilders has made some extremely provocative remarks about Islam and the Koran, demanding the end of immigration from Muslim countries into The Netherlands, and deportation and loss of Dutch citizenship for any Muslim convicted of a criminal offence.
His ten-minute film, ‘Fitna’, combines these sentiments with images of the 9/11 terrorist attack and Afghan women shrouded in burkas.
A third of Dutch Muslims say that the anti-Islam diatribes of Wilders, who faces trial in Holland for inciting hatred against Muslims, make them definitely want to emigrate, and 40% of them report increased discrimination. But the immigration tribunal, before whom Wilders was represented by a Muslim barrister, upheld his right to enter Britain on the grounds of freedom of speech.
Arriving in Britain five days later, Wilders was met by angry Muslim demonstrators who exercised that right by waving banners with slogans such as "Freedom Go To Hell" and "Geert Wilders Deserves Islamic Punishment".
Which suited Wilders perfectly. He is one of several politicians in Europe who are benefitting from anti-Islamic populism.
Although some, like Wilders call themselves secular libertarians, their anti-immigration stance and targeting of Muslims in particular, have earned them the label ‘far right’. And success at the polls.
Take Wilders. Freedom Party’s sole representative in the 150-strong Dutch Parliament in 2007, his party now boasts nine members, with 15% support in the polls.
In Switzerland, despite benefitting because the United Nations and many other international organisations are based there (not to mention huge sums that have flowed into the Swiss economy from all corners of the globe including Islamic countries) the Swiss Peoples Party won the general election while its leader was campaigning to amend Switzerland’s constitution to prohibit building minarets on mosques.
Meanwhile, far-right leaders from Belgium, Germany and Austria have launched a charter "against the Islamisation of western European cities".
In Britain, the far-right anti-immigrant British National Party, which claims to speak for the white working class, does not target only Muslims. But it too is riding the anti-Islam wave to electoral success, and this in turn is opening other doors for the party. Its leader, recently-elected Member of the European Parliament, Nick Griffin, appeared on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s current affairs programme, ‘Question Time’ despite widespread concern that this would give the BNP the ‘oxygen of publicity’. Affording him this platform, it was explained, would expose the hollowness of his arguments.
The commentariat generally gave Griffin’s ‘Question Time’ appearance a thumbs-down, but BNP supporters were dissatisfied that he failed to take advantage of the national platform provided by the BBC to propagate the party’s views, while many white viewers felt that he had been ‘ganged up’ on. And although Griffin declared his intention to make an official complaint to the BBC, his party is not complaining about the fact that within eight hours of his television appearance, 9,000 people had signed up as potential BNP members.
These may be nothing more than straws blowing in a particularly harsh economic wind. But the chickens of European colonialism, or support for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home to roost in increasing waves of workers and refugees. So it would be foolish to imagine that just because the people that we, or our friends and relations overseas know condemn racism, such ideas can never reach critical mass, or to tell ourselves that this new hostility is towards ‘fundamentalist’ Muslims and will stop there. The lesson from Pastor Niemoller’s words written during the time of Nazi terror was not just that his not speaking out ultimately left him defenceless, but that ‘they’ never stopped at just one group. ‘They’ dealt with all their perceived enemies, one after the other, Communists, Trade Unionists, Jews… Today we might add – Muslims, non-whites…
So our government needs to think not only about the treatment of Nigerian migrants abroad, but arrangements that would allow even unskilled Nigerians to work abroad legally, coming and going openly. And of course, whether, after two-and-a-half years of stagnation, it is going to do anything at all about making Nigeria a country that Adeoti and her family would be happy to return to.