Why are Nigerians leaving India's Goa state?
- 18 November 2013
- From the section India
Anti-Nigerian sentiment has been high in the Indian state of Goa since 31 October when a group of Nigerians took part in a protest after one of their countrymen was murdered, writes Pamela D'Mello.
Three Nigerian men are milling around on a balcony of an apartment building on the edge of garbage-strewn fields in the tourist getaway of Goa.
Today, they are the only West African tenants left in the building. The others have joined an exodus from the state to the western cities of Pune and Mumbai. As in Goa, there too police have begun a verification processes against African nationals.
These three men - as the building's owner Jerry says - all have legal documents.
Goa has long been known for its sun-soaked beaches, clubs and party zones that draw Russian and other European tourists, as well as holidaying Indians.
The villages of Parra and Siolim in north Goa - just adjacent to more crowded beach villages on the coast such as Baga, Calangute and Anjuna - are where the largest community of West Africans live.
But now the panchayats (local village councils) have resolved that villagers stop renting rooms to Nigerians.
A local bike rental association has also stopped renting to Nigerians in "protest" at last month's blockade of the highway by some 60 West Africans, mostly Nigerians, and their alleged "high-handedness with the police".
"I've got nothing against them, and you can't have a blanket ban. But they really are a nuisance, because some of them are in the drug trade," said a local businessman in Parra who did not want to be named.
Jose Pacheco, a young man in the village, says: "One of the Nigerians was harassing my sister, who noted down his bike number and we had to trace it down and warn him. When there's a bike accident, even before we can call our friends to the scene, they are there in larger number. Being physically bigger, they tend to intimidate us."
Nigerian officials say such attitudes amount to little more than discrimination.
There are about 40,000 Nigerians living in India, and many of them are in Goa.
In India on a business visa for over a year, Joe Prince, who hails from Anambra in south-eastern Nigeria, tells the BBC that he exports clothing from the southern Indian town of Tirupur - a major textile and knitwear hub - to Nigeria, but spends much of his time in Goa.
In Goa, police have been to his apartment but they left when they found his documents in order.
Mr Prince is unhappy that he can no longer rent a bike: "I cannot go anywhere. If the local council pressures him, my landlord says we will also have to leave."
The Africans are not without local support though.
"I opposed the village council resolution to stop renting to Nigerians. It's an injustice. They are my brothers in Christ and I will support them," says businessman and evangelist Paul Fernandes, a Goan whose religious services until recently drew some 35 West Africans.
Parra, like most quiet villages in Goa - which was a Portuguese colony for 451 years - also faces pressures from internal migration from within India and its residents often tend to dislike all "outsiders".
"Most of us are indoors by eight in the evening, when the Nigerians and all others working the nightlife scene leave their residences. So we see little of them and interaction is minimal, except at shops and gyms they frequent," said a local youth.
Recently, before the events of 31 October, villagers were unwilling to let the West Africans use a local football field and there have been occasional arguments over local women.
A Goan widow's marriage to a Nigerian national has made the bar and restaurant they run in the village a regular meeting club.
In the seaside village of Anjuna religion has been an icebreaker. West Africans stand out at the morning mass in the local church.
The police say that a group of Nigerians are involved in sourcing cocaine and heroin from Latin America for local distribution. The killing of Obado Simeon in the early hours of 31 October is being linked here to a turf war with local drug pushers.
All the accusations have drawn diplomatic censure from the Nigerian embassy in Delhi.
Nigeria's high commissioner in India, Ndubuisi Vitus Amaku, told the BBC the community is feeling "aggrieved" after the murder of Mr Simeon, and that the state's subsequent order to deport Nigerians living illegally there was like "rubbing salt on their wounds".
The nightclub and party zones of Calangute and Arpora, where the seamy and the fashionable merge have also become off-limits to West Africans.
Joe Prince says: "We are simply not allowed to enter the Tito's lane (a night-clubbing hub) and other major clubs for the past eight months after a major incident where we were beaten up by bouncers and the police.
"There was an incident with one Nigerian and all of us who were not even involved were targeted. If we cannot go to the clubs, what are we to do?"
He says a friend of his was stopped from entering a club while his two Russian women friends were let in. "Is that not racial discrimination?"
The manager of a well-known nightclub in Calangute justifies the ban: "There's an informal ban on them in the main club, because we don't want pushers inside the club. They sell drugs openly on the streets and we can't stop that, because we don't own the street - that's a police matter."
Nigeria's high commissioner Mr Amaku, says Indians need to exercise caution.
"Indians need to understand that a large number of Nigerians are living legally in India and even if some are living illegally, there are laws in place to deal with that and those should be implemented," he says.