Trapped Nigerians Can’t Be Evacuated Until Airport Reopens – Federal Govt
Until the airports in Ukraine are opened, Nigerians trapped in the country may not have an easy exit, the federal government has been told by the authorities of Ukraine.
Consequently, the Nigerian government is weighing the option of evacuating the affected citizens by road.
This was one of the outcomes of the meeting Nigeria had with the two envoys of Russia and Ukraine to Nigeria yesterday.
The Ambassador of Ukraine Kirdoda Valerii had said that his country’s air space was no longer safe for flying and that the airports had been closed.
Nigeria had summoned the Ambassador of Russia Alexei Shebarshin and Valerii following the escalating violence triggered by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia on Thursday.
The minister of foreign affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, who met with the envoys separately behind closed doors, told reporters that during his parley with the Russian envoy, he expressed the displeasure of the Nigerian government over the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, a United Nations (UN) member state, and country with which Nigeria has diplomatic relations.
Onyeama also told Shebarshin that Nigeria wants Russia to revert to the status quo before the military action and to prioritise diplomacy and dialogue.
“This is really the position of the government. And also, that we have 5,600 Nigerians in Ukraine and we are very concerned about what we are hearing and what we are seeing regarding missiles and bombs about the safety of our Nigerian citizens there, that we would like to be able to evacuate them,” he said.
According to Onyeama, the Russian envoy promised to communicate the concern of the Nigerian government to his home country, adding that Russia considers Nigeria a friendly nation and would do nothing to harm her citizens. The envoy assured the minister that their action is targeted at military installations and not against civilian areas.
Onyeama said he also discussed with the Russian envoy about the practicalities of how Nigeria can get her citizens out of Ukraine, those who want to leave the country and what measures they could apply to facilitate to safeguard Nigerians in Ukraine, adding that hopefully, the war won’t last long.
On the question about the evacuation of Nigerians from Ukraine, the minister said the issue can only come up when the airports open.
Onyeama said the Russian envoy stated that they would also see some airports as military targets possibly.
The minister further discussed road travel as an alternative to facilitate the evacuation of Nigerians even though some Nigerians have been able to flee into the neighouring countries such as Poland.
The Russian envoy, however, told Onyeama that there might be risk involved, while also saying that Russia was mindful of the civilians from foreign countries and promised to take all the necessary measures to ensure their security.
“He was a lot more sanguine, optimistic that no harm will come to them, but we cannot take any risks,” Onyeama stated.
In the same vein, Onyeama, after his meeting with the Ukrainian envoy, expressed the sympathy of the Nigerian government to the country over the war imposed on the nation and its people that came under heavy bombardment, which has led to dozens of deaths and injuries and destruction of property.
The minister pointed out that Ukraine is a country that Nigeria has diplomatic relations, a member of the UN and cannot condone the violation of their sovereignty and territorial integrity.
He also told the Ukrainian envoy that Nigeria has over 5,000 students and citizens in the country and was very concerned about their safety and welfare.
“And we certainly want the cooperation of the government of Ukraine to do whatever is possible to ensure their safety and security and to also seek advice as to how the evacuation can be facilitated,” Onyeama said.
According to the minister, the envoy said the Ukrainian government has given all the residents and civilians, specific instructions about how to stay safe and the measures to take.
He said the Nigerian Embassy in Ukraine will also act as a coordinating mechanism in reaching out to all Nigerians in Ukraine and ensure that they adhere to the advice and directives.
On his part, the Ukrainian envoy expressed gratitude to the government and people of Nigeria for their support.
“Right now, we are in a very difficult situation, but we are fighting against the aggression and we believe that we will all win,” the Ukrainian envoy said.
Valerii also said Nigerian students in Ukraine were in the same situation as anybody else in his country.
“Ukrainian government does not differentiate between people on the basis of their nationality and that is the best effort to protect everybody.
“Currently, the evacuation of Nigerian students is not possible because it is not safe to fly on the sky of Ukraine. As soon as it is safe to fly on the sky of Ukraine, we will join the Embassy of Nigeria in Ukraine and jointly with the Nigerian government, we will arrange for the evacuation of Nigerian students,” the envoy said.
On the reports that Nigerians are being conscripted into the Ukrainian army to fight, the envoy noted declared that it was optional.
The federal government also yesterday raised concerns over the refusal by Poland to allow Nigerians fleeing the conflict in Ukraine into the country even when nationals of other African countries were reportedly being allowed into Poland.
The minister of foreign affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, raised this issue on behalf of the government when he met with envoys of European Union countries in Abuja yesterday.
Onyeama noted that the government was receiving emergency calls from Nigerians who were going by road, evacuating Ukraine and a lot of them heading to Poland.
“We have had a number of calls, desperate calls and that there are cases of women and pregnant women and so forth,” Onyeama said.
The minister also said the government was informed that nationals of other African countries were being allowed into Poland and wondered why Nigerians were being denied entry into the country.
According to the minister, the Polish Ambassador to Nigeria, Joanna Tarnawska, has however, assured him to immediately check with the capital in order to address the situation.
Nigeria is preparing to host the president and first lady of Poland, and it appears to the government as an aberration that a situation that people fleeing a global crisis like what is taking place in Ukraine should be prevented from getting out to safety.
“So, we hope that also the European Union and others, and if that is indeed the case, will prevail on, not just necessarily Poland, but also any other border country to please share some sympathy and humanness to refugees fleeing this crisis, be they Nigerians or any other nationality,” Onyeama said.
Tarnawska, in her remarks, however said Poland was taking every necessary step to provide safety for those fleeing Ukraine.
Earlier, the Head of the European Union Delegation to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Samuela Isopi, who led the delegation, said the meeting justified the importance that the EU attached to the issue of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Isopi told Onyeama that the European Union was ready to assist Ukraine with help, including financial and humanitarian assistance.