Tales of death, deprivation and hostility unfolded today as Ghanaian workers expelled by Nigeria arrived by sea.
Returning Ghanaian workers interviewed on the crowded docks here complained that Nigerian authorities have made the deportation of all illegal aliens, the second such operation in three years, as painful as possible.
More than 76,000 workers have returned to Ghana, and officials in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, estimated yesterday that repatriation of 35,000 others stranded in Nigeria could take three more weeks unless Nigeria opens its land borders.
Nigeria had ordered the expulsion of 700,000 unregistered aliens by last Friday. Officials in Lagos, the Nigerian capital, claimed that 300,000 of these were Ghanaians, with the rest to return to Niger, Benin, Togo, Cameroon and Chad.
In 1983, when Nigeria first ordered mass expulsions to relieve an employment crisis and other social pressures resulting from the shrinkage of oil revenues, the exodus meant personal suffering for as many as 2 million illegal West African aliens.
"The Nigerians cannot denounce South Africa anymore," a young man told a group of fellow deportees. "What they did to us was worse than apartheid."
Men, women and children exhausted by their ordeal slept on the docks. Others waited patiently for their meager belongings to be unloaded from the Nigerian ships that had brought them from Lagos.
Many said they had traveled to Nigeria's western border with Benin last week only to be kept waiting until after the deadline for their departure expired Friday evening, when officials in Lagos ordered the land border closed.
The stranded deportees then were sent to Lagos airport, where they said they were kept for three days without food, water or medical attention.
"Three women gave birth in those wretched conditions and two lost their babies," said Mark Ocuro, a 30-year-old electrician.
Edmund Ex, a 22-year-old soapmaker, said that on Monday Nigerian security forces used tear gas to "quell angry Ghanaians seeking to break out" of the airport holding area. "We were wild," he said.
Other returning workers said that 10 Ghanaians and four Nigerian policemen were killed in a clash at the airport when workers did fight their way out of the camp and headed for the Benin land border.
Another man, who declined to give his name, showed what he said was a handwritten Nigerian police report noting a complaint that he had been beaten by Nigerian soldiers near the Lagos docks. He pulled up his shirt and showed deep welts on his back.
Some of the returning workers had been expelled two years ago along with a million other Ghanaians. Others, like 30-year-old school teacher Bruce Yeboa claimed to be in good standing with Nigerian immigration officials.
"The authorities were processing my passport and residence permit," Yeboa said. Why had he left? "Because my landlord kicked me out and in the general mood of hysteria in the suburb of Lagos where I was teaching, no one else would rent to me," he said. A small crowd listening to him said they had decided to leave for similar reasons.
Emmanuel Wickson, 24, from Cape Coast, showed a page of his passport that bore a Nigerian immigration stamp that would allow him to stay until August.
"So much for ECOWAS," he said, referring to the West African economic treaty that guarantees free movement of people and goods among signatory states.
Of particular concern to many was the loss of possessions, especially vehicles that some deportees said they had been forced to leave behind at the Nigerian border.
Others complained that they had wanted to return to Ghana in buses, trucks or small vans that they had rented to take them to their homes in villages and towns across Ghana.
Many travelers said they had no money left and had eaten nothing for days. Others with cash were buying food at the gates of the port area, which were patrolled by armed security guards.
"Several friends have had to sell their belongings to eat," said Philip Arhin, a 25-year-old electrician.
Those with belongings -- mostly mattresses, metal boxes, and occasionally bicycles and cassette players -- would have to pay customs duties before they could clear the docks.
But even the destitute said they had friends in Tema or nearby Accra who would advance them money for the trip home.
Asked if he would return to Nigeria, as he said he had done after he was first expelled in 1983, Edmund Ex first said that would depend on whether there was work in Ghana. But after a 10-second pause he said, "No, not even maybe."
He and others on the docks were convinced that the Nigerians had been harsh in expelling them this time in order to dissuade them from ever returning.